The coyote has conquered North America. Prevalent from the wilds of Central Park to Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles to just about every forest, the OG American scavenger has grown bold. The increasingly fearless and imposing predators now attack pets on an alarmingly regular basis. They should have let Buffy alone.
Buffy belonged to Paul Mott, an engineer living in San Diego, California, who loved his dog. He was there when she was attacked at a dog park and crushed in the jaws of a coyote. He was horrified. He wondered what he could have done to save his friend. Then he came up with an answer: Outfit her in armor. Out of tragedy came the Coyote Vest, a Kevlar-and-spikes outfit Mott designed to protect other small coyotes. He put his invention on Etsy and sold out.
Inverse spoke with Mott about his aesthetically peculiar, but totally effective quest to keep dogs safe.
It was an unfortunate and tragic event that led you to create the Coyote vest — but an important aspect of the story to get across. Would you mind walking me through it?
OK, well, sure. This Coyote Vest thing started when I was just minding my own business, taking my dog to the dog park at the end of the day — like we do every day — and one of my dogs was killed by a coyote. It was the most shocking thing that’s happened to me. I know much more terrible things happen to people, but I’ve had such a charmed life: This was the worst thing that ever happened to me.
It’s an awful thing.
And I can’t really get it out of my head. I’m feeling a lot of guilt over the whole situation, and I’m really pissed. I go through all these emotions. Like, well, let me get a gun and start killing those bastards, you know? It’s the emotional response. That faded away when I came to my senses and realized that’s not an answer at all. But I started thinking about, well, what can I do to stop these coyotes? If I had a second chance, what would I have done to prevent this from happening to save my dog’s life?
I started thinking about it — a lot — and doing research, watching videos. I bought a coyote skull off of eBay. I’m trying to get myself inside the coyote’s head, to understand what he’s doing, what he’s thinking, how the attack plays out. And how can I mess that up for him? How can I disturb it, somehow, and make it more difficult or frustrating? The obvious answer was a spiked collar — it’s been around forever. But I couldn’t find one, so I made a spiked collar. Then I thought, you know, this isn’t really good enough, because the coyote’s going to work around the collar. The collar’s only one inch wide, and my dog’s neck is 4 inches long.
I finally realized what I needed to do was to shield the entire back of the dog, and cover the neck area with enough spikes that there’s mathematically no chance that a coyote can successfully bite my dog on the neck.
I sourced the materials off the internet. Got some Kevlar off eBay, and all the stuff I needed, and started putting together prototypes. Now I’m out walking around in the neighborhood — my dogs are wearing these vests that I’m making — and I go through several revisions. I started thinking about what sort of other things I could do to really fluster the coyote, so that he never even gets the chance to attack.
How did you come to the idea of using Kevlar? What are you looking for in a material that can shield and armor your dog?
If you look for dog protective vests, it’s not a totally new idea. There are police dogs, obviously, and army dogs that have very elaborate vests. They’re made of Kevlar, and they’re bulletproof, just like a human vest.
But I didn’t find anything that was appropriate for my little dog being bitten by a coyote. I discovered there’s a lot of different kinds of Kevlar, and I found one that seemed very appropriate because it had originally been developed for the prison system. Prison guards, you know, they get stabbed when prisoners use a thick pen or something to make a shiv. So I got some of this stab-resistant fabric and did some of my own Mythbusters-style testing and discovered that yeah, this works. Coyotes cannot bite through this. I based all that, too, on some academic papers that I’d found about potential bite pressure of different canine species. I really want to make sure that I’m duplicating what a coyote’s mouth can possibly do. This fabric that I found is lightweight; it doesn’t encumber my dog too much; it’s not too hot, and it works. Coyotes will not be able to puncture it.
How does your Mythbusters testing work? You’re not just trying to stab it — are you also measuring the pressure as you’re trying to go through the Kevlar?
The way I’ve done the testing is by having a substrate that mimics the stiffness and firmness of a fleshy animal, and then laying the fabric over it, and then using something that is actually sharper than a coyote tooth. I apply twice the pressure that the biologists say a coyote is capable of doing.
The first thing I found was that indeed the fabric was stab-resistant, but it was so lightweight that it would actually wrap around the spike. You can imagine a handkerchief wrapped around the end of the pencil can still stab you. You needed it to not wrap. To stop it from wrapping, I needed to have two layers laminated together. It won’t wrap around the tooth and there’s no damage to the meaty substrate beneath.
When you’re placing spikes, are you looking to the coyote skull for reference — to see how big the jaws are — to ensure that there is adequate coverage?
Exactly. There’s just no way that his canine teeth can make contact without my spikes hitting the roof of the mouth.
For the whiskers, are you looking to nature for inspiration? Are the whiskers irritating to the eyes or does it make the dogs look bigger or more alarming?
Having witnessed the coyote attack in person, and seeing various videos on the internet, I’m actually following the trajectory of the coyote’s head. They always go directly for the neck. Let’s suppose my dog is wearing the Coyote Vest and here comes a coyote — out of the bushes at 40 miles an hour, full speed — to kill my dog, to do a surprise attack. And I don’t know if he sees those spikes on my dog’s neck or not. If he sees the spikes on my dog’s neck he’s probably going to choose not to bite that. If he sees the spikes and clamps down on it he’s going to get hurt himself and probably withdraw.
I’m assuming at the last moment he’s going to see the spikes. So what he’s gonna do is, he’s going to try and bite the dog somewhere else. The obvious choice would be to just go along the back area. In order to do that he uses his eyeballs, and gets his face down in there and gets his teeth over it. These whiskers make that extremely difficult. They’re going to be poking him in the eye, and then irritating him in the face. Slowing him down and consternating him. And that was my intent.
Is there any evidence that the Coyote Vest, from you or anecdotally by a consumer, can fend off a predator?
We’re all sitting around, waiting with baited breath, for the first person to say, “Yes it worked!” or, “Didn’t work and didn’t help.” I wish I had some way to test it, but I don’t, and I can’t prove that it works. We’re selling so many of them that I know we’re not going to have to wait very long, but at the moment I don’t have any feedback like that.
In your eyes, who should be putting a Coyote Vest on their dog?
Well, you see coyotes in Central Park now. They’re pretty much everywhere, from one end of the country to the other. It’s really the lifestyle you have, whether or not you’re going to encounter coyotes in your daily life. For me, in Southern California, we go on walks, we go to the dog park — which is where my dog was killed, actually, in the parking lot of the dog park. That puts us in the pathway of the coyote.
We realize that even though coyotes are a growing concern, we’re getting so much feedback from people who say that the bigger problem is domestic dogs attacking one another. Big dogs hurting little dogs. It happens all the time at dog parks, at dog beaches, at home. People go to a party with a dog, and bring their dog, and the next thing you know the big dog is killing another dog. We hear stuff like this all the time. In fact, we had an incident — the closest thing to evidence, I suppose I would have. One of our dogs at the beach was playing fetch, and a bigger dog tried to nip it in the neck. He was met with those spikes, and it just ended instantly. It’s a big problem that needs to be solved — we would hear fewer sad stories.
I suppose the nice thing about the Coyote Vest is it will protect your dog, but it isn’t going to grievously wound the coyote. You could put it on a dog that’s going to be in the company of another big dog, and no one’s going to walk away from the encounter hurt.
That’s correct — there’s nothing harmful or illegal about any of this. This is just for breaking up the fight.