Four alleged reports of animal attacks on the Heartland Trail have people on edge, and one victim sounding a warning.
Paul Ludwinski ended up in the emergency room of St. Joseph's Area Health Services last Thursday night, Sept. 22, after he was bitten in the calf while walking on the trail.
The rural Park Rapids resident figures he'd gone 1.5 miles northeast from the trail's inception in Heartland Park. He was east of County Road 1, he recalls.
"These are just vicious dogs out there looking for prey," Ludwinski said. "They were actually hunting, I believe. They looked like a wolf pack."
He described them as two big dogs, German Shepherd-like, "maybe mixed with a wolf."
One was whitish gray and the other was black and gold. Their faces were more wolf-like. He said the two were much larger than his own retriever-Lab crosses.
"I was able to kick one of the dogs," he said. "They were hiding. I was walking down the trail. As soon as I got perpendicular to them they both jumped out and started growling. I kicked one as hard as I could with my right foot but while I was kicking, the white dog bit my left calf."
Ludwinski said he then began kicking that dog and yelling loudly at it and finally scared them away.
"I got two puncture wounds," Ludwinski said. "They didn't require stitches but I am getting all of the shots" for rabies and antibiotics "that are kind of making me sick."
Hubbard County Chief Deputy Scott Parks confirmed that a deputy responded to Ludwinski's call, but there was little information provided to locate the dogs.
Ludwinski walks the trail several times a week. He'd never seen the dogs before, he said.
"I wasn't the only one," he added. "There's been several other people who've been attacked by these dogs so it's been going on for awhile."
Sometime after Ludwinski's attack a mother and daughter biking in that same area of the trail encountered the dogs, Ludwinski said.
"The dogs attacked her and ripped her pants," Ludwinski said of the mother. He told them to report the incident.
As he and wife Donna began spreading the word, especially for parents to watch their children, two more people came forward to report similar attacks, Donna Ludwinski said.
One woman reported seeing an attack Sept. 15 on the trail, the Ludwinskis said.
Police Chief Terry Eilers said his department has not received any calls yet but if people have concerns his officers will look into it.
County officers were unable to locate the dogs, Parks said.
Paul Ludwinski estimated the dogs could be 70-100 pounds each.
"I'm 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, so I'm a fairly big guy," he said. "They don't care who they attack. I'm concerned about other people who may not be as fortunate as me."
DNR assistant area wildlife manager Rob Rabasco said he knows of "no single report in the state" where wolves have attacked people.
"There are sometimes interactions with livestock, but with humans, no," he said. Although coyotes tend to make their presence known, they are considerably smaller than wolves, he said.
"It sounds like dogs," he ventured. "There's much more purpose to the way that wolves interact with anything they might consider prey, where with dogs, it's just random and reactionary."
Authorities say if you have had an encounter with these dogs, call the Police Department or Sheriff at 731-3331.