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Wearing Wolf's Clothing-Backyard Visitor Presents A Mystery



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Wearing Wolf’s Clothing—

Backyard Visitor

Presents A Mystery

By Kendra Bobowick

Uncertain about the animal he saw in his backyard, resident Robert Tarullo wanted documentation. Upon seeing the creature again, he steadied his camcorder and focused on what he thought might be a wolf.

“It was definitely not a dog,” he said. “We know all the neighborhood dogs.”

The mystery began during winter months, and has persisted.

“Since January I saw one, and recently a smaller one,” he said. Mr Tarullo “hasn’t gotten too close” during his frequent glimpses of this visitor, however.

The brown/gray, thick-coated animal presents some familiarity. “It’s like a large German Shepherd,” he said. He has seen it coming from the same direction each time, and leaving along the same route. So far, his sightings have been like a silent movie.

“It has been quiet back there, it’s strange,” he said.

Mr Tarullo provided several digital images to The Bee. One striking photo reveals the caninelike animal facing the camera with its head turned in profile. Its nose and chin are lifted as if with pride and the fur along the neck is as full and wide as its chest. A small black nose and ears perked with interest finish the image of this maybe-wolf standing on top of a woodpile.

Department of Environmental Protection Wildlife Biologist Paul Rego also viewed this image and has doubts. Assessing the picture, he said, “I don’t think it’s anything we can decide definitively.”

Voicing reservations shared by others, including Newtown Animal Control Officer Gerri Breyan, Mr Rego said, “It could be a coyote with a thick coat.”

He describes the animal in the photo as “sturdy in the chest.”

Mr Rego’s colleague saw the image and summed up speculations. Repeating his friend’s words, Mr Rego said, “If it’s a wolf, it’s a weird-looking wolf, and if it’s a coyote, it’s a weird-looking coyote.”

Discussion reveals that Mr Tarullo’s inquiry is not unusual. However, it is unique in one way.

Mr Rego said, “It’s not often we receive a photo, but we regularly have people who see things, and we regularly receive reports from people who think they saw a wolf.”

Coyotes are the most likely explanation, said Mr Rego. “They are 30–40 pounds and in the winter they can look larger with their thick coat,” he said. Coyotes also have a distinctive howl and yip, he said.

After contacting Newtown’s animal control officer, Mr Tarullo’s curiosity remained piqued. Ms Breyan shared doubts similar to Mr Rego’s, inclined to believe that Mr Tarullo’s backyard guest is something other than a wolf.

She said she has never had a confirmed sighting during her two years in Newtown. She wonders if the animal might have been a case of mistaken identity. She feels it might have been a dog. Her biggest fear was not of a wolf, but the more dangerous reality that people may panic.

“Once people hear the word ‘wolf,’ whether there is or not, they should not panic,” she said.

Issuing an adamant plea to residents, Ms Breyan said, “Wolves don’t actively pursue people, and they will not come into your home.” Domestic dogs and cats are more likely susceptible to dangers of other animals, she said.

Possibilities that the animal is a wolf are extremely slim.

“For this to be a naturally occurring wolf is exceptionally rare and highly improbable,” Mr Rego said. He surmises that the nearest wolves in the wild are as far away as northern Maine. Qualifying his explanation, Mr Rego said, “They were native throughout New England in pre-Colonial days.”

Internet references including wildlifesearch.com, wolfcenter.org, and wolfcource.org take the reader through the wolf’s history and facts while also exploring misconceptions.

Some stories draw a menacing picture of a wolf. Stories such as Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, and The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing cast a dark light on the animal. These paint the wolf as a predator hunting children and livestock.

Myth and mystery shroud modern understanding about wolves. Other lore reveals rabid wolves chasing after livestock and even people. Horror stories and movies about werewolves also leave frightening impressions.

Mr Rego contradicts these images saying, “They haven’t attacked humans in over 100 years in the United States.” He also presumes that attacks were provoked. “Attacks on humans are rare,” he said.

The truth poses a gentler story.

Wolfsource.org reveals a timid animal. Information found on the site explains that wolves are not vicious or aggressive. Wolves are described as emotional and often very shy. Wolves almost always avoid people out of fear, according to information.

More investigation illuminates a story with a different predator in the main role. Historically, man has hunted the wolf. Many species are now extinct.

More recently, wolves have presented an allure to pet owners. As Mr Rego explains, breeders develop wolf-dog mixes that people can buy. He does not believe that a hybrid animal would occur on its own.

He said, “The possibility of a hybrid is a rare occurrence all by itself. We don’t see coyotes breeding with domestic dogs naturally.” The breeding could take place in a lab for the pet trade, he said.

North American Wolves

The National Wildlife Federation site, nwf.org, explains that once “the wolf was plentiful in most of North America, but it was hunted ruthlessly.” Now on the endangered list, the wolf is slowly making a comeback, according to research.

In the 1800s, people usurped much of wolves’ prey including deer, elk, bison, and moose, and the wolves turned to livestock for food. At this point their decline began. The National Wildlife Federation states that wolves were tracked down and killed by bounty hunters. They were poisoned, shot, dragged from their dens, and hunted by dogs. By 1973 the wolf fell under the Endangered Species Act; since then ongoing efforts work to reestablish the wolf population.

Helpful hints about species are available on the National Wildlife Federation site. In particular, data points out differences between the coyote and wolf. The coyote is foxlike, with a smaller face and body with relatively large, pointy ears and reddish coloration.

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