It was a mystery at first.
A reader recently emailed me a picture of a creature that he said was shot by a neighbor as it attacked his dogs. He said the animal hopped and had hooves and fangs.
The picture showed what appeared to be some sort of canine with long back legs and pointy ears.
The animal was shot in Luzerne County and, according to the person who sent the email, the Game Commission was called, came in and took the dead animal away without an explanation.
But at least I had a place to start.
I called the commission’s region office in Dallas and they had no such report of the incident.
I studied the picture again, and the mysterious creature looked more and more like a red fox or a coyote with an extreme case of mange. It was basically hairless, which would explain why the back legs looked unusually long and why the ears were noticeably pointy.
Now, I was leaning toward it being a red fox. It isn't unreasonable to assume that a sickly red fox would attack domestic dogs, or vice-versa. And I have seen foxes "hop" or bound as opposed to walk. And yes, they do have fangs (canine teeth) as was suggested in the email, but the hooves …
In the photo the feet do appear to be "hoof-like," but perhaps the mange distorted the appearance of the paws. It almost looked like the pads of the paws were swollen, which may explain the appearance of hooves.
A few days later the mystery was solved.
I spoke to a local wildlife conservation officer whose district includes the area where the mysterious creature was shot. He said he had been seeing a red fox in the vicinity with an extreme case of mange and had the photos to prove it. Sure enough, it matched up with the animal that was shot while attacking the dogs.
What started out as an oddball creature turned out to be a mangy, hairless red fox. It was an interesting find, and an example of how sometimes nature can play tricks on our imaginations.