By Shawn Perich
My friend Dominique seemed awfully calm when she stopped by the office and told us she’d lost one of her dogs to a wolf that morning. She been walking with the two dogs on a path near her Grand Marais home when she heard one of them yelp three times from somewhere in the woods. Running through brush, she discovered a wolf had the dog by the throat.
“The wolf was very close—about from here to there,” she said, pointing across the room. “It was a very big one.”
She chased the wolf away from the dog, a mid-sized mix, which made a beeline in the direction of home. Although the wolf had run in the other direction, she soon heard the dog yelp two more times. And that was it. The dog disappeared without a trace. Her other dog was unharmed.
Dominique’s dog was one of several killed by a wolf or wolves in Grand Marais during late August. Minnesota conservation officer Darin Fagerman says he could confirm four instances where people actually saw the wolf attack a dog and had additional reports of the missing dogs and cats. He talked with one woman who mentioned a wolf followed her while she was out walking. He’d even heard a secondhand report that a wolf approached a woman while she was gardening. She chased the wolf away by spraying it with a garden hose.
The spate of wolf incidents prompted the Cook County sheriff to issue the following press release:
“There have been several incidents of wolves attacking dogs, and approaching people on the north side of Grand Marais. The reports stretch from Birchwood Apartments to Gofer Trailer Court. Please do not let your pets run loose in Grand Marais. Please use caution if you encounter any wild animal. Please contact the Sheriff’s Office at 387-3030 if you encounter an animal you believe to be dangerous.”
Along the North Shore, wolves are part of the neighborhood. While they may occasionally kill a dog, Fagerman said the current situation, with multiple wolf incidents, is unusual. When I first talked with him last Friday, he was looking into establishing a wolf control zone in Grand Marais. By doing so, he could call in a state-trained and certified predator control trapper to catch the offending animal.
Coincidentally, he had recently set up a wolf control zone west of Grand Marais to remove a wolf that had twice attacked a calf and was suspected of killing chickens. In that instance, an old wolf was captured and killed. Fagerman said perhaps the animal was decrepit and unable to fend for itself.
Pictures Fagerman has seen of the Grand Marais wolf show a young animal. He doesn’t know why the wolf is hanging around town, because plenty of natural prey is available. Despite two cold and snowy winters, he’s been seeing good numbers of whitetails and snowshoe hares. Currently, he doesn’t think local wolf numbers are especially high. He saw few wolf tracks while on patrol in the Boundary Waters and elsewhere last winter. Perhaps the deep snows were tough on wolves, too.
As of Monday, Fagerman had established a wolf control zone, but hadn’t set a trap. He was planning to set the trap on private land on the edge of Grand Marais. He picked the private location in part because he’d heard secondhand of someone who said they would sabotage the traps. Another challenge was finding a trap location where it was unlikely to inadvertently catch a stray dog. However, the trapper would use a foothold trap, which would allow the dog to be released unharmed.
“I’ve seen both big dogs and wolves released from foothold traps and they go off without so much as a limp,” he said.
Since we’d last talked, he had a report of the wolf attacking two dogs on the west side of Grand Marais. A young boy was able to chase the wolf away. Fagerman stressed that the wolf hasn’t shown any aggression toward people. But he recommended that people keep an eye on their dogs.
As a dog owner in wolf country, being “wolf aware’ is second nature for me. My dog is not allowed to roam free—a bad idea anyway. We only tie him on an outdoor lead when we are home. When out walking or hunting in the woods, I pay attention to the dog’s whereabouts and call him back if he ranges too far away.
In spite of my precautions, I’m aware my dog could end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. While some folks carry a sidearm while walking their dog, I choose not to do so. In my experience, encounters with wild animals happen so quickly that you have little time to react. Attempting to chase the wolf away may be more effective than drawing a sidearm and trying to shoot it. That said, I won’t hesitate to shoot a wolf if need be.
While you may think wolf attacks are only something that happens “up north,” consider the story told to me last week by a friend who lives in South Minneapolis near the Mississippi River. One of his neighbors was out walking a small dog when she saw a coyote coming straight at her. She picked up the dog and carried it in her arms. The coyote kept coming and passed four feet away. Judging from its actions, the woman believes the coyote was after her dog.
Granted, you are far more likely to have your dog struck by a vehicle than to have it attacked by a wolf or coyote, even in Grand Marais. But when in wolf country, it’s wise to take precautions to protect your pet. As old saw goes: better safe than sorry.