Activists Renew Calls For Cook County Forest Preserves To Free Rocky the Coyote

Rocky the coyote in his enclosure at River Trail Nature Center. (Chicago Alliance for Animals)Rocky the coyote in his enclosure at River Trail Nature Center. (Chicago Alliance for Animals)

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, animal rights advocates are asking the Cook County Forest Preserve District to have a heart and release “Rocky” the coyote.

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Rocky — the name given to the coyote by activists — has been living in an enclosure at River Trail Nature Center since 2018. He became the subject of controversy in early 2022 when activists observed him “stress pacing.” They began petitioning for him to be transferred to an animal sanctuary in Colorado.

At Tuesday’s meeting of forest preserve commissioners, representatives from In Defense of Animals and Chicago Alliance for Animals delivered 7,500 signatures calling for Rocky’s release and read from a Valentine’s card “sent” from Rocky to board members: “I’m so lonely and bored. ... I really miss being around my own kind.”

The activists said they continue to be “baffled” by the Forest Preserve District’s refusal to let Rocky live out his life in a place where he can run, burrow and hang out with other coyotes.

“You will never admit that you are wrong,” said Carol Milan, speaking to commissioners and the preserves’ General Superintendent Arnold Randall.

Rocky was mistaken for a dog when he was rescued in Tennessee as a pup and was socialized as a pet before animal rehabilitators realized their mistake. By that point, he had become accustomed to and reliant on humans, so he was placed with the forest preserves,where he has served as an ambassador animal.

Activists said they understand Rocky can’t be returned to the wild, but an animal sanctuary, where he’s not on view to the public and can engage in more typical coyote behavior, is preferable to his current situation.

In response the activists’ initial complaints, the Forest Preserve District had Rocky observed and examined by independent veterinarians and also conducted a review of its ambassador animal program.

Based on that review, the decision was made to keep Rocky at River Trail, with recommendations of ways to improve his environment including greatly expanding his digs, adding more naturalistic elements and giving him space to avoid humans. 

Those improvements were to have been completed by the end of 2022, and when that didn’t happen, advocates renewed their public appeal for Rocky’s release, speaking out during the public comment portion of recent Forest Preserve board meetings.

In a statement read during Tuesday’s meeting and provided to the media as well, Randall said construction of Rocky’s new enclosure has been delayed because the design had been improved. Work should begin at the end of the month.

Randall also refuted charges that Rocky is being mistreated or showing signs of stress.

“Every expert that has seen the coyote ... in person has found the animal to be healthy and well-cared for. That includes two independent veterinary doctors,” Randall said. “Neither of these doctors found that the coyote paced or showed signs of stress. Both agreed that his care meets Association of Zoos and Aquariums standards for protection from hot and cold weather, training, nutrition, water and air quality, and more.”

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]

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