Animals have many things to teach us: unconditional love, loyalty, devotion to the young, unrestrained delight, curiosity. They are not perfect beings, of course. A once-protective pet can snap at a toddler. A cat can abandon her kittens. Play can turn into competition. But for millennia, humans have trained and used animals, loved them and needed them.

This feeling does not extend to all species, however. No matter how young, no tarantula could be considered cuddly. Snakes in most cultures are shunned. The word “vermin” extends to a healthy number of animals in the kingdom. Such is the lot of the coyote.

One warm spring morning, my dog snorted and sniffed with particular interest in a corner of the yard. A quick first glance revealed nothing obvious. As time went on, however, and the attention continued, I investigated more closely. The old adage of “Where there’s smoke there’s fire” cannot match the diligence of a dog on the trail.

Wedged into a tight spot between a shrub and the fence was a hissing ball of fur. Suspecting a kitten, I pulled more leaves away, but this was no sweet meowing thing. The need for protection arose, so I brought out a thick pair of gloves, moved the rest of the brush, and pulled out a coyote pup. It should be noted, of course, that this might not have been the wisest course of action. Something about small animals attracts us, however. Thinking more carefully, I realize I should have left the animal alone and taken the dog away, but then I wouldn’t have a tale to tell.

The pup safely in a pet carrier, I went about locating a rescue organization.  Our family had rescued fallen birds and taken them to rehab centers. We had adopted three dogs from organizations that rescue particular breeds. (Retired greyhounds are delightful: They smile, they don’t bark, and they love their time on the couch.)

For all my research skills, I could not find anyone who would take the pup. The pound would take him away, but not release him. Wild animal groups, even when they included the word “coyote” on the websites, offered no services. Some said that there was no one who offered coyote relocation; others had discontinued the practice.

Something more needs to be said about the coyote and its reputation in the southwest. The most common—and the most negative—adjective used to describe them is “cowardly.” Rather than hunt real game, coyotes often come into yards and take small, slow pets. Unsuspecting, rotund dachshunds are particularly popular. Housecats left out at night, especially males, wander too far at times. Coyotes attack swiftly, moving far faster than we are used to seeing dogs or cats run. Top speeds of 40 mph are possible. Theirs is not the luxury of play, however. They live as predators. They also eat squirrels and mice, but those animals, smaller and less meaty, cannot compare to the pets that humans hold so dear. In the country, they eat small livestock. It is understandably hard to find nobility in a coyote.

Finally, one woman spoke plainly: “Really, sadly, coyotes just do not have an advocate.”  The application to me was obvious and immediate: how blessed am I that I do have one.

The word “advocate” comes from the Latin word vocare, meaning “to speak.” Because of their reputation, that little hissing pup I’d found had no one who would speak in his defense. More specifically, there was nothing he could do to change his situation: he was what he was.

The woman who told me his plight had a solution, however. His mother was likely nearby and would come back for him, so I should keep him safe for her and place him where she would find him. That process went smoothly, and so far as I know, the pup has matured now and remembers not to come to my house. I became neither his tormentor, nor his destroyer; neither did I become his advocate.

And so we may find ourselves at times. We feel cowardly at best, stained at worst, and we believe no one either could or should defend us. Sometimes we may think we can defend ourselves, forgetting the fool that an attorney has for his client if he represents himself. What may happen, however, is that we literally cannot speak for ourselves because our lives do that for us. We live, we act, we sin. It shows, in our hearts if not our faces a la Dorian Gray.

Years ago, Henry Lee Lucas declared himself a serial killer, with 3000 murders under his belt. The figure is more likely about 40. For one trial he was in my hometown, where he appeared in the newspaper wearing this shirt. I was deeply offended. My husband, not a particularly religious person, said Lucas was as likely to need salvation as I was. It was a startling realization. Henry Lee had a horrible life as a child, and he inflicted pain and death as an adult. Yet he has an advocate, if not a place in heaven. I am thankful, this year, because I can know, recognize, and do good. Coyotes aren’t bad and can’t be evil. They just need to eat.