Hunt turns tragic for dog owners
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hunters who use hounds know full well that sometimes dogs get lost or, worse yet, killed.
It's a nightmare scenario, one that can cause even the most pragmatic dog owner to wake up shaking and drenched in sweat.
Few nightmares, however, could be as harrowing as the real-life ordeal Larry Harrison and Scottie Derrick went through during an August dog-training trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The two Charleston-area men sent 10 beagles into a jack pine forest to run snowshoe hares. Eight of the dogs ended up dead, torn apart by wolves.
"It was the worst thing that's ever happened to me in 30 years of running dogs," said Harrison. "I wouldn't want anyone to see what we saw."
Harrison, Derrick and friend Jim McGuire of Jackson, Ohio, had taken their dogs to the Upper Peninsula to get them in shape for West Virginia's upcoming rabbit season.
"Snowshoe hares are bigger than our cottontails, and you can more easily train dogs to their scent," Derrick said. "The first three days we were there, we had a great time. But that last morning it all went bad."
Just 15 minutes after the men released their dogs, the pack went strangely quiet.
"We could see from the GPS that one of Larry's dogs was out of the pack, so we went looking for it," Derrick recalled. "We got within 40 feet of it, but we still couldn't see it. The GPS kept varying. We thought she was just shy and staying away from us."
After a few minutes' more searching, the men found the dog's body.
"I couldn't believe what I was looking at," Harrison said. "There wasn't much left but the rib cage. We thought from the GPS that she was alive, but as it turned out the wolf must have been carrying her around while we were searching."
With one dog known to be dead, the men looked for the rest of the beagles.
"We found the one, and then another, and then another, and then another, all dead," Harrison said.
Shortly after finding the fourth dog's body, the men caught a fleeting glimpse of one of the wolves.
"I looked up and saw a wolf pop out of the brush, about 40 yards away from us," Derrick said. "McGuire yelled at it, and it was gone in a blink."
Derrick estimated the wolf's size at 120 to 150 pounds. "It was bigger than the biggest German shepherd you'll ever see," he said.
The wolves - Derrick and Harrison believe there were four to seven of them - killed eight beagles and injured another in what Derrick calls "the blink of an eye."
"In 15 to 30 minutes, there was nothing left," he added.
None of the men were aware that wolves might pose a threat.
"We knew there were coyotes in the area, but I hadn't heard anything about wolves," Harrison said. "I'd been going up there for 16 years, and the worst thing that had ever happened was the time a couple of our dogs got messed up by a porcupine."
After the attack, the men started asking around about Upper Peninsula wolves. What they found left them determined never to return to the area.
"Michigan's wolf management plan calls for a population of about 200 to 300," Derrick said. "The population right now is estimated at 670 or so."
Pressure from animal-rights groups has hindered Michigan wildlife officials' efforts to reduce the population through hunting. A hunt will be held this fall, but will be halted after 43 wolves are killed.
"I don't think any of us are going back," Derrick said. "There's too much risk to the dogs. If there's a chance for something like that to happen again, we probably should just stay away."