It was a cool November morning in 2010, when the unexpected happened. My dog Gypsy and I had walked the Fish Lake Road area for the past five years, enjoying the tranquility and beauty of McIntyre Creek.
Par for the course was to park the truck at the bird-watching pull out, just before Icy Waters Fishery on the Fish Lake Road.
I usually never sway from the routine of grabbing my bear spray and air horn on the porch, before walking the trails around Whitehorse. This morning it just seemed safe to pass it up because it was a spur of the moment decision to go for a walk, and we would not be long. Murphy’s law came back to haunt me.
Gypsy and I parked and walked the steep grade just past the Icy Waters Hatchery. All the dog training we had done paid off and my little black lab cross healed on command. I couldn’t lose her if I tried. Gyp was a rescue dog from Fort Nelson, B.C. She definitely picked me to spend the rest of her life with. I called her my little healing dog, as we both really needed each other at this time in our lives. Before moving permanently to the Yukon, I worked for B.C Parks around the Fort Nelson area, which was heavily populated with bears. Gyp was a perfect companion for that region; our bond grew and we became inseparable.
On that November morning, I remember thinking, “It is a quiet morning, no traffic, so I think I will let Gyp off the leash for a little more freedom.”
After about 20 minutes, we started to descend the steep hill, back to the truck, which was parked about a mile away.
All of a sudden, a black wolf came out of the ditch about 50 feet in front of us, and stopped. I reacted quickly and just had time to wrap the long leash around Gypsy’s neck, with no time to snap it to her collar. I assumed the wolf would keep running up the embankment, but this was not the case. The three of us stood and assessed each other, for what seemed like an eternity.
I then realized the wolf was displaying predatory behaviour as he moved towards us. By this time, Gypsy was barking and in protective mode, not one bit worried that she could take the wolf on, if need be.
The wolf’s eyes were fixed on Gypsy. I realized the wolf saw this as an opportunity for a quick meal. I looked around for a stick on the side of the road, but the fresh snow had covered everything up. When I pulled Gyp behind me, between my legs, she was struggling to be free, barking wildly. To my horror, she just about slipped her collar, but I tightened my grip again, giving her just enough room to gasp for air. It was all I could do to restrain her.
I decided to throw my earmuffs at the wolf to distract it, and possibly put some distance between us as I ran backwards down the hill. In seconds, the wolf sniffed the earmuffs and was within 10 feet of us. It’s amazing how fast he ran with his long legs. I then started yelling at the top of my lungs, and stomped my feet, charging back at him. The wolf didn’t want any part of me screaming at him and decided to keep backing off.
We played this game about six more times, running backwards down the hill. Each time the wolf was braver and moved in closer. At one point the wolf came within a few feet, growling at me and trying to grab Gyp from behind me. I was praying for a vehicle to come round the corner, but it was one of those non-typical mornings on Fish Lake Road, with not a car in sight.
I was in debt to my little companion of 10 years — she had protected me so many times on our hikes in Northern B.C. — from charging moose and bears with cubs. I wasn’t ready for her to leave me, yet. I knew that once the wolf grabbed her by the neck, it would be a matter of seconds and it would be all over. I would have been traumatized for the rest of my days.
Finally, we reached the bottom of the hill near the buildings of the fish hatchery. I knew from past experience in B.C that wolves don’t like close proximity to people or buildings. Thank God, at that very moment the wolf decided to run across the ditch and up the embankment. He sat down and howled. I knew the wolf was calling out to the rest of the pack, somewhere nearby.
Wolves usually send out the alpha female to hunt and locate the game. When they find prey, they howl and let the pack know they need help to surround the animal and take it down.
Within seconds, the wolf pack answered. They were below us on McIntyre Creek. I was preparing to let Gyp go if the pack decided to come out onto the road, because I would then be in danger, too. I was sure the wolf pack would be waiting by the truck when we reached it.
I kept Gyp close to me and kept running, looking back from time to time. We had a kilometre to go. By the time we reached the truck, my hands were shaking so badly and my heart pounding, that I could hardly get the keys in the door. Gyp’s eyes were bigger than saucers, as she seemed to sense I had saved her life. At that moment I realized I had no voice left, it was like I had laryngitis, after all that yelling for the past 25 minutes. We were finally safe.
For a few weeks afterwards, I would have dreams where all I could see, close up, was the yellow of the wolf’s eyes.
Sadly, Gypsy passed away at the old age of 14 years.
Thank you Gyp, for all those precious years and unconditional love. Without you, I would never have ventured off the beaten path into the backcountry of Northern B.C. and the Yukon.