Rumors and wolves and pigs … Oh my!

Tina L. Scott.


How do rumors get started?

Oftentimes, a rumor is based on something that actually occurred and may have a nugget of truth as its basis, but somehow the information gets vastly distorted over time and as it is spread. Similar to the old game of telephone where kids sit in a circle and the first whispers something into the ear of the person sitting next to them and they then whisper it into the next person’s ear and so on, all the way around the circle, the message that gets back to the first person often becomes distorted by the time it arrives.
The more detailed or complex the story, and the more times the information is shared (i.e., the more kids in the circle), the greater the chance that the story will be entirely different by the time it comes “full circle.”
Sometimes a rumor begins when an event is misinterpreted, either innocently or more maliciously. Assumptions are made or people speculate out loud. Instead of asking or waiting for all the facts, they share their thoughts, ideas, or speculation, and others interpret that information as fact, when it hasn’t been verified and often couldn’t be further from the truth.
Someone sees a co-worker in a bar with a woman they don’t recognize and speculates the co-worker is stepping out on his wife, when actually the woman was the guy’s sister who was home from college and just wanted to have drinks with her brother for old time’s sake.
A neighbor’s car has the front fender all smashed up and someone speculates that she “had a few too many again and probably hit a guard rail” when, in fact, a deer ran into the side of her car as she was coming home from work.
People in the city lose power and a road is barricaded off and someone on Facebook reports a car hit an electric pole when, in fact, a transformer blew and there was no accident or car involved at all.
Occasionally, rumors are straight-up lies, fabricated by someone to make someone else look bad. They can be malicious and harmful, intent on deliberately damaging another person’s reputation, and that is their intent. Political ads quickly come to mind.
But at other times, rumors seem to originate out of thin air without any evidence to substantiate them. Who fabricated them, and when and where and why are a complete mystery.

Wolf shooting rumor

Such is the case with recent rumors in the community that very recently a wolf (or more than one) was shot and killed west of Merrill. I’ve now heard multiple versions of this story – from a farmer killing a wolf that attacked his pigs – to a man shooting a wolf when a pack surrounded his dog or dogs and perhaps a dog was even killed by wolves. I’ve heard rumors about the DNR responding and the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office responding and various versions of how that went down.
But here’s the thing … none of that is true.

Fact checking dispels rumors

I contacted multiple sources to try to verify any of the above information.
Individuals who were supposedly involved in the matter said it wasn’t them. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is unaware of any such incident, and the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office said they haven’t responded to any situations involving wolves this year either.
Curt Butler, Lincoln County’s Wisconsin DNR Conservation Warden said he has “heard about the rumor, several versions of it, and some that are quite elaborate,” but it simply isn’t true.
“I am not aware of any wolf conflicts in Lincoln County this year,” Butler said. “I also consulted with local WDNR wildlife staff, who stated they also are not aware of any wolf conflicts in Lincoln County this year. And as a result, I can also say there are no Lincoln County wolf conflict reports or current investigations by myself or the WDNR.”
“Based on what I know currently, this appears to be a rumor, and certainly false as to any WDNR involvement,” he said.
Tyler Iverson, Chief Deputy Sheriff at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, also responded. “Looking through our calls for the last couple of months, I only see one that slightly matches what you are describing. This particular call was of a deceased dog located in the road. The caller/animal owner felt that, due to the condition of the animal, that the dog may have been attacked by wolves or coyotes. The responding deputy’s assessment was that the dog was most likely struck by a car and he did not observe any injuries that were consistent with a wild animal attack,” Iverson said.
“The DNR did not respond to this call and there is nothing in the call notes suggesting that the caller killed a wolf nor that a dog attacked and killed a wolf,” he said. “It appears as if the information you have received is nothing more than a rumor.”
To clarify, the Lincoln County wolf killed rumor currently circulating is a modern day fairy tale akin to the children’s fairy tale of “The Three Little Pigs,” though I’ve yet to discover any redeeming value or lesson in this modern day version.

Dispelling rumors

While some rumors are truly difficult to dispel, others can be set to rest fairly quickly and easily by going straight to the subject of the rumors and asking for the facts. As Joe Friday in Dragnet used to say, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”
That’s not always possible, or comfortable, to do. In this case, and as a reporter, I can comfortably do that. But in many cases, I don’t recommend it. Rather, the best advice I can give is this: Shut it down.
How do you shut down a rumor if you can’t either verify or discredit what is being said? It’s pretty easy actually: Quit repeating it.
In some circles, that might be rephrased as “quit gossiping.”
A pastor I know makes it straightforward and easy to navigate this situation. Before you repeat something, ask yourself a couple of questions. First, “Is it true?”
If it’s not or if you don’t know (as in, you didn’t see it with your own eyes), then don’t repeat it.
Second, “Is it helpful?”
Even if it is true, is it truly helpful to the person or people involved to repeat it? If not, don’t repeat it.
It’s pretty simple really.

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