|A coyote in Yosemite National Park|
To anyone with smattering of knowledge of things biological, the idea that predators are going to exist in any complex ecosystem is absolutely logical. Since Cambrian time 545 million years ago, and probably earlier, there have been organisms that cannot make food for themselves through photosynthesis, and must survive by consuming carbohydrates that have been produced by other creatures and organisms. Early on there were bizarre creatures like the anomalocaris that swam about munching on the trilobites and other early Paleozoic sea creatures. Fish ate each other, sharks ate anything that moved, amphibians and early reptiles chased and consumed each other, and in the Mesozoic era, evolution provided land ecosystems with some of the most terrifying meat-eaters of all time: the tyrannosaurs and the raptors (always good fodder for the Jurassic Park franchise).
When creatures like the Velociraptor and Deinonychus were munching on plant-eaters like Tenontosaurus and Zephyrosaurus, small furry creatures were running about the underbrush trying hard not to get stepped on or eaten by the larger dinosaurs. They were more likely than not to be active at night. The mammals arrived on the scene not too long after the dinosaurs, but did not become a dominant part of terrestrial ecosystems until a giant rock from space took out their larger competitors (or whatever it was that did in the dinosaurs). Even with the dinosaurs gone, mammals still had to contend with their offshoots, the birds. Some early Cenozoic birds grew to such large proportions that I can imagine their mammal contemporaries rolling their eyes and thinking "not again".
|The only wild wolf I've ever seen. Taken in Yellowstone National Park|
During Eocene time, around 40 million years ago, the carnivores diverged into the two main clades that we recognize today: the Caniformia (dogs, bears, weasels, skunks, raccoons and pinnipeds), and the Feliformia (cats, hyenas, civets, and mongooses). Members of an early Caniformia family, the Amphicyonidae, are often informally referred to as "bear-dogs" in the sense that they were probably ancestral to both groups.
|Death Valley coyote|
Biologists debate about how domestication took place. Some say that humans raised wolf pups, and eventually their descendants adapted to life with humans. Others argue that wolves took to scavenging the waste along the margins of human camps, and eventually became comfortable with the close association with humans. I'm no biologist, so I really can't judge one way or the other.
One thing that enabled domestication of the wolves is that they are pack animals, social beings. Pack life has advantages but it can also be harsh and unforgiving. The smaller weaker animals get less food and fewer chances to reproduce. Rising through the hierarchy required vicious fighting, and a potential for serious injury. I can easily imagine that the rejects from a pack might find a slightly better life around the margins of human settlements, even though they might have been driven off (or sometimes even eaten). But sometimes they also found in human groups another pack. They might never rise to the level of alpha couples, but the food was often better.
What happens when we break that social compact?