Cryptid Profile: The Fence Rail Dog
When it comes to investigating cryptid creatures, the investigative camps are usually split into two sides; those who believe these creatures are strictly flesh and blood, and those who feel they possess a more supernatural quality. Typically the creatures that fall into a specific category are easy to sort, but every so often, you get a creature that hangs out equally on both sides. These are the creatures where those lucky enough to have seen them describe laying eyes on what appeared to be a solid flesh and blood creature, but one that also seemingly possessed the ability to disappear like a ghost. These types of cryptids generally leave the eyewitnesses in a state of shock and confusion, rather than the typical shock and awe that usually follows a cryptid sighting.
But while many of these double camp cryptids can typically be explained and sorted into one specific side by thorough research into the folklore and legends surrounding a specific location in which the creature is seen, others are just accepted as being a strange hybrid beast caught somewhere between both the cryptozoological and supernatural spectrum. Often times cryptids such as Mothman, the Flatwoods Monster, Dover Demon, or the Thunderbird will be found within this double camp list. And depending on who you talk to, Dogman and Sasquatch could also be found here, but be careful when bringing this up as these camps have hard lines drawn in the sand and some groups may not take kindly to these fringe theories.
But when it truly comes down to it and you must sort these creatures into categories for whatever reason, one creature it seems is fully accepted as being a true hybrid between the two groups. This creature is described throughout various cultures and has been recorded in historical documents going back hundreds of years. This beast is known by many names depending on where you plant roots and call home, but typically it is referred to by its common descriptive name, and that name is simply Black Dog.
While the majority of official Black Dog’s are believed to be an omen of misfortune and impending death, others are thought to be protectors of those who need a little spiritual help. Some are described as being vicious and guards of certain locations, while others are thought to be escorts of the recently departed. There is no real method to pinning down what these creatures truly are as no two are described the same way. These Black Dogs are all over the map, both figuratively and literally speaking. So when it comes to trying to figure what exactly they are, its best to focus solely on one at a time and go from there.
And it is that way of thinking that brought us to the Black Dog known as The Fence Rail Dog.
The legend of the Fence Rail Dog originates in the state of Delaware and focuses on a particular stretch of road on Highway 12 -Midstate Road to be exact- which passes through the towns of Frederica and Felton. Thought to be reported since the early turn of the century, this Black Dog gets its name from appearing to stand as tall as a common fence rail, which is roughly around 4ft at the shoulder. The Fence Rail Dog is also said to be nearly 10ft long from the tip of the nose to the tip of its bushy tail, but this description changes greatly depending on what story you are listening to. Along with the startling height and length, the Fence Rail Dog is believed to possess the same red eyes that often come with these ghost dog stories and it is said to be incredibly fast, often times keeping pace with passing cars. It has been described as neither passive or aggressive, but rather assertive and aware. It is said to mostly keep to its self and just watches the road when not running alongside it.
Now that we have established what the dog looks like and what characteristics it is believed to have, let's look into where legend says the dog comes from. As with most local folklore, depending on who you talk to determines what story you hear, and the lore surrounding the Fence Rail Dog is no different.
One legend claims the Fence Rail Dog is the spirit of an outlaw who committed suicide after being surrounded in his home by local authorities. Rather than go to jail, the man chose to end his own life and because of this, his spirit came back as a vengeful black dog. Another goes on to say that the dog is the returned spirit of a young slave boy who was killed by his abusive owner and whose body was desecrated and disposed of near the site of the future Highway 12. The dog now comes back and roams the area as if looking for a final resting place to put his soul at peace.
Finally, there is the legend that says the Fence Rail Dog is the actual ghost of a dog who came back to exact its revenge for the murder of its owner. The story claims that when alive, the dog belonged to a kind man who was the landlord of a boarding house. While dealing with an angry and violent tenant one day, the landlord was murdered and his body was chopped up, ground into fine chunks, and fed to his loyal dog. After being forced to consume the meat of its owner, the dog was then killed by the tenant and its body was left to rot in the woods around the home. Soon after, the dog returned to the area as a spectral Black Dog and set out to attack all those who would soon do harm to others in the area.
