Neither the three women nor their dogs heard the pack of wolves creeping up behind them as they jogged on Artillery Road in the frigid morning air.
Camas Barkemeyer, 26, her dogs Buddy, a 3-year-old American bulldog, and Ginger, a 6-year-old husky, were among that group on Fort Richardson a little after 10 a.m. Thursday. One minute it was peaceful. Then she glanced back and saw the pack of about eight wolves spanning the road, only a few feet behind.
A melee ensued, accompanied by screaming, snarling, blood and pepper spray.
"The thought went through my head: 'What dog? What dog am I going to let go?' " Barkemeyer said. "It was the most terrifying thing I've ever been through."
The increasingly emboldened Elmendorf wolf pack is blamed for killing one dog and wounding another in Eagle River this week as Anchorage saw its seventh wolf attack in the past month, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The wolves, possibly led by a hungry pack leader in search of easy meals, seem to have taken to attacking dogs during the day, even when groups of people are present, Anchorage-area wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott said.
"That's definitely a bit of escalation on the wolves' part," Sinnott said.
"We're a little more concerned about these instances because the wolves are kind of upping the ante a bit. If they keep it up, we will have to do something lethal."
This bout of wolf encounters began around 6 p.m. Dec. 13 in the Powder Ridge subdivision of Eagle River, when Mike Krause, 39, was walking his 75-pound yellow Labrador retriever, Brit.
He was on pavement, in an unfinished but lit area of the subdivision, when a lone gray wolf rushed out from the tree line and attacked the dog, his wife, Val, said.
Krause rushed the wolf, yelling and waving, and scared it back a bit, she said. But the wolf didn't leave, and Krause took Brit to a nearby porch.
"(The wolf) wasn't scared; he just kind of looked at him and backed off," she said. "He had them trapped on the porch for a while."
Eventually the wolf left, leaving Brit with a saliva-soaked neck but no puncture wounds, Val Krause said.
For nearly a week no attacks were reported.
Then Wednesday, at least one wolf returned to Beverly and Jack Bronner's home in the same subdivision. About 8 p.m., their 20-pound miniature schnauzer, Punky, wanted to go outside, and they put her out in the yard on a lead.
The night was cold, about 5 below, and they didn't want to leave Punky out for long, Beverly Bronner said. Only minutes after the dog went out, Jack went to get her.
"He opened the door and she was gone," Beverly said. "The leash was out there and she was gone."
They hadn't heard a sound.
Thursday morning, Jack Bronner and Sinnott tried to find the dog, but only found some blood spatter in the grass and a matted down area, presumably where the wolf was lying in wait, Beverly Bronner said in a telephone interview Friday.
Then, the same morning, Barkemeyer's group had its run-in.
After her bulldog, Buddy, began fighting one wolf, Barkemeyer sprayed a can of pepper spray at it, causing it to back away. But the rest of the pack didn't.
She arced the can, spraying a "rainbow" of pepper spray so the wolves would back down, she said. It worked, temporarily. But the wolves continued to move in every time the women stopped screaming.
They were able to keep the wolves at bay, through relentless yelling, as they made their way back to the exit three-quarters of a mile away, Barkemeyer said.
The wolves finally left them at the gate, where they were out of breath and arm-heavy from yelling and pulling the dogs along, Barkemeyer said.
No one had a chance to notice during the scrape, but Buddy had gotten scratched across his chest and shoulders. He also had bite wounds on his butt and more delicate spots, which needed to be stitched up, she said.
"They were not afraid of us," she said. "Something needs to be done."
That sentiment, echoed by Beverly Bronner, seems to be gaining support.
Wolves attack chained-up dogs fairly regularly in Alaska, Sinnott said. Often, the animals are hungry -- especially in years with little snowfall to slow down moose and make them easier prey.
But for generally people-shy wolves to attack dogs in front of humans is more unusual -- and worrisome, he said.
"They weren't focused on the people at all, they were after the dogs," he said. "But a person could get hurt just in the melee."
Military and railroad employees are using pyrotechnics, rubber bullets, buck shot and pepper spray to try to scare the wolves and teach them to fear people, Sinnott said.
Fish and Game is also encouraging people to legally trap the wolves, he said.
Anchorage has about 25 or 30 wolves in up to five packs, but the Elmendorf pack, which ranges from the Air Force base to the Palmer Hay Flats, is the only one suspected of attacking dogs during recent months, Sinnott said.
A hunter reported shooting and killing a large black wolf -- like one known to be in the Elmendorf pack -- on the Palmer Hay Flats on Thursday, Sinnott said. But the animal's hide had not yet been sealed and he could not confirm if it actually was a part of the problem pack.
This is the second string of wolf attacks in Anchorage within a month. On Nov. 28, a dog being walked behind the Alaska Railroad track near Eklutna was killed when the pack attacked.
A woman and her dog walking on a lighted loop of the Beach Lake trail system in Chugiak Dec. 4 were also confronted by several wolves, though the dog was uninjured in that encounter.
The next day, a woman walking her dog on Artillery Road heard her pet give a quick yelp as it vanished. The dog's head and collar were found the next morning about 50 yards off the road.
Another confrontation took place Dec. 8, when a woman walking two dogs on a gravel road northwest of Elmendorf's flight line saw several wolves that followed her for about 15 minutes, though they didn't attack.
Wildlife officials recommend keeping dogs on a leash or under close voice control, and carrying pepper spray for backcountry travel.
For Barkemeyer, that won't be necessary. She isn't heading back out anytime soon.
"I run back there all the time, and I don't want to think about how many times I've been watched," she said.
Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.