Is the Michigan dogman a real animal?
Michigan is a weird state. I should know, I've lived here almost my entire life. The Great Lakes state is heavily steeped in tradition and a love of the outdoors. So, it comes as no surprise that there are also plenty of local legends here shared by residents at Halloween parties and around the fires at hunting camp each November. If I only had a dollar for every time I heard about the "melon heads," or all of Al Capone's allegedly haunted hideouts, but those are a different story.
One of the more popular stories is the legend of the Michigan dogman, a humanoid-like creature approximately seven feet tall with the body of a man, and a dog's head that walks around upright on its hind paws.
The stories remind us of those of other famous cryptids like bigfoot, mothman, Chupacabra, or the Loch Ness monster. While skeptics have dismissed the wolfmen stories as a hoax, you will find many Michigan residents who will fiercely defend the creature's existence. Many will also share their own dogman encounters with anyone who will listen. It makes for a fascinating story if nothing else.
What is the Michigan dogman?
According to most of the eyewitness reports of the creature, the dogman is a werewolf-like creature between six and seven feet tall that walks upright like a human on its hind paws. It has the torso of a man and the head of a wolf or dog. The most haunting detail of the many sightings is the eyes. Many have claimed they seem to glow in the dark and are bright red, blue, or amber in color.
If you think you have heard this story about upright canines before, it is likely you have heard another similar legend about "The Beast of Bray Road." The descriptions of that creature are in the town of Elkhorn, Wisconsin are nearly identical. It fits in perfectly with all the werewolf tales that have been present in human culture for centuries.
The origins of the legend.
While the Bray Road creature has a definitive first sighting, the history behind the Michigan dogman is a little murkier. Some of the first stories of the creature come from Northern Michigan in the lower peninsula. One popular tale says the beast was first seen by lumberjacks in Wexford County all the way back in 1887. However, that little detail may be completely fabricated. (More on that later.)
If a creature is hiding in northern lower Michigan, that would be a good area. Much of the county is covered by what is now the Huron-Manistee National Forest. However, the sightings are scattered all over the state including the Upper Peninsula. However, the majority seem to be centered in that northwest part of the lower peninsula. Especially around the greater Traverse City area.
The legend may have origins further back than that. While there is no documentation of this, some claim sightings of the beast go back further than 1887 to a time when Odawa Native Americans lived in the area. Perhaps it is just a stretch on already-established Native American legends like the sasquatch or wendigo. It seems no one quite knows for sure.
The song that popularized the legend.
The stories of dogmen running around the northern Michigan woods really took off in 1987 thanks to a song composed by disc jockey Steve Cook for the radio station WTCM-FM. He had an idea for an April Fool's Day joke and composed a song about a man-like wolf that stalks the forest. You can hear it in the YouTube video above. This may be where the tale of the lumberjacks sighting the beast came from.
"I came up with the creature of the dogman, a half man, a half dog, and developed it into a poem. It was kind of an amalgamation of all these creatures I'd heard as a kid and heard stories about," Cook told WWMT Channel 3 News in 2016.
Unexpectedly, the song was a huge hit and the subject of many requests in the coming weeks and months. Cook also started to hear from people who claimed the legend was no laughing matter.
"And then we started to get calls from people saying 'That's no joke, that's a real thing. That actually happened. People have seen this thing,'" Cook told the news station.
It is worth noting that Cook has stated more than once that despite the eyewitness claims, he does not believe the legend himself.
"I'm a skeptic because of the way this all began," Cook told Channel 3. "I watched it evolve over the years. But I do believe there are things out there that we can't explain."
The song also helped popularize a different part of the legend. One where the beast only appears in ten-year cycles. More specifically, that the beast appears most often on years that end in a seven.
Eyewitness sightings and true believers.
