Readers of Wild Muse know that I am fascinated by wolf ecology, and I often post on wolf research. A little while ago, I wrote up a review on the best kinds of livestock guarding dogs based on the writing and research of Cat Urbigkit. A reader named Jennifer commented on the post, referring to a run in her dogs had with wolves a few weeks back. I emailed Jennifer for more information and then extended an invite for her to share her story here on Wild Muse. She accepted, and I thank her for her time in writing up the events. I hope readers will appreciate the opportunity to share her experiences. For me, it is always fun to pontificate upon ecology in the abstract; but for some, it can get deeply personal. – DeLene
I live on a remote island between the mainland of British Columbia and the central part of Vancouver Island. My family of six has been here for eight years now. We own over 30 acres and are surrounded by crown land that stretches for miles beyond that. It’s wild and beautiful and a great place to raise children.
In the first year that we were here however, we lost a dog right off our front porch to a cougar. It was a very traumatizing situation mostly for myself, as she was my best bud who came everywhere with me. It was a big wake up call for us all, as it could very well have been one of our children. We had been told by many residents in the area that it was only a matter of time before we saw or had an interaction with a cougar as they are fairly common and prevalent here. I suffered post traumatic stress and depression after the death of my dog and had irrational fears of going outside and cougars breaking into our house. It was quite debilitating for me.
Several months later my husband brought home two rottweiler black lab cross puppies, males from the same litter. They were 12 weeks old. The pain from the loss of my previous dog was still fresh but my husband felt it important to have two dogs for the safety of the family. My husband grew up on a farm and always had working dogs that lived outdoors and had specific jobs, whereas I always had dogs that were inside dogs and more or less pampered pets when I was growing up. I had fears that the same fate would meet these new dogs and a cougar would take them down. I was very apprehensive. But in the end, I realized I needed these dogs to help me heal and get past my fears.
It wasn’t long before they proved themselves smart, brave and cunning protectors yet also full of love and affection for my children and family. They have fended off countless bears and cougars, working together as a team to protect the home acreage and all of us. In the process they have suffered a few battle scars, but nothing that has required veterinary care.
In recent months, stories of wolves in the area have increased. In the years that I have lived here I can count on one hand how many times I have heard them howling within ear shot of our house. My dogs never seem interested in the sounds of the howling wolves and simply lie on the porch ignoring it all. Several weeks ago a pack came in and attacked a neighbor’s three dogs, gravely injuring one. The pack came back about two weeks later and took down one of their dogs, killing it by crushing it’s throat with no intent to consume the dog. The wolves were increasing in great numbers in our area with more stories of sightings and incidents with domestic dogs; it became apparent that they were trying to establish their territory and take out any domestic dogs they felt threatened their pack.
The pack came here about three weeks ago, howling all around the house. My dogs had obviously chased them off and came home when I called for them, breathless and tired. Once I realized that the wolves were in close, I put one of my dogs on a rope and took caution as I worried the pack would come in and try to kill our dogs like our neighbor’s. I only put one dog on a rope because I have one dog that tends to stay when told to, without need for restraint, and another who needs restraint at times. I also find that they like to be together, so when one is tied it keeps the other home too. In the meantime there were stories over the next 10 days of sightings of the wolves in various areas as well as people hearing them howling at all times of day.
Then just a few days ago they came back again. The wolves encroached on the same area of our property as before, and it was also the same time of day, right before dinner time. Our dogs were barking just outside my kitchen window, so my husband rushed out with a large spotlight flashlight. Then one of our dogs let out a yelp, at that point I armed myself and went rushing outside. My husband yelled to me, “It’s the wolves, I just saw one in my spotlight right there.” He was pointing to the area near my children’s swing set on the edge of the forest. Our dogs were rather upset but were there and though it was hard to call them back they did come and I put one on the rope. My husband walked up the hill where he saw the wolf skulk away. When he got about 200 feet from the house they all began howling around him, it was very eerie. Moments later another bunch of wolves began howling back at them from the opposite end of our property, probably about a kilometer away. I wonder what their howls meant. I knew that their plan to take out our dogs had been foiled, though it was really not much of a relief. Like ghosts, they disappeared into the night and we never saw another one after that.
Once the chaos was over I checked over my dogs for injuries. Sure enough there was blood on the back side of one of them, and upon further inspection I found two large puncture holes on his hackles and one on his thigh; quite obviously from the upper and lower canines of one of the wolves. The next day he was quite lame but he has recovered quite well and we are diligent in cleaning his cuts. There was wolf scat all over the road where the incident took place. I also found a tuft of hair on the road that looked like it came from my dog as well, “the scene of the crime,” so to speak. I know my dogs simply chalk it up to another learning experience as they are ready and doing their job like nothing ever happened. We had a bear in our yard just last night and they both barked and alerted us to it. It got the message and promptly left.
When I tell people this story and other instances of when bears or cougars come around I get all sorts of different reactions. Most people tell me I should keep my dogs inside, or lock them in some sort of kennel to protect them, and I receive comments like, “that’s cruel!” The thing is though, that is their job. They are here to protect and alert us to predators who are encroaching on our territory. They follow my children around when they play outside, like four-legged body guards. I would have it no other way. I know the threat of these predators is very real and always there. Just because you don’t see the wolves, bears and cougars does not mean they aren’t out there is what I always tell my children. I do worry now that these wolves have made their intent known that my two dogs will be no match against a pack of wolves if they decide to be so bold again.
I have tried to educate myself as best I can about the habits and rituals of these wild predators. I have sympathy for ranchers who battle wolves. I also have sympathy for the plight of the wolves and the thought of having to kill one really does not sit well with me. I don’t ask much of these animals really, they are welcome to wander my property but just leave me my open five acres and don’t threaten my family. If they do their fate cannot be protected.