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Up in Evanston, in the lightly wooded area running north-south along the canal, there’s something amiss. And whatever it is, it’s big and mean. The kids at Martin Luther King Jr. Laboratory School (which sits on the canal’s eastern border) have heard rumors. “It’s a cougar,” they say, or “My grandmother told me it was a man.” They don’t chase their footballs into the bushes anymore. A dog has been killed.

Could it be a werewolf prowling the night, a cult sacrificing canines, someone’s pet panther grown-up and angry because the suburbs are not the Serengeti? One woman in the area reported spotting an animal running through her backyard. It was big as a dog, she said, but it slunk low to the ground like…

A fugitive cougar was sighted not long ago in De Kalb. The Tribune ran a front-page story with a picture and a caption that read simply “A Cougar” (not to be confused with the cougar). But even a street-smart cougar isn’t likely to make a 70-mile trek through the strip malls and car dealerships of the western suburbs.

Still, there it was, 100 pounds of dead German shepherd named Lion in the fenced Leb’s Driveaway lot behind Builders Square. Dr. Jim Letcher, the Lincoln Park Zoo veterinarian who was consulted in the investigation, said the dead guard dog was one of particular ferocity.

“It was ripped down the spine…blood was splattered everywhere, said Bill Andrews of Evanston Animal Control. “I don’t think it was a cult thing, they would have had to shoot the dog first.” The dog was not shot. Most likely, there was a fight between two beasts, and one of the beasts is still missing.

“If it was trained right, a pit bull could do it or something like a big cat,” said Andrews.

The only problem is that whatever killed the German shepherd had to clear the seven-foot chain-link fence; no signs of breaking and entering were found that would indicate that humans had staged a dog fight. A large cat could have made the leap, but Andrews thinks that’s unlikely. “There’s lots of easier game by the canal. There’s rabbits, possums, fox, raccoons…” Why would a cat attack a mean German shepherd when there are snack-size critters and small schoolchildren nearby.?

A few weeks after the attack, a nighttime call was made to the Evanston police station. All the guard dogs in the yards around North Shore Towing were “going crazy.” Andrews took a big dog with him to investigate and found prints that he said were “at least a quarter bigger” than his big dog’s. Plaster casts were made and sent off to Letcher along with photos of Lion’s body.

The doctor’s ruling on the prints: “Canid. Too big for a coyote, could be a wolf.”

From the pictures, Letcher deduced a domestic canine did the nasty work. A wild animal would have eaten the intestines (the carcass was not consumed). A cat would have left slashing claw wounds (Lion died from “multiple severe bite wounds”). Finally, long light-colored hairs were found in Lion’s mouth suggesting a number of northern breeds. Put all the evidence together and the doctor’s best guess: a large malamute.

That doesn’t help much in the matter of the fence; can a malamute be a pole-vaulter in a shaggy suit?

Leb’s Driveaway recently moved its operation to 823 S. Western in Chicago. The manager, who identifies himself as “Just Jerry,” said, “We’re not interested in discussing it.” Still posted at the vacated Evanston address is a sign that reads, “Warning, Protected by Trained Attack Dog.” A quick call to National K-9 Security, issuers of the sign, was answered by Just Bill speaking for Just Steve. Just Bill denied ever supplying the drive-away with a dog and said the sign must have been taken from someplace else. Lion’s body was “accidentally” and prematurely destroyed by an unidentified animal hospital, so further examination of the body is impossible.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Sundlof.