Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Witness sinks teeth into woman's wolf tale

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Clayton Ross figured the wolf was sick or injured, which is why he pulled over on a lonely stretch of Highway 6 in the first place.

Ross, a young father from Pimicikamak Cree Nation in Cross Lake, was headed south on Highway 6 with his girlfriend and two daughters the day a Thompson woman reported she was attacked by a wolf.

That was March 8, near Grand Rapids, about 400 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

But the account Dawn Hepp gave in repeated media interviews doesn't fit Ross's recollection of events.

Ross posted a colourful Facebook rant full of expletives after the encounter, ending the post with this classic line: "That was the dumbest (excrement) I ever seen in my life."

Reached at his home Thursday, Ross said a truck, with a woman alone at the wheel, pulled up behind his car that day.

The wolf they were watching was a timber wolf, full-grown but scrawny and skinny. It looked as though it had been hit by a car.

"Maybe the woman felt sorry for it," he said.

Ross and his family watched as the driver got out, crossed the two-lane highway and walked 10 metres toward the spot where the wolf was standing and watching her.

"She had a bag in her hand, chips? Anyway, she's dumping this bag of chips by the side of the road and her truck was 30 feet behind her.

"I sure as hell wouldn't get out of a vehicle if a wolf was there," Ross said. "This wolf is slowly walking up to her. She didn't move back. It was like the woman was trying to feed the damn wolf. Me and my girlfriend are saying, 'What the hell is she doing?' "

Then the wolf jumped the woman, Ross said.

"It attacked her. It pounced. It happened so fast, it was over in like three to five seconds and I'm going 'Man!' Then she stepped back, like she was pushing it off, and it jumped down and it ran about 15 feet away from her."

At that point, the woman backed off too and retreated down the highway toward her truck, the wolf trailing her.

"I'm saying, 'Man, get the hell in your vehicle.' She was taking so damn long getting back to it and then she took a while to close the door.

"It must have been three or four seconds after she got in before she closed her door and the wolf was right there," said Ross.

Ross said he waited to see what would happen next.

His Facebook account recorded an exchange he recalled:

"We were looking at that wolf, then she came up behind us. I asked her if she was all right, then she says, 'Yeah. I'm OK. Don't worry.' Then she says, 'Are you OK??' I'm like 'Well, yeah, I'm worried about you. And then she says, 'ya, I'm OK. It's nothing.'

"I'm like (astounded). I think this lady's in shock."

As the woman roared off down the highway, Ross said, he pulled over to where the wolf had pounced her and looked for blood, but didn't see any.

Meanwhile, the wolf hadn't moved, which unnerved the already uneasy witnesses.

"I don't want people to think we didn't want to help her. I knew she was in shock and I tried to catch up with her vehicle, but we never saw it again," Ross said.

Hepp, the woman at the centre of the story, could not be reached Thursday for comment. She's reportedly resting at her mother's house in Ashern.

Wolf experts say Ross's account sounds realistic and Manitoba Conservation Thursday repeated its warnings not to feed wild animals. Provincial wildlife officials urged the witness to call their 24/7 tip line at 1-800-782-0076.

Experts looking at photos of a deer killed by a wolf in Ontario with puncture marks found they appeared remarkably similar to the puncture that appears in photos of Hepp's neck.

Experts said Thursday they may never sort out what happened.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2013 A5

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