The legend of the dogman has many true believers, and not just in Michigan. Reporter Linda S. Godfrey, who was the first to document the legend of the Beast of Bray Road, wrote a book documenting the creature too. In the book she notes she receives letters and emails from coast to coast, from the north woods of Maine to the coasts of California, from people claiming to have seen a canine-like animal with human characteristics. Having interviewed many of the eyewitnesses, she says many are hesitant to share the experience with others.
"But most of the people who tell their tales of shock and wonder at meeting a wolf that walks upright still seem reluctant to talk, and are often referred to me by friends or relatives," Godfrey wrote in the book's introduction. "Others say they simply wish to confess their experiences to someone who won't tell them they are crazy."
Godfrey documents hundreds of alleged sightings in the book, with many of the witnesses being identified only by their first name or a false name to protect their identity. One common factor with most of them is the sightings seem to exclusively happen at night. Many of the tales are quick encounters on lonely Michigan roads while an eyewitness is driving. They catch a brief glimpse of a dog-like creature in the headlights either crossing the road or standing on the shoulder before it vanishes from sight.
Still other encounters are more extreme. Some even detail alleged attacks by the beast. Many of them told by hunters or campers who had unexpected run-ins with the creature in a remote section of forest. Some even claim the beast left claw and bite marks on homes or property before vanishing. One interesting detail of many of the sightings is that eyewitnesses claim the creature can switch between walking on two feet and four feet quite easily.
While many sightings were reported after Steve Cook's popular song in 1987, some go back to the 50s, 60s, and sometimes earlier. In one famous encounter from 1937, a man claimed he was attacked by wild dogs near Paris, Michigan. He said one of the dogs walked upright on two legs like a man.
Godfrey notes in the book that she has dismissed many obvious hoaxes. However, she does get some rather compelling stories from people who she believes may not know what they saw. And if you scour the Internet, you will find a legion of devoted "dogman fans" who work tirelessly to document the many sightings.
Some of them, like Vic Cundiff, have an entire website and a weekly podcast dedicated exclusively to interviewing eyewitnesses and letting them make their stories heard to the entire world. It is safe to say at least some people in this state believe they saw something that cannot be explained.
The alleged film, and skepticism
In 2006, Steve Cook again found himself in the spotlight with dogman again after the unveiling of a three-minute video that has since been dubbed "The Gable Film."
The three-minute-long reel of 8mm footage had a spooky backstory. It was allegedly bought at an estate sale and was labeled "Gable Case" by police. The footage shows mundane things like people working on trucks or driving around snowmobiles. However, things take a turn near the end of the footage when a mysterious creature on all fours starts lunging towards the camera before it cuts off.
Cook uploaded the footage to the Internet where it took off like wildfire. For many people, this was the proof they had long sought of the dogman's existence. However, it was all a hoax. Eventually the History Channel decided to shoot an episode of their popular "Monsterquest" TV show featuring the dogman and similar legends.
In the episode, Cook decides the joke has gone on long enough and reveals the film, and the subsequent follow-up film that shows a "body" being investigated by Michigan State Police, were the work of a local named Mike Agrusa. The hoaxer used old pickups and snowmobiles he already owned, along with an old 8mm camera to set the whole thing up. Agrusa played the role of the body and the creature himself. Despite Monsterquest's claims, there are still some dedicated believers of the Gable Film out there.
High profile incidents like this just solidified the arguments of skeptics that the whole legend is nothing more than a hoax. Even in the field of cryptozoology, it seems few scientists are willing to take the stories of the creature seriously. In fact, many scientists have attributed the eyewitness reports to either downright fabrications or cases of mistaken identity with large, but otherwise normal, dogs and wolves. The flames of the story being fueled by the film and Cook's song. Make of that what you will.
We honestly do not know what to make of the claims of a werewolf or dogman running around the woods of Michigan. At the very least we believe some people believe they saw something weird. If nothing else, the legend is a lot of fun to read and speculate about. And it makes for some excellent tales around a warm fire on a cold winter night.
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