Peter Fellman’s friendly dog Bingo is an ambassador of sorts. He’s an easy-going “mongrel” of a mutt who earned his nickname calming canine tensions at dog parks.
If it wasn’t for Bingo’s even-keeled energy, an encounter with a Douglas Island wolf last weekend may have turned out differently. Bingo came nose-to-nose with a wolf while Fellman and his wife Jane Pierson walked their two dogs at Sandy Beach on Saturday.
Neither Fellman, his wife nor their dogs were harmed in the rare encounter, something Fellman chalks up to Bingo’s benign nature. It was at least the third wolf encounter dog walkers have had on local trails this year. Fellman’s episode, unlike others, seemed friendly.
The couple was on their way to a dinner at a friend’s house when they decided to stop by Sandy Beach to get their dogs some quick exercise. They parked, facing the baseball fields and Treadwell Arena.
Bingo took off in one direction while their heeler, Colby, went another.
“My heeler went over on the grass and my wife was kind of watching her,” Fellman said. “I was kind of looking over the top of the car wondering where my other dog went, I didn’t really think anything about it.”
Pierson saw the wolf first. Bingo stood under a nearby streetlight, tail wagging. He sniffed at what looked like a “big, black dog,” Fellman said.
“My wife hollered our dog’s name, and about the time I turned around and looked, my wife said, ‘That looks like a wolf!,’” Fellman said. “So I ran to the car, I turned and looked and I went, ‘Holy s***! That looks like a wolf!’”
The wolf towered over the 65-pound Bingo, regarding the pet curiously.
“It was a very calm encounter. When I looked, they were nose-to-nose. No hair up on my dog or anything. They were right there under that street light just plain as day,” Fellman said. “This thing was massive.”
The couple scrambled to get their dogs and themselves back into their car. Then Fellman grabbed his cellphone to take a picture. The wolf, seemingly unbothered by Fellman and Pierson’s commotion, walked to the edge of the parking lot, where brush gives way to a rocky bank and the beach.
A pair of eyes shone brightly in his car’s headlights. The wolf paused long enough in the brush for Fellman to take several photos.
“The wolf wasn’t skittish or fearful at all,” he said.
The couple later sent photos to Fellman’s boss, Sen. Click Bishop, who’s an avid trapper. Bishop agreed that the canine pictured was definitely a wolf.
The photos also made their way to Alaska Department of Fish & Game biologist Stephanie Sell. She agreed with Bishop’s estimation: Fellman most likely encountered a wolf at Sandy Beach on Saturday.
Looking at Fellman’s photos, Sell said it’s hard to tell the wolf’s age or sex. It’s also unclear why the wolf approached the couple and their dogs on Saturday. Generally, wolves are elusive predators who do their best to avoid humans.
The wolf Fellman saw could associate humans with food, Sell said, but hopefully, nobody is feeding the wolf. That could condition a wild animal to become dangerously friendly with humans and dogs, leading to more encounters and more chances for somebody to get hurt.
It’s not unusual for wolves, especially young ones, to find themselves on their own. They sometimes get kicked out of their packs. And though rare, it’s not unheard of for wolves to come into contact with humans.
It does seem like there are more wolf encounters recently in the Juneau urban area than usual, though, Sell added. That could simply be a function of the social media’s power to amplify stories, or there could actually be an influx of wolves in the area. Sell said it’s unclear.
ADF&G likes to keep track of human-wolf interactions to try and keep the public safe. The ADF&G hunting, trapping and wildlife office on Douglas can be reached at 465-4265.
Keeping your dogs on a leash is a good rule, Sell said. It’s something she recommends anywhere in Southeast, not just to protect against wolf encounters, but, depending on the area, against bear and moose run-ins as well.
Electrified fences are recommended for chicken coops and other livestock as well, Sell added. ADF&G has a few electrified fences they can loan out to those interested. Tips on living in wolf habitat can be found at adfg.alaska.gov.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.