Close encounter raises concerns about wolves
By Scott Richards - For the Idaho Press-Tribune
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GRANGEVILLE — Hello. My name is Scott Richards. I have lived in Grangeville for the last 17 years. I have enjoyed training my hunting dogs for the past 34 years.
To do this it takes a great deal of love for your dogs and for the great outdoors. I have always prided myself in the manner of which I train my dogs and take care of them. When I choose a new pup, he or she spends the first 6 months in my house. He or she is loved and a bond is there forever.
I do not believe there are bad dogs, just inexperienced owners. I have spent the last four years trying to introduce this sport to as many young people as I can. My photo albums are full of pictures with children sitting under a tree with the dogs, telling them they did a good job.
That has all changed now.
The reason I am writing this story is not to debate whether the Canadian gray wolf should be or should not be here. I am not going to debate anyone about how many wolves are really in the state of Idaho. I will say our elk, moose and deer populations are in serious trouble now.
The real reason I am telling this story is that I have a conscience, and what happened to my dogs and me Wednesday, May 24, at 9:45 a.m. might open a few eyes.
It’s been a few days now, and the shock has turned from fear to disbelief to anger, and now the major concern for the safety of anyone who lives in or visits our state. My life that I have loved raising and training these special working dogs is now over.
This Wednesday morning started like most days when I train dogs. I was a few miles from my house and turned up the hill on the Service Flats Road. I let my dogs out of the box, jumped into my truck and followed them up the road for a mile, letting them clean out. I had eight dogs with me, and seven of them were very experienced 2, 3 and 4-year-olds. I had one five-month-old pup.
I loaded four dogs on top of the box and four inside the box. I did not have to drive far, and the dogs sounded off, letting me know a bear had crossed the road.
My friend, Bryon, had driven up from Lewiston to train some of his young dogs.
I turned out a 4-year-old named Jasper. He left the road and let me know the track was fresh. I told Bryon to turn his dogs loose as did I. They quickly dropped into a canyon, where bears hang in the brushy bottoms in daylight hours.
When all the dogs reached the bottom, five went up the other side of the canyon headed toward Fish Creek campground. The other group of dogs came right back up the hill to us. They put the bears in a tree 20 minutes later.
The other group of dogs treed about the same time about 1 1/2 miles away. Bryon and I went to the nearest dogs first. When we were under the tree, we found they had a mature sow and a 2-year-old cub. We took a few pictures and were back in the trucks ready to go to the other dogs.
We drove back up to where we heard the group of five dogs top over and shortly thereafter tree the bear. We checked where the dogs still had the bear treed. We drove as close as we could and stopped and listened.
They were about 400 yards away, treeing solid. I made the decision to move the truck 200 yards to the low side of the saddle; this would be an easy way back with the dogs. When Bryon and I crested the hill, instead of hearing a roar of barking dogs treeing, we heard nothing. We were looking at each other like, “Where did they go? We just heard them there five minutes ago.”
One dog barked, and another barked just 50 yards away. I said to Bryon that neither of the dogs we heard sounded like any of our dogs. He agreed. Then I heard a dog bark that I knew was mine, but at the end of his bark there was a sharp yelp. Bryon and I headed down the hill in a hurry about 75 yards apart.
About 300 yards down the hill I was stopped dead in my tracks by a big dark-colored wolf. Blackey, my dog, was getting attacked; I was 20 yards away now and closing fast, screaming and yelling as I ran. I stopped at about 12 feet from the wolf, and even though I was screaming and waving my arms, the wolf did not break from the attack. Every time Blackey tried to run, the wolf would sink his teeth into Blackey’s hindquarters.
All the while I was screaming louder than I ever screamed in my life. Without any thought I picked up a 4-foot stick, stepped toward the wolf, swung and hit a tree. When the branch went crack and the tree went thud, the wolf instantly lunged at me.
I remember thinking I was going to die.
I ran from tree to tree straight up hill toward my truck. When that wolf lunged at me, I believed I would have been seriously hurt or dead if not for Blackey. I did not see what took place, but what I heard was my dog giving his life to save me.
As I reached the truck, Bryon was digging around in his truck for a gun. As I ran up he started yelling, “We got wolves.” I was trying to listen to him as I was searching for a gun as I took my pistol in my hand and turned toward Bryon.
When I looked into his eyes I realized I was not the only one threatened by wolves. We headed back down to see if we could save Blackey, Lady or Halley, but there was no sound. I wanted to hear a bell dingle or a bark, but nothing. As Bryon and I hurried back to the truck to get my tracking box, I finally understood that Bryon was able to fight off three wolves and save two dogs. Snyper and Bullet were safe in the dog box with no life-threatening injuries.
With the tracking box in hand, I tuned in on Lady’s tracking collar and said to Bryon, “Not Lady, not Lady,” but I knew she was dead. Then I tuned to Blackey and told Bryon that Blackey was dead, and then I tuned in Halley’s collar. One beep every four seconds — that means all three dogs had not moved for at least five minutes. All dead.
I was just standing there in shock.
We decided to look for Halley first. We were getting real close; the receiver was pegging the needle. I knew that with a few more steps I would be looking at one of my babies.
My heart skipped a beat when Halley’s tree switch went off. I didn’t know if she was alive or if a wolf was dragging her off. We ran the direction the needle was pointing, and in a few yards there she was.
She was trying to get up; her stomach was ripped open and her guts were hanging out a foot. She had more than 60 bite marks and deep gashes all over her body. Her stomach was torn in multiple spots.
