Wolves Attacked My Labs in Tahoe Today
Written by Kevin Ford of West Sacramento, CA on July 25th, 2006
It happened at about 9:30am this morning on a mountain bike trail, near Onieda and Pioneer Trail (where I started my mountain bike ride) in South Lake Tahoe, California. This morning, I left our campsite at Zephyr Cove with my dogs and mountain bike packed up in my truck for one of the "easiest routes" set up by the CA Forrest service in South Lake Tahoe. I had gotten some advice from the California Forrest Visitors Center this was a good trail for my low key kind of mountain biking I like to do, plus it would give Jazz and Zoey a chance to jog and get some exercise after being leashed up for the most part of the last two days of camping.
After about three miles into the forest following the trail through beautiful meadows and thick pines, we came to a paved cul-de-sac and a community of luxurious cabins. It was a short lived disappointment, for on the other side of the cul-de-sac, another trail began. As I passed by the California Forrest Service signs detailing what kind of vehicles could use the trail, I noticed a sign indicating the trail had "moderate difficulty." The “easy” trail we had just left hardly caused us to break a sweat, so I did not think much of the warning. Unfortunately, I did not see any signs warning me of any wildlife, and there certainly was not a warning about a “pack of wolves just ahead” either. Furthermore, there was not a name of the trail posted, just in case you were looking to do some wolf pack sight seeing in the near future.
Less than 200 yards away from residential civilization, my two dogs and I encountered a white haired wolf. He appeared on a hill above the trail we were on and began to howl at us. I looked up and saw the wolf, very magnificently stare us down and howl over the top of us, almost as if he was making a battle cry of some sorts. I did not see any of the others with him at this point since he was at the crest of a hill above where we were on the trail.
We picked up speed and went across a bridge over a little stream. My two black lab mixes, Jazz and Zoey, were jogging ahead of me about 20 feet or so. About 50 yards after the bridge and up a little grade, something caught my dogs’ attention to the right or South on the downward side of the mountain we were climbing. They both left the trail together and went after something very quickly. As they darted through the trees and over a little hill, they were soon out of my sight. Now this is not exactly abnormal for them, given the many squirrels and birds they like to chase as they wait for me to catch up. I was peddling up the trail and was also trying to put some distance between the slowest of us three and that wolf we had just seen howl at us. I had not turned around to see he was not alone, nor did I realize he had called in forces to attack. And before I could down shift to face an even stiffer climb, all of a sudden, I was hearing blood curling cries and what sounded like a large fight with a lot of painful howling going on by my dogs. I know their voices pretty well and could hear both of them scream with terror in their voices. I froze in my tracks, stunned and listened as the fight lasted about three seconds, but what seemed like forever. I turned my bike around immediately and as my head caught up with my body to face the bridge we had just crossed, I saw my dog, Jazz, running for his life as a single wolf chased him from where the fight occurred back toward the bike trail. He desperately crossed the trail with a single leap and a white haired wolf went after him up the mountain on a more direct steeper climb than the bike trail we were on, this side of the stream. I could hear the chase go up the mountain now on the opposite side of where I had last seen Zoey.
Since I thought the stronger of my two labs, Jazz, could out run the wolf pursuing him, I decided to check in on how Zoey did in the fight. I headed off the trail where the dogs had left the trail, toward where Zoey should have been, thinking she probably got the worst of the fight and needed more immediate attention, maybe some first aid, possibly some help in the fight if she had anything left in her. I had a buck knife (about 9 inches long) in my backpack, but I forgot I even had it since things were happening so fast. Could I save at least one of my dogs I thought? I did remember I had a first aid kit in my pack. Maybe I could just bandage up her wounds and get her to medical help.
As I reached the top of the hill and looked down through the thicket of trees, my eyes locked on five wolves just staring me down looking almost guilty for what they had just done to my poor Zoey girl. They began to saunter toward me and spread out in their pack like attack mode, so I shouted and screamed at them as I raised up my bike and my 6'4" frame as large as I could to scare them off, wondering if I could make like a bear and fool them a little. Fortunately, they bought it and one by one they turned away and headed across the mountain in a Westerly direction, in the same direction we were heading on the bike trail. I could tell they were rather unimpressed by my show, but I was relieved they were not after me. Plus, I did not see Zoey dangling from any fangs. As the pack save one (the one chasing Jazz) left the scene completely, I began to have regrets for chasing them off. I only wish I could have interrogated the suspects given there was no sign of what they had done to Zoey.
