Our dog Morgan skipped dinner last night, which she has never done.

Seeing unfinished dinner in her bowl worried me so much that I felt my chest and gut tighten, so I sat with her for a long time petting her and talking to her. Morgan and I can spend time alone together when I go to the chicken coop after dark because Sassy is patrolling, the hens are asleep, and our outdoor cat is maintaining respectful distance from the dogs. Usually Sassy will make a brief courteous appearance, but she didn’t even stop by to greet me last night. I heard her barking now and then by the western fence.

Morgan enjoyed the attention and didn’t seem like she was in pain so I finally stood up and went back to the job of filling the chicken waterers for the night. Then I heard the coyotes. Their voices rose impossibly high, in a blend of long smooth howls and some percussive yips. Sassy answered them with a peel of vigorous barking. Morgan left her post in the coop to help out. Morgan’s voice is dependably low and powerful, whereas Sassy’s deep barks often rise in pitch with sheer zeal.

For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel afraid of the coyotes’ song. My girls were answering those wild and haunting tunes with a power that I would trust with my life. I remember the first year we lived here, when the darkness filled with a whole chorus of coyote howls, I got so scared I ran for the house. Although they were probably far away, they sounded close enough to nip me. I tripped on tilled farmland and went crashing down on deep ridges of earth frozen hard as asphalt, then I limped back to the house in disgrace.

Last night, I calmly carried water jugs to the next coop and felt relieved to hear the coyotes because they explained why Morgan skipped dinner. I guessed that she was working too hard protecting the coop to relax and eat. The dogs’ former owner from Kentucky said they divided their old farm into territories, and Sassy protected the outer reaches of their property while Morgan protected closer to the house. I think they’ve divided things up in a similar way here – except they’re centered around the chicken house, not our home.

Morgan ate breakfast this morning like usual, and of course the coyotes were quiet again. The hens and cats are all accounted for. Sassy’s beautiful white fur was tipped with frost though, as it is sometimes when she’s worked outside all night. I am so grateful for the presence of those dogs.

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