Was that a chupacabra crossing the road in Ann Arbor?
At least one reporter a year asks the Michigan Department of Natural Resources if Bigfoot exists.
But I call to ask about any sightings of another monster - the stuff of hellish nightmares called El Chupacabra.
The dog-beast hybrid is rumored to suck the blood and life from goats and other unfortunate farm animals and pets. And an Ann Arbor resident claims to have possibly seen one around town.
"...I need to ask this question. Have you had anyone report the witnessing of a...and I know this sounds insane...chupacabra...in this area?"
I decide to investigate.
"Chupacabra? I haven't heard of it," DNR spokeswoman Mary Dettloff tells me. "Was the sighting around Hash Bash?"
"We get more calls with people telling me they have a cougar in their backyard, but we don't keep track of those."
"Oh, so we have cougars in Michigan?"
"One verified sighting up in the UP last year, the only one we've had recently."
Back to El Chupacabra:
Our reader says he and his wife saw the otherworldly animal stalk across East Huron River Drive under US-23 the afternoon of March 29. Then it slipped off into the wetlands - causing nary a ripple.
Our reader reports:
"The thing we saw looked like a hairless pit bull, only longer and taller. The only other way to describe it is that someone took a Mexican hairless pup, fed it nothing but steroids, decapitated it and grafted a horse's head on."
Quite the description.
He goes on to say it had the gait of a large, prowling cat. The mere sight of the thing was enough to keep him - a hunter for 45 years - out of the woods for a while.
"I hit the brakes, not to avoid hitting it, but to have more time to observe it before it got to the wetland side. Had I been there a little sooner and expecting it...I would have been happy to hit and hopefully kill it. This thing...this whatever it was...was like watching something in a horror/scifi movie cross in front of you."
And the reader pleads:
"Can you possibly assure us that what we saw was either a figment of our imagination or...?"
Yes, figment of imagination or "...?".Â I wrack my brain.
I decide to call the keeper of a gazillion animal species preserved in glass jars, some of them extinct. That's William Fink, the curator of the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.
Maybe one of his jars holds a big Mexican hairless dog that died recently following a steroid overdose and a horse-head transplant. That would explain things. You just never know with zoologists. I call him.
"I have a strange question for you," I say to Fink.
"I've called to ask about El Chupacabra."
"That's not for me," Fink says.
Strike two. And what kind of reporter am I to ask these questions - Chupacabra, pshht - of a scientist! Making a mockery of his field!
"That's for our mammal division guy. Phil Myers would be the guy you want to talk to."
I'm back on track.
El Chupacabra: figment of imagination or "...?".
The answer is so close I can feel it. The story's heating up. It's deep - deeper than the time I investigated a haunted windbreaker being sold on eBay.
Myers holds the key. I call him.
He vows to get back at Fink. We laugh.
Then I get serious:
"And what about El Chupacabra?"
He tells me that over at the American Society of Mammologists, the professional society zoologists belong to, people e-mail pictures to each other of weird animals. Zoologist humor.
About two or three times a year - including just this morning - those pictures depict Chupcabras.
"But what are they?"
"They are always well-known, fairly common things with mange, so that they've lost all their hair, and their skin is kind of scabby."
"Parasitic mites that get into your skin and destroy the hair follicles."
Sounds itchy. And not as exciting as I'd hoped.
"And the pictures I’ve really looked at have been a dog or a coyote. And in a few instances, that’s actually been confirmed by folks doing DNA analysis on tissue from the animal."
In this country, most of these "Chupacabra" are spotted in Texas, he says.
"So what about this Mexican hairless dog with a horse head on steroids our reader saw in Ann Arbor?"
At first, Myers hesitates. I push him.
He bends. Coughs up a few guesses. Maybe a feral, mangy dog, or a mangy deer, coyote or fox. Anything with fur can get mange. Menacing squirrels that infiltrate his bird feeder have mange.
"The mystery is solved," I say to him. The Chupacabra may not be a figment of our reader's imagination - it could just be a feral dog with a gigantic head and a bad case of mange.
Then out of nowhere, Myers gets mysterious. Without prompting, he says:
"You never know around here."
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