An Idaho family’s dog is recovering after being shot twice on Saturday by a camper who mistook her for a wolf.
Rob Kolb and his 16-year-old daughter, Piper, were backpacking at North Fork Lake in the Boulder Mountains with their Alaskan malamute, Suki, when the dog wandered to a nearby campsite. A camper there believed Suki was a wolf and fired three bullets from a handgun, striking the dog in the head.
Now the Kolbs are urging outdoor recreators to brush up on their wildlife identification skills and exercise caution with firearms — particularly as summer recreation and tensions over wolves heat up in Idaho.
Idaho family awoken by gunshots on backpacking trip
The Kolbs set out on their trip on Friday. It was Piper’s first time backpacking, and Rob had planned a trip to North Fork Lake, a remote spot he had visited years ago. After a tough hike along a challenging ridge, the pair and 6-year-old Suki got into camp with enough time to set up camp, cook dinner and head to bed.
Around 7:30 the next morning, Rob got up to use the bathroom. He noticed it was raining, so he returned to the tent for some more shuteye. Suki, who’d left the tent with him, stayed outside.
About an hour later, Rob said in a phone interview, the Kolbs were awakened by a gunshot that was “crazy close.” Two more shots rang out in rapid succession.
Rob rushed to get dressed and began yelling for Suki, who wasn’t in the tent.
“By the time I got out of the tent, there were three guys saying ‘I think we shot your dog,’ ” Rob said.
The Kolbs saw Suki lying on the ground 5 feet from the tent with a gunshot wound to the left side of her head. She was panting, with blood dripping from her mouth and ear, Rob said. Half of her face was drooping as if she’d had a stroke.
The man who shot Suki, whom the Kolbs declined to identify publicly, said he’d seen her running toward his dog and thought she was a wolf. He told Rob he fired a warning shot in the air before shooting twice at Suki with a .44. Once he saw Suki’s collar, he realized he’d made a grave mistake.
Rob said the Kolbs packed up their camp as quickly as possible, and the men at the neighboring camp did the same. To the shooter’s credit, Rob said, he immediately took responsibility for shooting Suki.
“He did all the right things after the big wrong thing,” including paying for Suki’s vet bills, Rob said.
The group of men even offered to carry the 140-pound dog out of the backcountry, but she managed to hike 3.5 miles and more than 1,200 vertical feet out to the road.
The man who shot Suki drove the Kolb family to their vehicle, which was farther from the trailhead, and they raced back to Ketchum to get her medical attention. Their vet, Dr. Karsten Fostvedt, met them right away for emergency surgery.
The bullets missed Suki’s brain and spinal cord. The dog lost part of her left ear and suffered cracked vertebrae from one of the bullets entering her skull and exiting the back of her neck. The left side of her face still appears paralyzed, and Rob said time will tell if it will heal.
Dog’s shooting raises concerns over guns, wolves
Rob Kolb said as terrifying as the shooting was, things certainly could have been worse.
“Not only did our dog get hurt, but Piper and I could’ve been shot,” he said.
The area they were camping is surrounded by mountain peaks, making it possible for a bullet to ricochet.
“Is it really OK to be shooting a gun at a high mountain lake when you’re surrounded by rock?” Rob asked. “We hope people … take a little more time before they decide to shoot.”
Piper said she felt the whole situation was indicative of the shooter’s inexperience, both with guns and with identifying wildlife. The man reportedly told the Kolbs that he closed his eyes when pulling the trigger to shoot at Suki. Even then, Piper said, he could’ve heard the tags on her collar jangling if he’d stopped to listen.
“The shooter feels really remorseful … I think we changed his life,” Rob said. “I don’t think he’ll be packing a gun when he goes camping.”
Kolb said Monday evening that he planned to contact the Forest Service, which oversees the area where the shooting occurred. He also filed a report with the Custer County Sheriff’s Office but said he hadn’t yet heard back. He said he doesn’t plan to press charges and is unsure if the shooter will face any legal repercussions.
“Our dog looks enough like a wolf that they could say it’s self-defense,” he said.
But the Kolbs clarified that it’s still a stretch to compare Suki to a wolf.
“She’s a pretty overweight malamute,” Rob said. “I don’t think too many people think she’s a wolf.”
“If you look at the kinds of wolves that are here … they’re taller, skinnier, the color and patterning is different, their tails don’t wag,” Piper added.
The Kolbs said they worry that expanded wolf hunting and trapping in Idaho could mean more situations like theirs, though the man who shot Suki was not hunting and is not a hunter.
In March, Blaine County officials upheld a wolf trapping ban in Game Unit 48, citing concerns about potential harm to trail users. Since then, the Idaho Legislature voted to relax wolf hunting and trapping laws even further statewide, removing bag limits and allowing for wolf hunting from some motorized vehicles.
“I think everybody that has a dog that even comes close to resembling a wolf (has concerns),” Rob said. “If you’re at a campground and people are hunting wolves … it kind of seems like there’s an easy excuse to shoot and then ask questions later instead of figuring out the right answer before you shoot.”