I had heard that there were coyotes roaming through my neighborhood. A few months back, a neighbor told me he saw a coyote in my yard at first light. From that point on I stopped letting Chico, my 15-pound Yorkshire terrier out in the early morning or the evening without a leash.

A few weeks ago, I took Chico out on the leash at night to the corner where there is a patch of woods so he could take care of business. As we approached the woods, Chico went crazy, pulling at the leash and growling. It was a clear moonlit evening. I could see just fine, but I couldn't see into the darkness of the woods. I thought Chico was barking at a cat in the bushes, but it was a coyote standing in the shadows 10 feet away.

Suddenly, Chico took off after the coyote. The retractable leash hit the end of the line and the leash popped out of my hand. Chico didn't know he was a small dog. He thought he was a Rottweiler. He attacked the coyote to protect me. I couldn't see a thing, but the sounds will stay with me forever. Chico ripped into the coyote for 10 seconds until I heard him cry out and then he was silent. I ran into the woods, calling his name and listening to him whimper as the coyote carried him away. I couldn't see anything and I was chasing a wild animal in the dark. I was lost.

I saw a house off to the edge of the woods. The lights were on and a window open. I ran to the window and pleaded for a flashlight as I listened for the now occasional whimpers from Chico. My neighbor found a flashlight, and I started towards the woods where I heard Chico whimper again. I followed the sound and found him lying motionless on the ground at the base of the tree. He was breathing, but he was deep in shock which later I thought was a blessing for his sake. I picked him up and brought him back to our house while despairing over the thought of my wife seeing Chico close to death. It was a horrific evening for all of us.

We rushed Chico to the Emergency Care Center in Dennis. After a few hours, Chico regained consciousness and we went in to see him. He was medicated and motionless but as we entered the room he looked at us. This meant so much to us that he knew we were there. He was in bad shape. That night they transported him to an ICU unit in Bourne. They spent the next day trying to stabilize him. We went to Bourne to see him. Eventually, we sat down with a doctor who told us that Chico had about a 20 percent chance of survival. His jaw was broken, his larynx was crushed, he had broken ribs, punctured lung and those were only the obvious injuries. So, as we caressed him and told him he was a good boy he went to sleep for the last time. I waited a month to write this as it was too painful to think about. It doesn't matter, I just burst into tears.

I'm writing this to let people know that the coyotes are here, they are opportunistic and hungry. A small dog is a meal to them. They will carry a small animal by the neck and occasionally slam the body into a tree, breaking ribs and damaging organs. They like to keep the animal alive and incapacitated. Coyotes are territorial. Large dogs may not represent a meal to a coyote but they are viewed as competition for territory, and coyotes will attack a large dog to let it know that this is its territory. I've heard about a number of recent coyote attacks in Dennis, and I assume it's happening throughout the Cape. Chico and I were in the wrong place at the wrong time. If I had a flashlight this may not have happened. Chico felt that it was his responsibility to protect me but no, it was my responsibility to protect him. I failed miserably and it hurts so much.

Bob Dugan lives in Dennis.