There is the possibility of another growing phenomenon with more families moving to rural areas – attacks by wild dog packs. In a string of nighttime attacks, officials in Stevens County, Washington think it is possible that several domestic dogs that live with families have begun running amok at night with one dog that could be a wolf hybrid. And not only that, the dogs seem to be killing for the sport of it rather than hunger. The pack has killed over 100 animals in the area since the killings started in late March, including goats, other farm animals, and, most recently, a 350-pound llama.
Because there have only been one or two sightings of the dogs during daylight hours, officials think that most of the dogs have regular family homes and are going out to attack at night. A resident of Deer Park, which is about 40 miles north of Spokane, was able to get some nighttime photos of some dogs by setting up a game camera, though it isn’t clear whether the dogs in the photos are the same dogs that have been involved in the attacks. One of the dogs in the photos appears to be part wolf though officials have stated that the breeds of the dogs are unknown.
Experts on canine behavior note that canine instincts run deep. Dogs, by nature, live and hunt as part of a pack rather than as solitary hunters like big cats, such as cougars and cheetahs. After a domesticated dog is exposed to the behavior of a wolf hybrid, their instincts to work as part of a pack kick in. The need to attack as an efficient unit of predators overrides any previous behavior to make independent decisions. And after the initial attack happens, the pack usually continues to attack with more viciousness and will even escalate to attacking people. In the wild, a strong predatory instinct is vital to a dog’s survival. And it is extremely difficult to breed out a genetic trait when that specific genetic trait is important for the survival of dogs.
In addition to animal casualties, there have been incidents of wild dog packs attacking people as well. In August 2009, a 77-year-old man and his 65-year-old wife were mauled and killed by a pack of wild dogs in Lexington, Georgia. Officials believe that the woman was attacked when she was out walking and that her husband was killed by the pack of dogs when he went out to search for her. Authorities who later arrived at the crime scene stated that the dogs were very aggressive toward them and had to fire gunshots to spur the dogs to leave the scene.
There is also video documentation of a woman being attacked by a pack of stray dogs in Moscow, Russia in 2010. There are a total of 10 dogs in the video with six of the dogs actively frightening and attacking the woman. Fortunately, the woman appeared to escape injuries due to a man who swung a snow shovel at them to frighten the dogs away.
As for the case of attacks in Stevens County, officials have issued recommendations for residents to take necessary steps to protect their families and animals. There are also concerns that the attacks could start escalating to include children. It’s possible that the owners of the dogs will start keeping them inside at night, which might then end the string of killings. This recent news can serve as a warning call to families in areas everywhere to keep their family companions safe indoors at night – both for their sake and for the sake of other animals.
Photo credit: Stevens County Sheriff’s Office