By Frank Zufall | Staff Reporter
Joe Sessions, who lives on the north side of Gardner Lake east of Cable in the Town of Namakagon, left for work at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 10. His mother, who lives a mile away, came down to feed Sessions’ 70-pound German wirehaired pointer, Jameson, and to let him out for his evening stroll to “do his business.” But then at approximately 5:45 p.m. something very unusual happened.
“My mother was in the house and heard dogs fighting, squealing and she ran to the dogs and saw my dog coming up the driveway limping, and then she saw there was blood, but she didn’t know what happened,” Sessions said.
When he got home from work, Sessions immediately understood the problem.
“I could see the puncture wounds and scratch marks and everything else,” he said.
The next day Sessions took Jameson to the veterinarian.
“She said it was a very, very large canine (that attacked Jameson) and guaranteed it was a wolf. She said a dog can’t do what this did,” Sessions said.
Jameson was stitched up and drain tubes were put in. Stiches came loose and it was back to the vet.
One of the top wolf experts in the state of Wisconsin, retired Wisconsin of Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologist Adrian Wydeven, lives near Sessions. Wydeven is retired now, but still chairs the Timber Wolf Alliance advisory council.
Wydeven took an interest in the attack because a lone dog attacked by A wolf at home is rare. He went to Sessions’ home and investigated, and later a wildlife biologist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Wildlife Services also investigated, talking with Sessions and surveying the area for animal tracks.
“The guy from Fish and Game (USDA) found six-inch tracks, and he examined the dog and talked with the vet and agreed it was a wolf attack,” Sessions said.
Wydeven said because Session lives on the edge of a development with mostly woods to the north of him, and because Sessions feeds deer, these two factors would more likely attract a wolf to come closer to a home.
However, Sessions said all his neighbors feed deer and even though he’s seen wolf tracks and wolves while deer hunting, no wolf has ever come close to any of the homes until Jan. 10.
Wydeven believes a single wolf attacked Jameson, and the wolf was responding the way dogs themselves often do when meeting another strange dog — they fight.
“Part of it is just two stray dogs running into each other and it ending up in fight,” Wydeven said.
It’s possible the wolf’s intention was to kill Jameson for food, but Wydeven said it’s more probable it was just an accidental encounter.
“Sometimes a wolf will go after a dog for food, but in this case it was probably a single wolf that left its home territory and was looking for a new territory to join,” he said.
Most wolves attack dogs from July through September while hounds are either training or used in hunting bears. The attack happens when dogs come across a wolf pack that might also have a den of pups. The wolves respond to defend their territory and pups.
Wydeven said once a wolf pack attacks bear dogs they appear to develop a “learned behavior” and are more likely to attack again.
But a wolf attacking a dog near a home or on a leash is extremely rare. In the state of Wisconsin last year one pet dog was killed and one was injured by a wolf, but many more hunting dogs were either killed (15 to 20) or injured (10 to 15).
“I’m not aware of any dog on a leash being attacked by wolves in Wisconsin,” Wydeven said. “Coyotes have attacked dogs on a leash. Where dogs will get attacked is if they are allowed to roam a little bit and they get a little distant from the hunter or a person and the dogs don’t see them and they stumble on a wolf, and the wolf considers it trespassing on its territory.”
If there is a wolf attack, Wydeven said the owner should call the USDA-Wildlife Service at (800) 228-1368.
“An agent will come to your home to examine your dog and the site of the encounter to verify if it was a wolf attack or other animal,” he said. “If the attack was caused by a wolf, the DNR provides reimbursement for any vet fees and a replacement payment if the dog dies. Also the wildlife specialist may make recommendations on ways to reduce future attacks, and under some circumstances may decide to try to capture and remove the wolf.”
Sessions said he doesn’t want a wolf too close to his home, but since the Jan. 10 incident no wolves have been seen and he believes Jameson is safe.
“There are still tracks and I see the tracks in the woods, so I know they are still around,” he said. “It’s just one of those things. It was an unfortunate incident and I don’t hold anything against the wolf. That’s what they do.”
Because gray wolves are still listed as an endangered species, there is no authority to shoot a wolf other than to protect a human, and Wydeven said attempts to shoot a wolf often end up in mistakenly shooting a dog.
“We do not need to be fearful of wolves because of this recent encounter,” Wydeven said. “Continue to enjoy your walks with your dog. Just make sure you have your dog adequately under control. Being a little more vigilant is not a bad thing, but there is no reason to be fearful. Wolves have been with us for many decades and there is no reason to believe that they are posing any greater risk. The vehicles going down the road are still the biggest risk for your dog.”
Session reminds his neighbors with pets that they live in an area that also includes large predators.
“I just told my neighbor be careful when you let your dogs out at night,” he said. “Make sure you can see them. Go out with them. Make some noise when you go outside. And just be careful.”
The following are recommendations from a DNR wolf website on ways to reduce risk to dogs:
• Do not leave pets outside overnight unless they have a sturdy kennel.
• Avoid feeding deer near your home.
• Don’t leave cat or dog food outside at night.
• Don’t deposit table scraps or animal products near home sites.
• Keep pets on a leash or in visual/ auditory range on walks and vocalize regularly, including use of whistles.
• Don’t allow dogs to roam at large.
• Avoid releasing dogs outside for bathroom breaks after dark except in areas with good lighting or fenced areas.
Recommendations to reduce risk to dogs is available at dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/wolf/guidance.html. For more ways to avoid wolf encounters, visit the DNR wolf web site at dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/wolf/.
Those wishing to be notified by email whenever a new wolf depredation occurs in the state, should visit public.govdelivery.com/accounts/WIDNR/subscriber/new?topic_id=WIDNR_407.