Rural Washington Alarmed by Killer Dogs, But Are They Really a Threat?

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REUTERS / Ilya Naymushin

It should be said that NewsFeed loves dogs. Canine companions are always a treat to write about on these pages, particularly puppies. But a group of pooches have reportedly marked dangerous territory in rural Washington State where they have been accused of roaming the countryside mauling other animals.

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Since late March a pack of several dogs, whose breeds are unknown and have no owners claiming them, have been roving the hills around Deer Park attacking animals in the area. Around 100 have been killed so far, ranging from a 350-pound llama to goats and other small creatures, the Associated Press reported Friday. No humans have been harmed. Police and volunteers have searched for the dogs, but so far have had no results, mainly because the hounds lay low during the day and move about at night, much like a pack of wolves.

Packs of stray dogs coming together to hunt is widely regarded as instinctive behavior, but these animals do not seem to be attacking for food.

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“We have this pack that is out there killing for the sake of killing,” Stevens County (Wash.) Undersheriff Lavonne Webb told the AP. “What is going to happen if they come across a small child?”

But scientists like Karen Overall, a specialist in veterinary behavioral medicine cast a healthy dose of doubt on that, saying there is no apparent evidence that these dogs are killing just for sport.

“There is no rational reason in evolution that this would occur,” she told TIME. “I’m seeing no evidence this has anything to do with sport and everything to do with the possibility that the dogs may be serious about something.”

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Overall said that the dogs may be killing because of an immediate threat and that they could actually be hunting and not completely consuming the animals due to an interruption, or taking food to an injured or nursing dog not yet seen in the pack. The most important thing to remember, she noted, is that not everything is known about these dogs, including whether they are domesticated, wild or feral.

“I don’t think these animals are killing for the sake of killing,” Overall said. “What strikes me is that in situations like these the number of kills are not accurately reported until you get a scientist who can find the right data and often it’s not as it was first portrayed.”