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This article was published 4/3/2019 (232 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
They say dogs are man’s best friend, but tucked away in one wild pocket of southern Manitoba there’s the tale of a dog that ran away with a deer.
"A lot of people think it’s a pretty unique story... Not only did she make friends with a buck, but a camera got pictures of it," Rachel Howatt said by phone Monday, after she and her boyfriend, Clint Sibbick, posted a half-dozen photos online of the full-grown male deer and the dog interacting.
Their female husky, Koda, disappeared for three days prior to Christmas from her mother’s cattle ranch in the Pembina Valley, about six kilometres south of Manitou. The dog returned Dec. 23, happy and healthy, Howatt said.
The dog had been home for weeks before the mystery of its time in the wild was solved.
A neighbour, returning from vacation, had trekked to his hunting cabin in the Pembina Valley and retrieved the memory card from a nearby game camera. The man discovered hundreds of shots of the dog and the buck in each other’s company.
One image shows the deer — the kind of game animal dogs are better known for chasing — foraging less than a metre from where the dog is curled up, apparently asleep on the deer’s bed of straw at the edge of a field in the valley. Another shows the two animals nose-to-nose. Others show the deer following the dog, or the dog following the deer.
Last month, Howatt’s uncle chanced on the neighbour, who related the story of finding reams of photos of a wild buck with Howatt’s dog.
"You’re joking! There’s no way that’s the truth," Howatt said she told her uncle. "I need to see proof before I believed it."
And there it was: "Hundreds of pictures of Koda and this buck. They spent whole (days) together."
Koda disappeared Dec. 20 and was gone for three days. Her owners scoured the valley on foot and snowmobile, but there was no trace of the dog.
"She’s almost two years old and she tends to wander," Howatt said.
Two days before Christmas, Koda returned home. "She wasn’t hungry, She wasn’t hurt. She was totally healthy and happy."
After Howatt posted a half-dozen photos to Facebook relating the story, she was told another neighbour had spotted the animals walking on a country road together.
"It kind of makes sense now, because she does still disappear for a few hours at a time. I joke it’s to check up on this new friend she’s got in the valley," Howatt said.
It is a heartwarming story — but Garry Suderman sees another side to the tale of predator and prey turning friendly.
Suderman is the man whose game camera was set up next to a hay bale a neighbouring rancher (Howatt’s uncle) had set out to draw deer away from a cattle silage feed pile.
"My first impression was the dog was waiting for the animal, to try and take it out. For a meal. But being the deer was not that weak, the dog eventually got hungry (and went home)," Suderman said Tuesday.
The buck was injured, one of its antlers was broken off and it had two wounds under the right eye. The animal was a regular at the hay bale, judging by the game camera photos.
Another image revealed the dog running off a second buck while the first stayed put. In other shots, the dog appears to be trying to play the deer out, as coyotes do when they bring down prey.
Suderman could tell from the antlers it was the same deer in all shots. Deer antlers are like fingerprints and this one’s front points, on the intact side, were shaped like a crab claw. "I gave the guy a name. The guy’s called Crab," he said.
Crab may still be alive, but no one will know for sure until its antlers, with their signature crab claw, grow back in the summer.
"The dog is a husky and that’s his nature. If dogs pack up, they can be really mean. You can have the same dog come back... and sleep on your couch. They get into pack? They turn wild," Suderman said.
Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.
Updated on Tuesday, March 5, 2019 at 11:24 PM CST: Final print version.