This will keep happening. Wolves will continue, now and then, to kill our dogs.
This week’s story of a Duluth man walking his dog off-leash on a trail near Brighton Beach, only to discover it killed by some other canine, was the latest case. Nobody saw it happen. A Department of Natural Resources conservation officer indicated the predator was likely a wolf.
Any time we lose a pet it is a sad, sad thing. We love these creatures. To have them taken in such a cold and grisly way is almost more than we can bear. To think that we, as their owners, make the decisions that lead to those deaths is difficult to accept.
None of us, as individuals, can get accustomed to the idea that this will continue to happen, or that it will happen to our dogs. But in reality, we should accept that these incidents will continue at some level.
It doesn’t mean wolves are evil. If it “means” anything, it is simply that we live in wolf country or that wolves live in our country and that conflicts are inevitable.
A similar incident happened just a few weeks ago to friends of mine on the Gunflint Trail who let their dog out in the middle of the night. They heard the skirmish. They found their dog dead.
It has happened near Grand Marais and Ely and, last year, near Clover Valley, where four pet dogs were killed by wolves. In some cases following those losses, trappers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture trap or shoot wolves that are considered to be a problem.
Sometimes, wildlife biologists say, wolves kill dogs because they see dogs as a source of competition, a territorial thing. Sometimes, wolves kill other wolves when one moves into another pack’s territory. Sometimes, wolves kill for food.
A Minneapolis Star Tribune website headline about this most recent attack in our city read, “Hungry wolf kills off-leash dog on a walk with owner in Duluth.”
Well, maybe. We don’t know whether the wolf was behaving out of hunger or competition with another canine.
We seem to believe that wolves have crossed some kind of boundary when they have the audacity to come right into our towns to take our animals. But our towns — Duluth and towns across northern Minnesota — are woodsy places with lots of undeveloped land, where creeks rise in the hinterlands and flow through town. Those semi-wild places are often the avenues of travel for wolves, coyotes, bears, deer, porcupines and the occasional moose. They don’t recognize city limit signs.
I understand that my yellow Lab is vulnerable. When I run or hike or hunt with her, I’m accepting a certain level of risk. She could get snatched and killed by a wolf right before my eyes, or barely out of my view. I have done hikes, up the North Shore, where I’ve seen so much wolf sign that I would not let my dog out of my sight. Still, that’s no guarantee. It could happen. It would be horrible, and the responsibility would lie with me.
But I’m unwilling, so far, to deny her the freedom of those outings. She votes with her busy nose and vibrating tail.
We will not keep wolves and coyotes out of our towns. They live here. We live here.
Occasionally, that co-existence will be marred by incidents of immense grief for us humans.