If there’s one thing people love, it’s videos of cute animals. If there’s a second thing people love even more, it’s videos of cute, unexpected animal friendships, like this one, for example, of a coyote pup being helped out by a heavily tattooed guy with a Chicago accent thicker than a deep-dish pizza.
“I’m not gonna fuck wid you! Nooo, you’re not dat tough. Hey, c’mere,” the man says in the video, before subduing the pup, gently stroking its fur, and eventually getting it into the back of his car. “You know what I’s gonna do? Is take you tuh a nice rehab facility, and then they’ll, uh, release ya back to da wild and you can go eat some feral cats and some stuff like dat, ya know?”
The video was uploaded last week by the Twitter user @eedrk, with the concise yet descriptive caption, “Guy with thick chicago accent helps coyote pup.” Because of its endearing mixture of sweetness and crass language, and humanity’s aforementioned love of cute animal videos, it immediately went viral. Also, of course, some people got horny for it. Since it went up on Thursday, it has been viewed over 8 million times, and retweeted over 146,000 times.
The well-meaning Chicagoan in the video is Joey Santore, 36, a freight-train operator and self-taught botanist, who posts funny, informational videos of the plants and animals he comes across to his YouTube page, Crime Pays But Botany Doesn’t. This week, the Cut called Santore – whose real accent is notably less pronounced than the one he uses in the videos. He had just gotten back from a research trip with a friend in southern Arizona, and was walking his dogs as we spoke. We talked about the fate of the pup (Spoiler: Things didn’t end well), botany, and all the online friend requests he’s getting now.
The Cut: Thanks so much for talking with me. First of all, tell me about finding the coyote pup. I heard things didn’t end well …
Joey Santore: I think she was … You’re not offended by profanity, I assume, right? Being an adult?
Good. I think she was fucked from the start. She was grossly underweight and this is a wild animal that I was able to catch up with. You know, if she was healthy she would have been able to make a beeline straight away from me. But I saw her, it was around 2 p.m., and she was crossing this road in this area of Northern California called Siskiyou County. I said, that’s really odd to see a coyote pup out in broad daylight in an open area at 2 p.m. There were no others around. And when I got up close to her I saw how skinny and tiny she was.
Oh, God. Then what?
I was able to grab her. I have a rabies shot because I’m out in the middle of nowhere a lot, so I knew I was safe even if she was rabid. I ended up giving her a flea bath later on, because she was covered in ticks and lice. She had nasal discharge in her eyes and her nose. I got her to eat that night, and the next day I called around to wildlife rehabs, and the nearest one was like 2.5 hours away, and I wasn’t able to make it down that day. So I had her for a total of like 30 hours, and was going to bring her down the day she died.
Then I woke up Monday at 8 a.m. and she had passed the night before. She had stopped eating, and … I don’t know. I kind of felt like shit about it. It didn’t really strike me the first night. The first day she died I was like, yeah whatever, animals die, it’s the way of the world. But then the next day it just kind of fucked me up a little bit more and I realized it hit me a lot more than I initially thought.
This clip of you has millions of views and it’s been shared thousands of times. Did you know it had gone viral?
It actually went viral twice. This European news agency got me to license it to them first. I let them use it for some compilation they put out. I figured maybe it would draw more people to the YouTube channel. And my whole purpose with that YouTube channel is just to teach people about plants. Because I think wild botany and wild fauna are a nice escape from the drab, depressing reality of modern society.
I think our values as a society generally suck and could use a little bit more awareness of what’s going on in the nonhuman world, you know? Especially since we’re destroying so much of it to put up shopping malls and track housing, and unsustainable agriculture and things like that.
Last week, I was out in the mountains of southern Arizona with a friend who’s getting a Ph.D. on a certain species of plant in the sunflower family, so we were out there collecting that in the middle of nowhere, and then I started getting texts from friends like, You’re blowing up!, and I thought, Oh fuck. And sure enough, I looked, and I’m like, Jesus Christ. I started getting friend requests from these middle-aged white ladies in Iowa. The typical person — and no offense to them — but the kind of person that responds to clickbait cute animal videos, you know? So I was like, okay, this is kind of hilarious.
So tell me how you got into botany, and why did you decide to start making these videos?
I got into botany like 12 or 13 years ago. I was traveling around the country when I was 21-22. I would see all this stuff in the landscape of the American West that I had no idea how these landscapes formed or how the plants that lived on them were able to survive, in the desert, for instance. And I just read obsessively about it.
On Instagram you can record a little 15-second segment, so I started doing that. And then my friends were like, you should put these videos on YouTube. And finally I was like, you know what, yeah, some of this stuff is pretty good. Like, some of these landscapes are pretty cool, and some of these plants are super rare and endangered and may not even be here in 40 years.
Learning about this shit saved my life. I had a fucked-up childhood. I’ve been engaged in conflict with either authority figures or adults or people my whole life, for better or worse, and I grew up listening to punk rock. I was a pissed-off kid. I grew up just kind of pissed off, generally. Convinced that something wasn’t right. Malcontent. And this shit literally saved me. Learning about this whole other world besides all the depressing shit you see — the strip malls and the freeways and the fucking homeless camps, and the yuppie condos. Learning about the world outside of that was such a pleasant escape. And I think it can do the same for a lot of other people.