- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

DURANGO, Colo. (AP) - In 2005, a terrifying creature descended upon Silverton: Wolfie.

At first, the wolf-dog hybrid stalked the surrounding hills. But then, he grew brave and entered town.

Terror ensued. Many residents feared he was eating pets. Others threw things at him. In some quarters, fear of Wolfie grew so irrational, there was talk of killing him.

“At least one person attempted to end his life by running him over,” said Mark Esper, editor of The Silverton Standard & Miner.

Fast forward 10 years: Wolfie is Silverton’s most prominent canine resident.

Though he is still feral, he is a downtown fixture, taking up permanent residence in the yard of Dean Bosworth and Paula Trautner on Reese Street. In his declining years - Wolfie is at least 14 - some residents talk of erecting a life-size bronze statue memorializing him when he dies. The Town Board voted to make Wolfie Silverton’s official town mascot after officials determined the city could not legally adopt the creature in 2007.

Like many love stories, the story of how beautiful Silverton fell in love with the beast has an unlikely beginning.

Abandoned as a cross-breed pup on the highway, Wolfie wandered to Silverton in 2005, said San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad.

“Everyone was afraid of him,” he said.

Wolfie didn’t behave like a friendly dog, and he looked like a wolf. Some residents demanded that Wolfie be put down.

Then, one fateful afternoon, Wolfie was spotted roving town with a dead animal clenched between his teeth. Residents, convinced he had savaged a neighbor’s cat, unearthed the grave Wolfie dug: his prey was revealed to be a stuffed animal.

Wolfie, it turns out, is pathologically shy.

Such is the animal’s fame, one mention of Wolfie on Twitter produced immediate responses from Silvertonians, with one user writing, “He’s been around forever! Never been able to pet him though …”

In interviews, Silvertonians who have known Wolfie for years agreed that he balks at human touch (he is known to have willingly grazed only two people) and detests crowds, skipping town during bicycle races and the Fourth of July.

“And he hates having his picture taken,” said Melody Skinner, who Conrad described as Wolfie’s “best friend in the world.”

Indeed, when a reporter followed a trail of thoroughly defeated stuffed animals beginning at Wolfie’s home and discovered Wolfie traipsing the ridge - exactly where Conrad said Wolfie would be - he shunned the camera, lowering his head like a long-suffering celebrity deflecting a paparazzo.

These days, his elusive ways are well-known and accepted. Conrad, whose parents are close friends of Wolfie’s, said when Wolfie arrived in Silverton, he followed his favorite people around, always maintaining a few feet of distance - earning him the nickname, “Shadow.”

“He’s still very bashful,” Bruce said.

But, like Boo Radley of To Kill a Mockingbird, Wolfie - far from a monster - is a gentle-hearted recluse and fierce neighborhood protector, Skinner said.

Skinner said tales of Wolfie’s heroism abound. Unlike many dogs who harbor primal antipathy toward cats, in forming affections, Wolfie doesn’t discriminate based on species, so long as the animals he is defending live in his neighborhood.

Skinner said he is special friends with one magpie, and recalled Wolfie launching himself at a visiting bear that Wolfie perceived had gotten too close to a Silvertonian. Esper said Silvertonians owe Wolfie a debt for his years of tireless service fighting off coyotes, who howl nightly at the outskirts of town, hoping to penetrate downtown Silverton in order to feast on pet cats and chickens.

Though the lore of Wolfie is now well-established, mysteries remain.

Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said Wolfie is not 100 percent wolf, but the department doesn’t know what, genetically, Wolfie exactly is.

But other aspects of Wolfie’s existence, like his fondness for fresh linens, have been established with certainty.

“I put his bedding in the laundry and fluffed it up - he was so happy,” Skinner said.

Deputy Sheriff Steve Lowrance said Wolfie, had been neutered to take care of what one town trustee described as his “man problem” a few years ago.

It turns out Wolfie has quite a good gig going. Skinner said a decade ago, Dave Anders was the first person to start putting out food for him. Since then, town sentiment toward Wolfie has shifted. These days, she said, people all over town come out in the dead of winter, when it is 30 degrees below zero, to feed him a diet that consists of liverwurst, elk and their best cuts of meat.

“Everyone worries that he’s hungry, but he eats better than us!” Skinner said.

Conrad worries he doesn’t have much time left.

“He’s been stiff the last couple of years, and he has a tough time with the coyotes,” he said.

Lynton Skinner said, “I wonder if when he dies, there will be a town memorial service. It wouldn’t surprise me. A lot of people would be there.”

___

Information from: Durango Herald, https://www.durangoherald.com

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