Wolves and coyotes are the central suspects in attacks and killings of at least four dogs on the Anchorage Hillside over the winter.
Such assaults on pets are not uncommon in Anchorage, but biologists say the number of attacks and predator sightings is unusually high.
"It's a lot of activity," said Howard Golden, a state Fish and Game biologist who lives and works in Anchorage. "Wolf kills happen periodically. But it's somewhat unusual to have a wolf running through a neighborhood, attacking dogs. It indicates they don't have much fear of human activity."
These attacks on household dogs have occurred:
In November, two coyotes attacked and killed a beagle that was running loose near Campbell Airstrip, said Betsy Kean, a Hillside resident, who helped look for the dog after it vanished. The dog had been on a leash, but was running loose near the airfield when the coyotes attacked, she said.
In midwinter, a large coyote or wolf snatched a small dog off the front step of a home near Birch Road on the South Anchorage Hillside. The predator carried the dog off and the pet was not seen again, according to Rick Sinnott, a Fish and Game biologist.
Also in midwinter, a medium-sized dog was attacked while chained to a doghouse near Birch Road. The dog was found half-eaten about 30 yards from the doghouse. Sinnott believes the attacker was, again, a wolf or large coyote. "The predator might have been a wolf-hybrid, but it's unusual for a pet to eat another pet," Sinnott wrote in an e-mail about the attacks.
In late February or early March, a large husky or husky mix was attacked and killed while chained to a doghouse on Riverton Avenue, near lower Rabbit Creek Road. Tracks indicated a large wolf, Sinnott said. The predator tried so hard to pull the dog free of the doghouse that it ripped the dog's tail off. The dog was disemboweled.
Friday, a woman told Sinnott that she saw a wolf with a short tail attack her neighbor's large Labrador retriever. She broke up the attack before the dog was injured.
Golden said he saw a young, gray wolf on Wednesday in the Rabbit Creek Road area. He believes the animal and perhaps some other wolves or coyotes are responsible for the attacks.
He said that wolf packs tend to disperse in late winter and early spring.
"What you have is a bunch of young inexperienced wolves about. They are trying to make a living on their own and they don't really know the rules. ... They are testing their environment. Animals learn by trial and error. A dog on a chain is an easy mark," Golden said.
He said the size of the dogs attacked suggests wolves, not coyotes, are responsible. Coyotes weigh 40 to 50 pounds. An adult wolf typically weighs 85 to 115 pounds.
A low snow year has left Anchorage's moose healthy, Golden said. That may have made hunting by wolves more difficult and placed pressure to find food elsewhere.
"These may be fairly hungry wolves," he said. Several wolf packs live in the Anchorage area, Golden said. But wolves are shy and the packs live in the mountains in areas such as Ship Creek and Arctic Valley, he said.
The seasonal breakup of the pack and hunger may be drawing the young wolves to a new food source in Anchorage.
"It's clear that there's wolves in the area."
Reporter Ben Spiess can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-257-4464.