Renee and Scott Krosschell own Sunre’h Ranch in Hazelhurst. They board, train and rescue horses. In the early morning hours of Saturday, Sept. 8, it was Renee Krosschell’s personal horse that would need rescuing.
“My horse got attacked by wolves,” she said. Her horse, Chica, is a 9-year-old, 1,100-pound mare.
“The attack happened about 1:40 in the morning.” Krosschell said. “We woke up to a horse that was just screaming.”
The Krosschells sprang into action immediately, grabbing a gun and rushing out of the house into the dark.
“I hear the horse screaming and I hear the wolf howling,” she said. “I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, we have a horse that’s being attacked.’”
She said they heard growling and snarling and more screaming from the horse under attack as they ran for the pasture. The horses were frantic.
“My husband just ran out there ... and started screaming,” Krosschell said. The Krosschells were able to break up the attack. She said three wolves fled the pasture.
There were five horses in the pasture at the time. They moved the horses into a barn.
Krosschell said the injured mare was shaking so badly that she could barely stand. None of the other horses sustained injury, but the injured mare required immediate medical attention.
“We’re still in the process of trying to get [reimbursed for] the vet call,” Krosschell said.
Owners of domestic animals that are killed or injured by wolves can put in a claim for reimbursement. The reimbursement is contingent on verification by DNR or USDA Wildlife Services staff.
Krosschell gathered evidence in the wake of the attack to help substantiate their claim.
“I got pictures of the footprints ... and I’ve got pictures of bites on her legs. They took a chunk out of her privates, a bite to the front left shoulder,” she said.
The veterinarian, Scott McKay, and his wife, Brenda, arrived from Rhinelander at about 2:25 a.m. and worked on the horse until about 5 a.m.
“It took them two-and-a-half hours to suture up her bottom, as they call it. The vulva,” Krosschell said. She said it took 20-30 stitches to close the wound, which was bleeding profusely at first.
According to Krosschell, USDA Wildlife Services’ Jim Tharman (a wildlife specialist) investigated the scene. He had questions about the attack, and was trying to verify if it was possible that the attack came from a bear, coyotes or dogs, or even a cougar.
Krosschell said she believes a bear or cougar would have left different wounds, such as larger claw marks. She also dismissed the possibility of coyotes or dogs.
“You can definitely tell the difference between coyotes and wolves. Coyotes yip and wolves howl. Not only that, the footprints that I got were close to three inches wide.”
She also noted that there was saliva on the horse’s back, suggesting an animal larger than a coyote.
Krosschell doesn’t believe there are dogs running at large in the area, but says there is a pack of wolves with which area residents are familiar. She also noted her 90-pound shepherd doesn’t leave a track as large as those she took pictures of after the attack.
Krosschell submitted the pictures she took at the scene and statements from her and McKay, along with the bill for his veterinary services, to USDA Wildlife Services.
“They said, ‘We will be in touch,’” she said.
Asked whether she expected to get reimbursed, Krosschell said, “I’m hoping. I mean, this isn’t right.
“I’m not looking to get any major money from this. I’m not looking to get the price of a horse. All I want is two things: I want that bill covered, and to shoot-on-sight if I have any of these wolves in my pastures ever. I want to drop them dead.”
She noted that a permit is needed to kill a wolf in such cases and would like to see one issued.
“I’m not going to stand here and let them take down one of my horses. Plus, we’re a rescue ranch ... I’m not going to stand for that,” Krosschell added.
She worries that a horse that’s weak and in need of rehabilitation could be especially susceptible to a wolf.
Krosschell said the injured mare, which is also pregnant, is doing well to this point.
Wildlife Services’ opinion
Dave Ruid, assistant district supervisor at the USDA Wildlife Services Rhinelander office said the outcome of the claim was still pending (as of Friday afternoon), but said they weren’t seeing signs typical of a wolf attack in the Krosschells’ case.
“Our position is the injuries are very atypical of that being inflicted by a wolf,” he said. “I shared that information and the photographs with four regional biologists in Minnesota and Wisconsin and we all draw the same conclusions.”
The size of the prey would make it a rare target for a wolf, according to Ruid.
“Keep in mind wolves in Wisconsin prey on whitetail deer. These range from the weight of a fawn to a few hundred pounds. For wolves to attack full-grown healthy horses is extremely rare,” he said.
“I can count on one hand, in a decade of doing this, the times we have verified wolves attacking adult horses,” he added.
He doesn’t know what caused the injuries to the horse, but believes there would be more damage if wolves had attacked. Ruid thinks it’s possible that domestic canines could be the culprits in this case.
“The injuries on the lower rear legs would be more typical of a dog. Very superficial, not requiring veterinary attention,” he said.
As far as the injury to the horse’s vulva, Ruid wasn’t certain what to make of it.
“I can’t explain. I can only say in our experience of investigating thousands of wolf complaints is that is not consistent with injuries from wolves,” he said.
“One wolf — an 80- or 90-pound wolf on the large end of the scale — attacking an 1,100-pound horse ... it doesn’t happen. What happens when wolves attack large prey ... it’s multiple animals and they attack from the front shoulder region to the hind quarter region. Sometimes it’ll include the nose, the face.”
Ruid doesn’t dispute the fact that wolves are in the area, he just doesn’t believe they were responsible for the attack.
“I would suspect we could find coyote, dog, bobcat, fox, wolf and bear tracks within a half of a mile of that location. Our investigator didn’t find any wolf tracks in the immediate [area].”
Ruid said there haven’t been any recent verified cases of wolves attacking domestic animals in the immediate vicinity [western Oneida County].
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org