Paul Moore often runs his chocolate Labrador retriever off leash when he's training the dog to look for sheds - deer antlers on the ground.
So there was nothing unusual when the owner and eager dog left Moore's parked truck off Observation Road in Duluth earlier this month and headed into the woods.
"I try to keep him about 10 yards out so I can watch what he's doing. He's pretty good for that,'' Moore said, adding that he had just given the dog the command to start looking for antlers when their outing turned bad. It was just after 7 p.m.
That's when Moore saw two wolves running full speed toward his dog.
"The first one was a few feet ahead of the second one and hit my dog at full speed, right in the back end,'' Moore said, describing how the wolf tore into the dog's hind end.
Moore said he was stunned, and his dog was screaming, as the second wolf readied to attack the dog from the front. That's when Moore sprang into action.
Moore says he always carries a long-handled ax with him on his walks, more to use as a walking stick than anything else. On this walk, however, he summoned his strength and used it to save his dog.
"I ran at the front wolf and swung so hard that I missed him with the ax head and just hit him with the handle,'' Moore said. That was enough to get the wolf off the dog's front end. But the first wolf was still biting into the dog's rear and underside.
"The axe flew out of my hand... So I laid down on top of my dog to protect him and started kicking at the other wolf,'' Moore said. "I know no one in their right mind would do such a thing. But I was running on adrenaline. I wasn't thinking. I just acted to save my dog."
The kicking worked and the second wolf let go. Both wolves moved about 30 yards away and then stopped and watched as Moore set about trying to stop the dog's bleeding.
"I used part of my shirt and slowed the bleeding... He got so he could walk. He was pretty shook-up,'' Moore said of his dog. "So was I."
The 3-year-old lab, named Rad Venom, is average size and weighs about 70 pounds. He said both wolves were much larger "more the size of a big German shepherd."
Veterinarians cleaned up five puncture wounds and gave the dog antibiotics and painkillers. The wounds are healing and the dog appears to be recovering quickly and has regained its vigor.
The May 15 attack occurred just 200 yards from Moore's parked truck along Observation Road and only 300 yards from the WDIO television studios, Moore said. That's a wooded but not remote area of the city - certainly not the outskirts of town. An avid bowhunter who takes part in the city's annual bow hunt each fall, Moore knows the area around Observation Road like it's his back yard, which it basically is.
Moore told his story because he thinks the public should know that wolves sometimes enter the city limits of Duluth, as do coyotes, bear, bobcats and other critters. Some of them even live in the city. That's nothing new. But Moore noted that more people are walking and biking on more wooded trails across the city and that means more chances of wolf-human, and wolf-dog, interactions.
"It's great we have all this wooded area in Duluth,'' Moore said. "I have nothing against wolves... But people need to know, especially if they have dogs that run loose. There's more out there to be concerned about than ticks and Lyme disease."
Wolves are routinely spotted in Hermantown, Rice Lake and townships around Duluth and have been reported in News Tribune stories in Duluth as well. In February 2018, a wolf that had earlier become entangled in a wire snare wandered through much of eastern Duluth before being shot and killed by a Duluth police officer along Rice Lake Road near Marshall School.
Between 15 and 30 members of the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance who hunt deer in the city limits each fall annually report seeing wolves spotted in the city limits according to the group's annual reports.
Moore's incident follows many reports in recent years of wolves killing dogs in rural areas and attacking hunting dogs in the woods, sometimes with people just a few feet away. In September 2017 near Isabella a pack of six wolves chased a grouse hunter's dog - the dog jumped back in the truck to escape. The wolves at first refused to leave the area around their truck where the hunter and two children were standing, even after the hunter fired a shot.
There have been very few verified reports of healthy wolves actually attacking people and no recorded instances ever of people killed by wolves in Minnesota.
Wolves not only kill other canines for food but are fiercely defensive of territory, killing other wolves from different packs and attacking any coyotes or dogs that enter their areas.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources last year estimated about 2,655 wolves live in Minnesota in 465 packs, most of them in the northern one-third of the state. Despite efforts to remove wolves from federal protection so they can be hunted and trapped under state rules, the big predators remain off-limits, listed as threatened in Minnesota under the Endangered Species Act.
Federal trappers capture and kill about 180 wolves each year in Minnesota near where livestock and pets have been confirmed killed by wolves, including several just outside Duluth.