Two families had a frightening run-in with a rabid wolf while snowmobiling in Labrador.

Shortly after the confrontation on a trail between Wabush and Labrador City last Sunday, the wolf was found and killed by wildlife officers. It was later determined the animal had rabies.

Even though the incident happened on Sunday, wildlife officials only commented Thursday on what they say is the first case of rabies in the region since July.

In an interview via Skype, Michelle Sexton and Jennifer Patey said they were snowmobiling with their husbands and children when the ordeal began.

About 20 minutes into the trip, they came upon a wolf in the middle of the trail.

'I screamed in my helmet, but no one could hear me.' - Jennifer Patey

The animal began to charge at them, and started attacking the skis on their snowmobiles.

"There was nowhere you could put your kids safe enough or get away fast enough because he was right behind you," said Sexton.

"He came directly at the Ski-Doo, right for us, showing his teeth."

She said the wolf began lunging at both snowmobiles, standing up on its hind legs near the children. 

Michelle Sexton family

Michelle Sexton feared for the safety of her children during Sunday's encounter with a rabid wolf while they were snowmobiling in Labrador. (Sexton family)

"I screamed in my helmet, but no one could hear me," Patey said.

When she tried to get her family away from the animal, she flipped her snowmobile.

"When I turned to look back, the wolf was right behind me.

"I put my hand out to stop it from coming to me and at the same time, I hit my gas and I lost control of my snow machine again. I didn't stop, and in my head all I could think of was Jena, Jena, Jena, my daughter."

Feat of strength 

Patey said she managed to find the strength to get the snowmobile back on its skis.

Jennifer Patey family

Jennifer Patey said the wolf seemed to come out of nowhere, and was aggressive toward her family. (Patey family)

"On a regular day, I'd never be able to lift that machine," she said. 

"I don't know where my strength came from, but I lifted that machine up and I turned her around. When I turned to look back, the wolf was right behind me."

Once the machine was back upright, she hit the gas and didn't stop until she tracked down wildlife officers, who sprung into action after she told them about the wolf.

"Two young wildlife officers, right away, they didn't even hesitate, they took off," she said. 

"They didn't even have any weapons. They just took off after [the wolf]."

Follows officers on chase

The families eventually took shelter in a cabin, watching as the officers chased the wolf into the woods.

Patey said she jumped on one of the wildlife officer's snowmobiles and followed them.

The 25-minute hunt ended when one of the wildlife officers ran down and killed the animal with his snowmobile.

"As soon as I pulled up next to them, he had driven over the wolf with his snow machine," said Patey.

"It wasn't long after it took its last breath."

According to Patey, the wildlife officers just happened to be in the area doing routine checks of trail passes.

"It was a blessing they were on that trail that day," she said. "It could have turned into an absolute disaster."

Fortunate outcome

 Hugh Whitney, the chief veterinary officer for Newfoundland and Labrador, said the experience was certainly traumatic for the family.

Hugh Whitney talks about rabies in Labrador

Hugh Whitney, the provincial chief veterinary officer, says his department usually sees Arctic and red foxes infected with rabies, but it isn't uncommon to hear of a case involving a wolf. (CBC)

"This is about as dramatic as it gets. We've had dramatic cases with wolves in the past," he said.

"In Lab West, we had a wolf jump up on the hood of somebody's vehicle at 1:30 in the morning when they were at a gas station … one chasing a cross-country skier a few years ago."

Whitney added that things could have been much worse in the most recent incident if anyone had been bitten by the wolf.

"We have a health-care system that has all the measures necessary to treat anybody who's exposed, but rabies is a very significant disease — it's a fatal disease if you get infected and you aren't treated." 

He said his department usually sees rabies in red and Arctic foxes, but it isn't totally uncommon for a wolf to be infected.

CFIA confirms rabies

Officials with the Department of Natural Resources said in a statement Thursday that while there's no confirmation of any human or domestic animal making contact with the wolf, officials are asking the general public to report any possible contact with the animal before the Jan. 25 incident.

Samples from the animal were sent to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency lab in Ottawa to confirm it had rabies.

Officials said residents should:

  • Keep domestic animals under observation.
  • Avoid wild animals.
  • Ensure pets are up to date on vaccinations.

Wildlife officials are also urging anyone in Western Labrador who has seen any wild animals acting strangely to contact them.

With files from Krissy Holmes