A wolf? Nope, it is just a big dog | ParkRecord.com

A wolf? Nope, it is just a big dog

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

It was in the middle of the morning on Monday, Feb. 18, and a woman in Park Meadows was on the phone with the Park City Police Department.

There was an animal behind her Little Kate Road home, she told the police, and it appeared to be a wolf. It was the second time she had seen it, according to the police, and it looked like it topped 70 pounds in weight.

Her neighbors had also seen the animal, the woman explained to the police dispatcher.

But the animal was not a wolf, a state wildlife official maintains, even as he says there might someday be wolves living in the Park City area and the more rural parts of Summit County. Instead it was a neighborhood dog.

Wolves, an iconic animal of the West, are not believed to have settled in significant numbers in Utah, but there have been several confirmed sightings in the northern reaches of the state.

Wildlife officials say wolves that were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in northwestern Wyoming have migrated south. Two have been found in nearby Morgan County and one in Box Elder County.

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"Sooner or later, we’re going to have wolves in Utah," says Dave Swenson, who is the state Division of Wildlife Resources officer assigned to Summit and Wasatch counties, covering an area of vast mountain wilderness.

The call about the dog mistaken to be a wolf is evidence of the jitters wolves cause in the West. The worries are usually more pronounced in ranching communities, where ranchers take measures to protect their livestock from the animals, but people in places like Park City, which has expanded into what was once wilderness, also become nervous.

The call to the Police Department comes about two months after a series of mountain lion sightings in and around Park City, including in Park Meadows. There has not been a recent sighting, though, Swenson says.

The Police Department says it gathered little information about the Little Kate Road episode, and police officials say they did not take an in-depth narrative in the case.

Swenson says his investigation discovered that the animal was a dog that a family brought with them when they recently moved in. Swenson is unsure what breed it is. He talked to the woman who contacted the police, and she told him she had made a mistake.

"I wasn’t surprised . . . It’s unlikely, but possible, there’s a wolf in the area," he says, explaining people sometimes mistake German shepherds or huskies for wolves.

He says it "could be easy" for people to mistake a big dog for a wolf. Wolf ears, though, are round at the top, not pointed like some dog breeds, Swenson says. Wolf paws are larger than those of dogs, sometimes measuring 5 inches by 5 inches, he says. Wolves have gray, brown or black fur.

The call from Park Meadows was the second from the area in about a month, with Swenson saying a woman who lives in the Old Ranch Road neighborhood reported seeing two large dog-like animals. He says he found large tracks when he investigated, but he is unsure what left them. He does not rule out a wolf.

"The tracks I saw were not made by coyotes," he says.

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