By Staci Matlock/The New Mexican
A Santa Fe veterinarian drew a firestorm of protest from local animal lovers for trying to poison a coyote she believes killed Nina, her barn cat, and writing about it on Facebook last weekend.
Several people called or emailed the state veterinary board to lodge complaints against Joan Moreau, veterinarian and owner of the Animal Wellness Center on St. Francis Drive.
Dozens more, including some of her Facebook friends, thought she was wrong to endanger other animals by putting out poison for the coyote.
Moreau's Facebook postings and the comment thread were then posted on Scoop, The New Mexican's page for animal lovers. That prompted many more responses, almost all of them questioning the ethics of a veterinarian who would poison a coyote.
Moreau declined to comment on the reaction. Her Facebook postings, initially open to the public, were restricted to friends only by Tuesday.
Moreau has been a veterinarian for more than three decades. She became a member of the "Scoop community" in 2008.
Sometime over the weekend, she posted a message saying she had gotten Nina's ashes back and was waiting for the stone memorial to bury the cat in her rose garden.
Then she wrote, "The coyote that killed her will die I think in 5-7 days after it ate the beef broth basted rat poison I put out on the game trail I found. It will die minus the trauma I found on my cat ..."
Within hours, a Facebook friend posted a reply noting, "And any other animal that finds and nibbles on the dead coyote or the bait — including potential patients — may die the same way. The coyote was only doing what came naturally to it in its territory that we have invaded, looking for something to eat. The house cat just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is one reason I believe that cats should be kept inside — to protect them from wild creatures — rather than outside where they are at risk of becoming prey themselves while decimating the songbird population."
Another friend called Moreau's action "thoughtless," and one asked, "Why were your pets available for the coyote to snatch in the first place? Is this a joke or did this really happen? ... This does not sound like you."
Moreau defended her action, noting that "no other dogs come here on my 20 acres. I didn't endanger anyone's dogs; would never do that. What wasn't eaten, I picked up in the morning. (Nina) was killed inside a fenced-in 7-foot-tall walled area. She was my feral barn cat, not a house cat."
Nina, she continued, had been with her for five years and came from a feral cat colony in Santa Fe. Moreau said her barn cats are treated well. They have heaters in the winter and are fed premium cat food "in exchange for killing the bunnies, mice and rats in my hay barn."
Moreau denied her decision was thoughtless. In fact, she wrote, "It wasn't thoughtless; I put a lot of thought into it. A lot ... Just depends upon who you think is at the top of the predator chain. I happen to think I am. The (Bureau of Land Management) ranger told me they are out of control here where I live; he told us to shoot as many as I'd like. I'm a bad shot, so I can't do that. Callous? Interesting word for a life-long animal advocate such as myself. I've saved more animals lives than any of you can count."
Her reply prompted more outcry against her actions on Scoop and a renewed discussion of the need to protect coyotes from poisoning and traps.
Coyotes are not a protected, endangered species under federal law. They also are not considered a game or fur-bearing species and are not protected by the state Department of Game and Fish.
Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Livestock Association, said it sounded like Moreau was simply protecting her private property from a predator. Livestock owners deal with the issue all the time. "Coyotes are a huge problem for livestock owners, more for sheep than cattle growers," she said. "They cost the sheep industry a lot of money."
"If a coyote is out minding its business, no one is going to care much. If you are losing a lot of livestock and the coyote is the likely suspect, steps will be taken to mitigate the damage," Cowan added.
Dr. Mike Callahan, a longtime rural veterinarian in Pecos, said it wasn't his place to question Moreau's reasoning. He's dealing with a pack of feral dogs killing other dogs and livestock in the Pecos Valley at the moment. "They're far worse than coyotes," he said.
His clients are both livestock owners, who consider coyotes nuisances, and animal lovers who want to protect them. And he said people do have to question where they draw the line on protecting wildlife or any species, from worms to mice to coyotes. "When I deworm a dog, I'm killing parasites," he said. "Do people want to protect worms?"
Cowan and Callahan both wondered why Moreau posted her thoughts on Facebook. "Facebook will get you into trouble every time," Cowan said.
Frances R. Sowers, executive director of the New Mexico Board of Veterinary Medicine, confirmed she had seen the original Moreau postings on Facebook and had received "a plethora" of email about it. She sent several people complaint forms.
She said the state's Veterinary Practice Act doesn't specifically comment on coyotes but says veterinarians are expected to be "humane" and conduct themselves in a "humane manner."
She said the complaints will be sent to Moreau, who will have an opportunity to respond. All the information will be turned over to an investigator, who will prepare an anonymous report for a complaint committee. The committee will decide if Moreau violated the Veterinary Practice Act and make a recommendation to the full veterinary board.
Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.