On March 5 in Haines, as reported by the Chilkat Valley News, a dog on a daytime walk with its owner was attacked and eaten by a wolf that appeared to be starving.
In the last month in Juneau, two dogs have been attacked and bitten under strange circumstances.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Stephanie Sell said during the last week of February, a man reported a wolf attacked his dog on the Mendenhall wetlands. He said he was walking his dog, a young lab, on the wetlands at the end of Mendenhall Peninsula Road. He heard it squealing, rounded a corner, and saw the wolf on his dog. When the wolf saw the man, it ran away, Sell said.
Though the man’s description sounded like a wolf (not a coyote, as was biologists’ initial thought), Sell said Fish and Game did not find any wolf sign and could not confirm that.
“We didn’t see any tracks. We can’t confirm or deny that there’s anything out there … We didn’t see any evidence, but it’s not unlikely,” she said.
After the wolf left, the man saw a deer leg, Sell said. Fish and Game didn’t find that leg, but Sell said it may have been moved by eagles.
“We went out there and tried to find anything we could, and we didn’t see anything like that,” she said. “We did run into a deer that was injured, but we didn’t know how it was injured.”
Sell declined to provide the man’s name. She said the lab was fine; it had puncture wounds in its front paw and hindquarters but was running around and healthy when Fish and Game investigated.
Downtown Juneau resident Autumn Flaningam didn’t see what attacked her dog.
She had let her 50-pound Staffordshire Terrier out of her house at the top of Highland Drive around 7:30 p.m. March 5 when she heard it barking and screaming. At first, she said, she assumed her dog had found a porcupine.
She opened the back door and heard her dog struggling. When her dog ran towards the door, Flaningam saw she had not been quilled.
“When she was inside, I realized her tail was really bloody and there were puncture wounds up her hindquarter,” she said. “There was one wound that looked like … two teeth marks in a small, pinky-sized spot.”
She found a dead porcupine when she first explored the area, and theorized that her dog was attacked by whatever was planning on eating it. Her dog also had scrapes beneath where her tail would lie flat, which makes her believe it was bitten from behind while it was defecating.
“Whatever got her, grabbed her from behind,” she said.
At first, she thought it might have been a bear, as there was trash scattered around the area. But that Friday, she heard howling that sounded like coyotes, she said.
She took her dog to the vet, who thought maybe the bites were inflicted by another dog. But Flaningam said none of her neighbors have dogs, and she can’t imagine what pet would be across the gully where her dog was bitten.
She didn’t report it to ADF&G as she didn’t see anything, she said.
“At the time, I didn’t have any idea what was happening,” she said. “I still don’t know what it was.”
Wolves and coyotes are spotted periodically in town, Sell said.
“Wolves are more elusive. (And) I have not heard of wolves being in town recently … (though) we do suspect the first interaction was a wolf,” she said.
Wolves will come down from the high country in pursuit of prey, and when winters are mild — as they are this year — wolves may not be as successful at hunting hoofed animals, their preferred food, Sell said.
Out of desperation, they are forced to become opportunists.
“Whether they are starving or not, I don’t know,” she said. “Wolves are very good at walking on top of the snowpack. This year it’s possible ungulates are having a better time escaping.”
Typically, wolf packs are most efficient when the snow is deep and makes travel difficult for heavy deer and moose. A wolf’s wide paws keep it afloat, so to speak, and thus more agile.
“Wolves do have the upper hand in winter,” she said.
So, what’s the best way for residents to stay safe while keeping their pets out of harm’s way?
Sell said all the standard wildlife recommendations apply with wolves: Attractants should be picked up and stored properly; chicken coops should be protected by an electric fence; and residents should be aware of what’s on their property.
“Wildlife in general will investigate scents,” she said. “If you’ve heard howling, it’s a good idea to monitor your dog while outside.”
If residents do see a wolf, Sell said never turn your back and never run.
“Keep your dog close, back away slowly … be aware of what’s behind you; where there’s one, there might be more,” she said.
According to an online fact sheet from the ADF&G, encounters with wolves are rare, but should a wolf look or act aggressive and approach, it’s important to act hostile and maintain eye contact. Other recommendations include making noise, traveling with a partner, fighting back in the event of an attack or climbing a tree; wolves cannot climb trees.
Regardless of whether it’s an encounter, a sighting or howl from afar, officials with the ADF&G want to know about these observations from the public.
“Be aware of your surroundings. If you do hear howling, we want to know about it,” Sell said. “The more that we know, the more we can help people out.”