Return to 'normal' for local wolves?

Saturday, December 10, 2011 - 15:46
Dog survives attack after animal runs off

Sandy the little hairless dachshund got lucky last month.

Her owners, Otto and Theresa McLean, say what looked like a white wolf attacked the dog early one morning in mid-November at their South Birchwood home.

But unlike more fearless wolves spotted by local residents last year, this animal ran off as soon as the McLeans opened the front door to rescue the dog.

Those aggressive wolves were targeted in a state wolf-kill program last winter.

It’s not certain this attack involved a wolf. If it did, however, authorities say it could show that other wolves are coming in to replace the 10 killed over the winter.

These wolves, it’s hoped, will act more like “normal” wolves — occasionally attacking pets, yes, but not threatening people.


Sandy’s Story

Otto McLean let Sandy out just before 4 a.m. Within seconds, he and Theresa — still in bed — heard screeching.

The couple ran to the door and let in the dog. They looked out a window and saw what they describe as a light-colored wolf take off.

“I’m assuming it was pretty much on the front porch,” Theresa McLean said this week.

Sandy huddled under a chair, shaking and whining. Theresa picked her up and cradled her like a baby. That’s when she saw the bite marks on her stomach. Then she saw blood on her own arm and realized Sandy also had bites on her right front shoulder and left hindquarter.

It looked like maybe the animal had the dog in its jaws but dropped her, possibly spooked by the human who opened the door.

The McLeans called Anchorage police. The dog’s doing fine now, said Theresa, who works as a bookkeeper for ABC Motor Homes. The family adopted Sandy after she turned up at the business, perhaps a stowaway in a motor home that came back to Alaska after being used in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The dog, which McLean described as basically hairless and sort of fawn brown, didn’t need medical care.


Aggressive, not all

It’s not unheard of to spot wolves in some neighborhoods around Eagle River and Chugiak. The animals are known to roam Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and surrounding lands.

But a run of unusually aggressive wolf attacks and run-ins led to a controversial wolf-kill program last winter.

Wolves treed a pair of women who went for a run on base with their dog in the summer of 2010. In November, a male jogger told military police that several wolves surrounded him. A wolf also reportedly killed a beagle in Powder Ridge in October 2010 and a wolf was suspected in the death of a sheep in Chugiak last year.

Authorities announced in March a tally of 10 wolves killed in the area of the military base and Eagle River after some wolves got too aggressive around people. Nine were either shot or trapped by state or military wildlife officials. One got hit by a car.

The state and military never intended to eliminate all wolves from the area, said Dave Battle, assistant area biologist in Anchorage for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“It was to take out aggressive individuals from particular packs,” Battle said.

Those packs, he continued, had lived near military and Eagle River neighborhoods. Over several generations they got too used to people, to the point that they lost their natural fear and became aggressive. It’s possible some wolves were either being fed from vehicles or getting food from trash, authorities have said.

Critics attacked the scale of the wolf-kill program and said the state overreacted to the public threat posed by the wolves.

Wildlife officials hoped other wolves would repopulate the area, Battle said. There were one or two packs that roamed the area including the military base, its surroundings, and neighborhoods from North Eagle River to Chugiak. But there are others in the Chugach Range, as well as in the Eklutna area.

“Presumably those new wolves (will) not have that habituation” to humans, Battle said.


 Keeping a close eye

The state biologists in Anchorage haven’t heard of any other attacks on pets this fall.

It’s important to note that authorities are not certain the animal that attacked Sandy was a wolf. It’s possible the white canine was a wolf-hybrid, a coyote or even a dog, Battle said.

If it was a wolf, Battle said, the animal didn’t show the kind of aggression people reported in the animals targeted in the kill program.

This animal ran off as soon as the door opened. It didn’t stand its ground like some of those wolves on base when a human was near.

“We had so many reports of them — they see a human and they just stand there and stare them down,” he said. “There was nothing like that. That’s why this dog is probably still alive.”

Theresa McLean said the animal was bigger than a dog. She and her husband only got a quick look, though, because it bolted so fast.

The family had two Lab mixes outside that never made a sound when Sandy was attacked, and were not injured or marked in any way, she said. They had a bright shop light on outside.

They are keeping a close eye on their little dog these days.

“We make sure we go outside with her,” McLean said.

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