PORT HARDY – Bill Passmore literally ran for his life last week after wrestling his dog from the jaws of a wolf.
Passmore went steelhead fishing on the Nawhitti River near Port Hardy with his two young cougar hounds, Huey and Lucy, Jan. 30. On the way to his fishing hole, his dogs, aged 10 months, starting sniffing trees and barking.
"I thought maybe they had smelled a cougar," said Passmore, who continued downstream. "The dogs stayed close which is unusual for hounds."
Passmore didn't give it much thought though until a couple of hours later when he and the dogs were returning to the truck.
"The dogs started baying, charging the bush and freaking out," said Passmore. "Then I heard a bark, then another. My female barked back and a wolf started howling.
"I started running," said Passmore who was still at least a kilometre from his truck. "We all started running together." That is until they came to a large log jam.
"My male dog hates crossing it," said Passmore. While he and Lucy began running over the top of the log jam, Huey stayed behind yipping. When Lucy, who was ahead of Passmore, suddenly turned, "roared" and started running back to Huey, Passmore turned back too.
He found his dog with a huge wolf at his neck. Passmore started yelling at the wolf he estimated to be 150 pounds.
"He didn't even look at me, didn't know I was there," said Passmore who was above the wolf on the log jam. Thinking his dog was dead, Passmore took a quick photo of the wolf with his cell phone. Then he saw Huey's chest heave.
"I knew then he was alive, so then I just launched myself onto the wolf's back," said Passmore.
"The wolf went one way and I landed on my back," said Passmore. "Suddenly five more heads showed up in a half circle around us. It all happened in a millisecond. The lead dog ran and the rest followed."
Passmore got up and so did Huey. He grabbed both dogs, heaved them up six feet onto the log jam and the trio once again began to run.
"I dragged both dogs by their collars," said Passmore, adding they weigh about 70 pounds apiece. "We ran across the log jam and then I threw them into the river and grabbed them again and dragged them across the stream."
The water was about two feet deep and they landed on a gravel sandbar and ran about a hundred yards up the bar, in a position directly across from the trail that led back to the truck.
"I kneeled down with a dog on either side of me," said Passmore. He was considering the crossing. The water was deeper here, about four feet and the far bank was steep.
"I looked across at the trail," said Passmore. "It is marked on either side by pink flagging tape and there was a wolf under each tape. I could just see their faces.
"I couldn't believe they were waiting for me," said Passmore. Then he heard the others. "I could hear yipping and barking and them running up and down behind the log jam."
Passmore tried to use his cell phone but there was no service. He noted the time though. And he realized he still had his fishing rod in his hand. He stored the rod behind a log. And waited for the wolves "to move in".
"I kept telling myself, don't freeze up, keep thinking, keep moving," said Passmore.
Forty minutes later, the wolves gave Passmore the chance he needed.
"All of a sudden the two lead dogs at the trail ran back to the others behind the log jam," said Passmore. "I knew they were coming for us."
Passmore once again grabbed his dogs and ran into the water. He had to go downstream about 30 feet to find a spot where he could haul the dogs out.
Then they were running again. Passmore once again had his dogs by the collar as he ran over the dense bush trail through salal, over fallen logs.
"I didn't look behind me. I knew I had seconds," said Passmore. "In my mind I knew I would have to leave one dog. I knew I would be ambushed."
The dogs had been silent through the trail, until the injured Huey banged into a tree and yipped.
"I doubled my speed," said Passmore.
Just as he was coming to the end of the trail, he lost his hat.
"I stopped to pick it up and thought, 'what am I doing?', I kept going."
When he reached the clearing where is truck was parked, the exhausted Passmore still had about 200 yards to go, mostly uphill.
"I was wearing about 40 pounds of gear, including chest waders," said Passmore. "I started slipping and fell three times before I was halfway up the hill. I couldn't hold the dogs anymore, but they stayed right beside me."
Once at the vehicle, Passmore threw the dogs in the cab, leaped in himself, slammed the door and collapsed.
"I was in shock. I couldn't drive for awhile. I couldn't believe I still had two dogs," said Passmore.
He eventually calmed down and headed back to town. He called his partner Andrea Anderson who met him at the vet's office.
Huey suffered several puncture wounds around the head, haunches and underbelly, but his injuries were not life threatening.
The next day Passmore and a couple of friends, armed with rifles, returned to the site. They could hear the wolves barking in the distance.
"The wolves ate the fishing rod and I never found my hat," said Passmore. "There were tracks everywhere, right up to where the truck had been parked. I was right, they were coming for us."
Passmore, who also fought off a black bear about 10 years ago, said he was surprised to see wolves at the Nawhitti.
"I have been fishing there for more than 21 years and never seen so much as a deer," said Passmore.
Passmore notified conservation officers, who have issued a warning.
"The Conservation Officer Service is advising the public of a recent wildlife conflict between dogs and wolves in the Nawhitti River area," said CO Tim Schumacher. "People are advised to be safety conscious and aware of potential wildlife conflicts when out of doors."
For more information on wolves and wolf safety see www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/misc/wolves/wolfsaf.html