I began to look for the remains of Zoey, my youngest of the two labs we own. How could she tackle five wolves I thought to myself. Okay make it six counting the one that went darting after Jazz after he realized the numbers were not in his or Zoey's favor. Maybe he got injured in the fight, but was able to flee fast enough, and Zoey was left to fend for herself. Your thoughts just race when this kind of thing happens. I only heard the fight, I didn't see it.
After about 30 seconds of scanning the downhill side of the mountain, I could not find Zoey's body. So I raced back to where the trail was, crossed it where I thought Jazz had and started up the mountain with my mini-sword drawn. I finally remembered I had brought my buck knife with me. I spent about five minutes looking for Jazz and the wolf that was after him, but nothing. Usually when I cry out my dogs names they come to me. It seemed I was shouting out their names every other second. So, I went back to look for Zoey, crossed the trail searching for clues on where the fight occurred exactly. I tracked paw prints down the mountain to a location about seventy five yards or so from the trail, where I located a bunch of sets of prints in the dirt and pine needle mixture. I did not see any blood however, but figured that was where the main brawl took place. The wolves appeared to be no more than forty pounds each, about the same size as my youngest, Zoey. So, I figured they could not have dragged her very far. Can wolves carry their own weight like an ant? I thought maybe they shoved her in a bush or hid her under a crag between rocks or fallen trees to come back for her later after the seemingly large bear (me) had left. I broadened my search in all the possible hiding places and still nothing for Zoey. I looked at my watch and it was approaching 10am.
That's when I lifted my head and noticed a single wolf standing staring at me about 40 yards away. Could the pack have gotten the courage to come back after me now? In my anger, I turned and ran toward the wolf with my arms held high. I growled and screamed in an aggressive posture as best as I could until the wolf figured the fight was not worth it. Could I have chased away the only visible suspect / witness I had. Memories of CSI jumped into my head. What an idiot I was to bring my dogs out on this trail I thought. I searched where the bold single wolf had stood to see if he was coming back for Zoey's carcas, possibly too soon. I thought I smelt blood where he stood, but it led to nothing. So, back to Jazz's side of the trail, I searched, this time a little farther up and out wider. Again, I was looking for clues on where the high speed chase took him and his attacker; but it only led me once again to a dead end. Next, I returned back to the side where Zoey was, possibly wondering if Jazz had double backed down the mountain to look for us. All and all, after about two and a half hours of searching, and at least a 400 yard radius on both sides of the trail for both of my dear companions, I began to contemplate how I was going to explain things to my wife, Jill. She and Noah are in Idaho visiting family on her dad's side and I am up camping in Tahoe with my closest buds.
We had both gotten so close to Jazz and Zoey since picking them up from the Sacramento pound in January of '03. Recently, they have done so well at welcoming our newborn into our own little pack so to speak. They even have the funny little habit of checking in on Noah in the mornings when they wake up with us. And the countless times they have brought a smile to our faces during these dark years we've encountered. They are priceless dogs to us.
Feelings of guilt for bringing them out on the trail began to set in. Sadness and sorrow did too. I eventually just stopped looking and just sat calling out their names into the vast, quiet forest. Finally I scaled up the mountain far enough to make it to the top of a large rock where I stood to shout their names one last time. Still, there was no sign of them. So, in a desperate voice, I knelt and prayed to God and asked him for his grace and mercy over their lives. I told the Lord that if he wanted to take anything out on me, he should not take it out on my dogs. “Their innocent, I'm the sinner, Lord.” As I begged for the Lord to embrace the same passion I had for my labs lives to be spared, I remembered a verse from the Bible that says something about moving mountains with faith and how Jesus healed his friend Lazarus from the dead also, by faith. So, I turned my eyes to the deep blue sky and shouted at God with a mixture of anger, sadness, guilt and rage, "If you say in the end I did not have enough faith in my prayers to you, then I will completely deny at least this one. Because I pray right now in Jesus Christ's name, that you will heal my dogs wounds those wolves brought upon them and you will bring them back to life unscathed, unharmed, completely normal, no broken bones whatsoever period, Amen. In fact, I name it and claim it, amen." With that, I stood up and jumped for ridiculous joy as if my dogs were actually right there in front of me, thanking God (in advance) that he had just saved and brought my dogs back to life! I wondered if God responded to that kind of assumptive close approach to prayer. It was a trial for faith I figured, so why not be crazy and express a level of faith I am not used to? I gmuess I am glad I was alone in the woods, because if I stumbled upon me doing that I would think to something like, “Gee that person is a wack job!”