Now, while all the legends above are fun to read and tell around a campfire, where does the truth of the Fence Rail Dog come in? While nobody knows exactly when the dog was first spotted, it is known that it was most often seen running alongside Highway 12. Most often reported as being seen on rainy nights or just before a storm was set to arrive, the witnesses of the Fence Rail Dog claimed it looked like an oversized black wolf. But others who were lucky enough to see it swore that it had the overall body shape and general characteristics of a hyena, just much larger and darker in color.
And that right there, the descriptions given by this second group of witnesses are what allow this particular Black Dog to cross from the realm of the supernatural into the realm of the cryptozoological. This type of information is exactly what cryptid researchers look for when investing unknown animals. Because when you have information such as this, even if it is just a quick blurb and nothing else, you are able to start building the ground work in order to match it with something seen elsewhere in years past.
You see, in the world of cryptozoology, there is an animal known as the Shunka Warak’in. This creature was first described in an article 1977 and the story which made it famous told of an unknown wolf-like dog that strangely resembled a hyena. The story goes that during the 1880’s in Montana, a dark-colored beast that resembled a mix between a wolf and a hyena was shot at while chasing geese on a ranch near the Madison River. While the Shunka Warak’in managed to escape the near kill shot, it took its chances and returned to the ranch a few days later. Other ranches in the are also reported that the creature had been trespassing on their property and had also tried to kill their smaller sized livestock.
Everyone who managed to get a look at the Shunka Warak’in described it as being almost completely black in color, having high shoulders, and possessing a back that sloped down like that of a hyena. The creature was ultimately shot and killed this second time around in late January and was later stuffed and put on display in Idaho. Now while this particular creature, unfortunately, met its demise at the end of a gun, other possible specimens have been and still are being encountered in modern times. Sightings of this strange wolf/hyena looking hybrid have been reported from all over North America.
In 1991, several eyewitnesses reported seeing a large creature resembling a hyena in the Alberta Wildlife Park near Legal, Alberta, Canada. In 1995, cryptozoologist Loren Coleman was told of a creature that the Native American Ioway Tribe referred to as the Shunka Warak’in (which translates to ‘Carries Off Dogs’) which resembled a large hyena and was seen in Idaho and Montana. In 2005, a strange wolf-like creature with a sloped back was spotted killing livestock in Montana. In 2015, three sightings of a large hyena looking creature took place in Iowa, and a fourth sighting was made in 2017. Along with these sightings, other encounters have been made with the beast in Nebraska, Illinois, and other parts of Canada as well.
So, even though the Fence Rail Dog is reported to have been seen since the turn of the century, and even though it is typically associated with ghost stories, could there be a real possibility that what the witnesses were actually seeing was a Shunka Warak’in that had taken up residence in the area? While the descriptions are not identical, they are close enough to warrant a strong look at the possibility of these two creatures being one and the same.
The red eyes often thought to be proof of the ghost side of the Fence Rail Dog could actually be eye shine from passing headlights, and the startling height could possibly be attributed to seeing the high shoulders of the Shunka Warak’in quickly as it passed by. Not to mention, if the Shunka Warak’in really is some sort of hyena hybrid, then the high speeds at which the witnesses saw the creature running alongside the road could possibly be explained as well. Seeing as how a normal hyena can run at speeds of up to 37mph, it is safe to assume a hybrid could run as fast, if not faster.
While it is fun to think about all the ‘What If’s’ and crazy scenarios and theories when it comes to these double camp creatures, one must always remember that the legends and the stories originated from somewhere, and that’s a fact. At one point in time, someone more than likely did see something that led to the creation of these strange tales. Could that something have been the flesh and blood cryptid known as the Shunka Warak’in, or was it truly a ghostly Black Dog that has decided to tether itself to this specific area for some unknown reason? Nobody knows, and in the end, that’s what ultimately makes this mystery fun.
Now, a final word of warning to all who read this; if you ever find yourself driving down Highway 12 between Frederica and Felton in Delaware, keep an extra watchful eye out on the road in front of you. Because you never know if this is the time that the large unknown animal running alongside your window is going to run out in front of your vehicle, or if it’s going to pass right through it.
-The Pine Barrens Institute
Image Credit: Google