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Be aware of your surroundings, if you’re in the woodsy parts of Indiana or Illinois, taking a country road, or stopping anywhere off highways 50 and 231 between Louisville and St. Louis. There are many small towns nestled in broad tracts of dense forest, and these, above all, should be avoided at night.
The story starts in 1989, after seventeen people have been gruesomely mauled to death by strange animals near the towns of Freedom and Spencer, Illinois. The deaths were blamed on feral dogs, based on witness descriptions, and the tracks left around the remains of their victims do indicate large canines. While the Forestry commission had, at the time, issued a statement that the tracks were wolf, or wolf-coyote hybrids, some wildlife specialists still argue that the tracks do not quite match any known wild canine.
One witness, who wishes to remain anonymous, described seeing a pack of animals that looked like very large, tall, hairless dogs in the woods behind their home. They were said to have hard, scabby patches on their backs and faces, and they moved with an eerie synchronicity.
Officially, however, the deaths were ruled wild animal attacks, and when two years went by without any further sign of the ‘dogs’, small-town life seemed to be returning to normal, allowing the people to heal and recover.
Until 1992, when sheep farmer Jude Porter was savagely killed in his barn. When investigators arrived to assess the scene, they found evidence that he had shot one of the animals before they ended his life, and that the gunshot blast had severed at least two toes, which were left behind. Blood, bone, and tissue samples were collected for study.
Strangely, several sheep were missing from their pens and never found, but there was no sign that the livestock had been dispatched there, or that there had been any kind of struggle. The sheep were just gone.
In fact, after this incident, it came to light that there had been a higher rate of local livestock disappearance over the past three years. Starting almost immediately after the last attack on a human. Thieves had been blamed, as rustling was and is still a problem out in the country, but investigators began to wonder if there wasn’t a pattern.
Despite attempts to find or catch one of the elusive ‘scab dogs’, as locals were calling them, not a single lead or trap panned out. The creatures remained almost mythical. And gradually, more and more law officials were dismissing the possibility that they even existed – instead trying to put together stories of human murderers, accidents, or other wild animals to explain the deaths.
In 1994, Dr. Omar Keyhani of the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois reported that the samples taken from the Porter barn were indeed canine, domestic dog, but that the tissue and blood was heavily infected with an outside agent, a fungal parasite that was likely responsible for the animals’ hair loss and skin irritation.
It took several months for the department to be granted test animals to observe the action of the fungus: Three greyhounds. But what they discovered was so frightening and revolutionary, that it should have totally inflamed the scientific community. Instead, the experiment was shut down, the information destroyed, and Dr. Keyhani was dismissed under threat of being charged with animal cruelty.
In 1998, one of the technicians working under Dr. Keyhani finally spoke out about the incident. Also retaining anonymity for their own safety.
“The dogs lost all their hair… and they began to cooperate in a way I’ve never seen dogs do. Even trained, circus animals, the ones taught to do tricks. This wasn’t like that. They were trying to escape from their kennel. If someone hadn’t checked the (security) camera, they would have gotten out, they were really close… So then, uh, we put a lock on the door, and they tried to open the lock. They were thinking, like how people, humans think. So we gave them some puzzles to do. These were for like six year old kids, and they just… they did them.”
The technician believes that the test dogs were using logical problem-solving abilities far above those of normal dogs, and that they were somehow communicating detailed ideas to each other. But without hard evidence to corroborate this story, that’s all it is – a story.
Dr. Keyhani’s original findings remain, and later analysis of the DNA shows that the fungus found in the ‘scab dog’ blood is related to a known family of parasitic fungi, Cordyceps. Cordyceps fungi are notorious for invading the bodies of insects and affecting their behavior. In the case of insects, their life cycle ends when the fruiting bodies of the fungus explode from their corpses, sending spores out on the air to infect new hosts.
Is it possible that this fungal infection actually affects the brain activity of dogs? Could it be making them more intelligent? More cooperative? Nobody knows.
However, the Scab Dogs have never been captured, killed, or counted. It’s not known how many exist, though there are still scattered sightings and rumors.
And every so often a body is found. Eaten down to the bones. Unfortunate hitchhikers, campers, or other foolish people who leave the safety of the freeway at night.
Please, PLEASE, stay on the freeway, there’s nothing to see in the woods.
Credited to Smoke