Bryon went into action. Of came his shirt, and we wrapped it tightly around her stomach. I carried her back to Bryon’s truck and put her in the front seat; Brian headed for the vets. I remember thinking I wouldn’t see Halley alive again.
I started tracking Blackey next; it did not take long to find him. He wasn’t far from where the wolf came after me. He was dead and lying in a pool of his own blood. He was bit and torn so full of holes that I just fell to the ground bawling and crying. I could not quit thinking, “He gave his life to save me.”
I was sitting there when it hit me: “Lady! I’d better get to Lady.” When I tuned her in, I knew she was within a 100 yards. I lined up with her collar, and the next thing I knew there she was in a heap, her eyes wide open, looking straight into my eyes. For one second I thought she might be alive. When I knelt down beside her, I knew she was dead.
It’s very difficult to describe the type of death these dogs were handed. It was easy to see that the wolves want to cripple their prey, torture it and then kill it. I have never seen a worse way for any animal or person to die.
I made it back to town and took care of my dogs who made it through this nightmare that happened in the light of day. Then I headed to see if Halley needed to be buried.
When I walked into the veterinarian’s office, I was greeted with, “Did you find the rest of your dogs?” I tried to say they were all dead, but I could not get the words out; all I could do was cry.
After a few minutes standing alone, I heard a voice behind me say, “Halley is still alive; do you want to see her?” I instantly headed for the back room, and when I turned the corner I saw this little black ball covered in stitches — swollen twice her normal size.
I stopped and said out loud, “Oh my God, Halley, what have they done to you?” When she heard me say her name, she lifted her head, whined and waged her tail. I kneeled down, held her and comforted her — the whole time wondering if she was the lucky one, or were Blackey and Lady the lucky ones? When I looked into her eyes it was easy to see the only reason she was still alive: the wolf had choked her out.
Her eyes were full of blood; they had left her for dead. The doctor said it was a miracle she was alive at all. Her lungs were badly damaged, but what most concerned us all was infection from all the tears and bites.
I knew this little dog had more heart and desire than a 1,200-pound grizzly bear, and yet was as gentle with my granddaughters as my chocolate lab. If it were just a fight with infection, she would win.
On the way home I called the Idaho Fish and Game to report what had happened. They were very understanding, and I could tell they were sincere when they said they were sorry for my loss. They also made it clear there was nothing they could do for me and that their hands were tied. They said they would write the report and call a federal agent.
Justin, the government trapper, contacted me by phone and arranged to meet me at first light. We were at the site of the attack early the next morning. We went to the site where I had laid Lady in the shade.
She was gone without a trace.
I took Justin to where Blackey was laying, and he had also disappeared. We searched around and found nothing. About that time a crow down below me called three times, so we walked toward the sound.
It did not take long before we were standing over the remains of the dog that saved me from harm. All that was left of him was his head and backbone. Had we been an hour later, there would have been nothing left of him.
We had spooked the wolves off while they were finishing their prey. In five hours all we found of Lady was a pile of fresh wolf scat full of white, brown and black dog hair. Lady was a tri-colored walker — that color.
Justin and I buried what was left of Blackey. We piled heavy stones on his grave, and I walked away thinking that it could have been me. I could have been just a pile of wolf scat lying on the ground and leaving people to wonder where I had disappeared to.
I couldn’t help but think of the 22-year-old man who was killed and eaten by wolves in Canada this winter. There’s been a slaughter on hound dogs and pets in Idaho, and it is getting worse daily. I have been assured that if these wolves kill any cows, sheep, goats, pigs or horses, they will become a problem and will be dealt with, and the owners will be compensated.
That’s a relief.
Dogs have no value to anyone in the government, it seems.
So what I love to do is over; I will not send another dog to slaughter or feed another starving wolf pack. My concerns now are that the wolves are running out of easy prey and are now eating dogs.
In wet, muddy areas where elk and moose have always been plentiful, I no longer can find even a track.
Perhaps aliens took them off to a safer planet. I hope you did not find that funny.
This is the first documented case in Idaho where wolves have eaten a dog after killing it. The real reason I had to write this story is public safety.
The general public is unaware of the danger that awaits them. Since I retired, I have spent no less than four days a week in the mountains. What has amazed me are how many of these wolves are right around people’s homes. When they are out of easy prey, be ready.
For as long as I can remember, when you were in the mountains for any reason, a dog by your side was a great defense to warn you of predators. I used to believe in this. But now a dog is nothing more than bait to lure wolves.
Recently, while cougar hunting, an associate of mine, who is a licensed guide like myself, had a wolf encounter. He was cougar hunting with a dog on a leash when three wolves charged up on him. With waving arms and a screaming voice, he was able to persuade them to leave, but what if they had been a little hungrier? Your natural instinct will be to defend your companion. I am not saying you should leave your friend at home, but be prepared.
Put a bell or a beeper on him or her so you know where they are at all times.
The most important thing, in my opinion, is to pack a firearm. I personally believe pepper spray will not work in a pack attack. Keep your dogs quiet when you are walking — no barking. If they are tied up in camp, no barking. And don’t let your children play with your pets and have them barking while they’re playing.
My personal belief is that the war has been lost. It’s too late to save our big-game herds in my lifetime.
What I have loved to do for most of my life is over, so enjoy it while you still can. Be prepared. I pray you never encounter a pack of Canadian gray wolves.