On the morning of Aug. 26, Buck Matthews, manager of the Anchor Bar Ranch on Grouse Flats outside of Troy, went out to meet his ranch hand, Josh Markeson, so the two could return to rounding up their 300 cows trapped between fires on Eden Bench.
But another disaster confronted him as he stepped out the door.
Two of his cattle dogs, 10-year-old Border Collie/Kelpie “Scooter,” and 2-year-old Border Collie “Tom” had been attacked.
“Scooter could hardly stand up and was in shock,” said Buck’s wife, Chelsea Matthews. “Tom was limping and moving slow.”
Neighbor and rancher Collin Cunningham took the two dogs to the vet, nearly 60 miles away in Enterprise, so the men could continue their work of rescuing cattle. Wallowa County Sheriff’s Deputy Fred Steen met them at the Double Arrow Veterinary Clinic in Enterprise and took the report.
“The vet report is that they were attacked by a very large canine, bigger than a coyote,” said Chelsea Matthews. “At this point Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is calling it a ‘probable wolf attack.’”
Scooter took the brunt of the attack and was “roughed up top to bottom,” said Double Arrow vet tech Darcy Moncrief. Scooter suffered a long puncture wound to his shoulders that required stitches, and now sports three drainage tubes. He’s tired and he’s not much interested in being famous, but he got top quality vet care and he’s going to be okay.
Young Tom had an injury to his face and his “nether parts” and was sore, but didn’t appear to have suffered the muscle puncture that sometimes accompanies wolf bites even when they do not puncture the skin. He’s happy to see anybody and is ready to go home.
Neither Tom nor Scooter, when he’s well, will go back to looking for cows on Eden Bench in any case, as Buck has decided there is too much risk of their paws being burnt.
Was the attacker a wolf? Probably.
The Matthews report seeing a wolf within a half-mile of the home place twice since the attack, Chelsea Matthews said.
“(Rancher friend) Todd Nash and Buck saw the wolf the morning of the attack when they went up on the home place (on Grouse Flats) to gather cows for shipment,” Chelsea Matthews said. “My sister-in-law, Mona, and I saw him up on Bartlett Bench about a half-mile from our house when we went to meet the semis that were hauling out the cattle. He’s black and big.”
The wolf is most likely a survivor of the Wenaha pack, displaced by the fires. ODFW East Region Manager Bruce Eddy said the Wenaha Pack had most likely escaped the fire. “My guess is they are so incredibly mobile they can get out of the way of fire,” he said.
Many of the wolves in the area are black, according to State Wolf Program Coordinator Russ Morgan. “About half or more are black,” he said. “But we could have a wolf from anywhere. We just don’t have enough data on the Wenaha area wolves to know them. They’re usually up-slope in the Timothy and Jubilee areas this time of year. They’re the least visible pack. That wolf could be a wolf traveling through or even a Washington wolf.”
The Matthews have evacuated cows from the home place and continue to search for the cows that had been grazing on Eden Bench when the fire swept the area.
“Most of the home cows have been shipped,” said Chelsea Matthews. “We’ve found 70 head out of the 300 out on Eden Bench. Buck is still finding them. It usually takes two months to gather them. We expect to find them. Lots of them have burned hooves and legs, but they seem to be scabbing up well. We’re going to be monitoring them closely.”
When rescued, the Eden Bench cows will stay on Grouse Flats at the home place now that the fire danger is lower.
All in all, Chelsea Matthews said, things are returning to normal. She expected to pick up the dogs and bring them home on Monday, Aug. 31.
“Today (Aug. 31) the kids are starting school (in Troy),” she said. “They’re the only students this year. Other than Troy being packed with firefighters and National Guard, it seems pretty normal. It’s looking better, we’re making progress.”