Now I don't normally believe in that kind of stuff. Name it claim it theology that is. There are all of those swindling wolves of the pulpit we all know and often see in the lime light declaring in their ridiculous opera sounding fake voices, "You name that car you want, claim it and its yours, in Jesus' name. You name that house or job you want, claim it even before it happens, it's yours, in Jesus' name. Now just send my ministry $19.95." Yea so you can get rich and buy the car you want, buy the house you want! They're out, can't stand them. Their theology, name it claim it, that's out too; well it was until today. See, this time in my moment of crisis, I called out to God in a new way for me and chose to rejoice as if God had already given me an answer to my prayers.
Yet, despite my theatrics, God seemed to ignore me. Although I hoped desperately that my dogs would appear just around the corner after I celebrated prematurely God would hear my cry and answer favorably, I found myself hanging my head, looking to the ground, wishing somehow I could have saved my dogs from the wolves. As I worked my way down the mountain, back to the trail sobbing, I would hear a crack and pop as the forest naturally voices itself. Sure, I thought it was them every time I saw a limb close to the ground move, a squirrel or bird move, chirp, crack a nut or scathe a tree. Yet, I was dreaming. Still a little hope, a little extreme faith lingered in the back of my heart that a miracle still could happen.
Yet, I began to counsel myself to begin to look at things more practically. Besides, I had to get back and pack up camp, here on our last day of camping. What a great way to end a vacation - our dogs are killed by a six pack of wolves! So, I practiced my first pet eulogy. I said good bye to both Jazz and Zoey by recollecting all the fun times we've had together. Then, I just chose to hop on my bike and leave. I made my peace with God as I left, "You must have needed to feed those wolves with my dogs for some reason today. Okay, I can live with that." My tears burst open more as I drove my bike away down the mountain, thinking often of the numerous wolves I have been attacked by in recent years. Their pain was my pain.
But, as I biked down the hill trying to remember the path back to my truck, I encountered exactly five forks in the road as I noticed other trails going off toward other parts of the mountain. I prayed to God one last time. "Mercy O God, have mercy and bring my dogs back to life." Please, please, just have them show up somehow or have someone at least find their bodies and use their tags to call us and let us know what happened to them." I was reminded how Jesus had chosen to bring Lazarath back to life after seeing his mom cry for her son. Could God be testing my love for my dogs, wanting to see how much love I have for my dogs before he reacts to my prayer today? Thoughts continued to race as I peeled down the mountain in angst.
As I came up to my truck after lugging it up one last hill, I noticed black fur peering out from behind the front fender and mud flap. Could it be, yes both dogs were huddled together under the only shade they could find, resting and waiting for me. They saw me, I saw them and immediately I jumped off my bike and ran toward them and they ran toward me. I shouted "YES thank you God" and grabbed and hugged my dogs. I shouted into the crisp mountain air, "It's a miracle!!" I began to hug and kiss them as I checked both of my dogs for blood, wounds, broken bones or the like. Yet, amazingly, they were exactly as requested: unscathed, unharmed, completely normal, no broken bones (or blood for that matter) whatsoever, period. They licked me to death after noticing I wasn't hurt or dead either. I could not believe they found their way back and out of the grip of death, out from under a pack of six wolves powerful attack.
Some will say you never saw them physically attacked. And dogs, they have a great sense of direction, by the sense of smell. But I say an angel led them back to the car and God answers prayer by His wonderful grace, even to save a couple of dogs from a pack of wolves. Wow, praise God and not in a religious sort of way. If you have any doubts: Google search "wolf attack dog" and you'll see wolves usually win in the tabloids that report wolf / dog encounters. It's a miracle and God gets credit for saving my two companions.