Wolf that attacked sled dogs had rabies

Entire pack could be infected with disease rarely seen in Alaska

Posted: Friday, November 02, 2007

FAIRBANKS - A wolf that was part of a pack that attacked sled dogs in the village of Marshall last week has tested positive for rabies and state officials say unvaccinated dogs that were exposed to the wolves will be euthanized.

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Also Wednesday, another pack of wolves killed a pet dog in a North Pole subdivision at the edge of Chena Lake and the Chena Lakes Recreation Area.

In the Yukon River village of Marshall, the rabies-infected wolf was among those that killed six sled dogs before residents drove them out of town. Residents killed one wolf and possibly injured several others.

Tests confirmed the 17-month-old female wolf was positive for the rabies virus.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife veterinarian Kimberlee Beckmen said it is possible other wolves in the pack also have the disease.

"Rabies virus is present in saliva, and when several animals eat from the same source, the virus can be quickly spread to other members of the pack," Beckmen said. "However, rabies is extremely rare in wolves in Alaska."

Several dogs were bitten by wolves during the pack's attack.

Health officials say dogs that had not been vaccinated run a high risk of developing the disease in the next few weeks and can expose other animals and people.

Dogs that have been vaccinated should be revaccinated, officials said. The dogs should then be confined and observed for 45 days to make sure they don't come down with rabies.

State public health officials said unvaccinated dogs that were exposed to the wolves run a very high risk of developing rabies in the next few weeks, and could expose humans and other animals.

Health officials said they strongly recommend that unvaccinated dogs be euthanized to prevent that risk.

No humans were injured by the wolves, but people who handled the dead wolf are being evaluated to see if they were exposed to the virus.

In an unrelated incident, a pack of wolves killed and ate a dog in North Pole early Wednesday.

State officials said it appears to be a chance encounter between the wolves and the dog, a 15-year-old black Lab mix named Shilo.

Owners Ed and Teresa Lesage always let their dogs out in the early morning. But on Wednesday, dogs in the neighborhood were barking shortly after he let Shilo and their 4-year-old Husky out.

His wife checked on their dogs, and found Shilo dead and half-eaten at the edge of Chena Lake, about 50 yards from their house.

State wildlife biologists Don Young and Tom Seaton inspected the kill site at first light. They estimated there were five wolves in the pack and it doesn't appear the killing was premeditated, Young said.

"Based on the tracks, it looks like it was a chance encounter," he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "The wolves were coming one way and the dog was coming the other way and they met."

It wasn't known if the wolves stayed in the area, but Young advised residents to keep a close eye on their pets and children when they're outside.

"We have no idea whether these wolves are going to leave the area or hang around the area," he said. "They've already taken one dog."

He said when it comes to risk for humans, especially children, "It's always better to err on the side of caution."

"I don't think anybody should panic," he said. "Most interactions between wolves and people are wolves that have been habituated or been fed and we have no indication that's the case with these wolves."

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