Somewhere in the northwoods darkness a creature walks upright
And the best advice you may ever get is don't go out at night!
--Steve Cook, "The Legend of Dogman."

On April 1, 1987, WTCM-FM DJ Steve Cook released a campfire sort of ditty he'd penned, which related the legend. He set the first report of Dogman in 1887, one hundred years earlier. The verses recount events occurring at ten year intervals, creepy encounters with a mysterious canine cryptid. Nineteenth-century lumberjacks meet a wild dog that reveals itself to be much more. An overturned wagon is found, the horses dead from fright. An upright man-beast leads a pack of wolves or wild dogs. A vanload of conveniently anonymous hippies encounters a bipedal beast during the Summer of Love.

Sources as august as Wikipedia insist Cook based his song on actual reports, but he has never claimed this was anything other than an April Fool's Day joke, and the Wiki entry (as of this posting1) draws too much of its information from Linda Godfrey's rather sensationalist book (cited below). No historical documentation supports any of the original song's reports. The tales are true the way that Texas Chainsaw Massacre is based on a true story. Cook looked to the lore of werewolves, in particular the French-Canadian loup-garou, and also the Algonquian wendigo, for inspiration. Cook may have also been aware of the Beast of Bray Road, a similar creature reported in nearby Wisconsin. This canine cryptid had few reports to its name until after Cook released "The Legend," and the overlapping history of the two creatures, as we shall see, has grown tangled and confused.

"The Legend" struck a nerve. Cook's minimalist recording quickly became the station's most-requested song, and the story of Dogman spread. Leave us face it: people want a local monster. It brings excitement to our lives, and touches that part of us that still fears the monsters in the dark. Cook sold cassette tapes and donated the money to an animal shelter.

He ended that first recording with the lines:

Have the dogmen gone away?
Have they disappeared?
Soon enough I guess we'll know because summer is almost here
And in this decade called the 80s, the seventh year is here.

He would have to change those lyrics:

What does a Legend become, when the truth outruns the fiction?

Almost immediately, Cook, who "had never heard of anything called the dogman before" writing the song(Sands), began receiving reports of encounters with his monster. Since most of these came to him through calls and letters, they cannot be investigated with any accuracy. Some people undoubtedly were fabricating stories to add to the urban legend, and probably with the understanding they would not be taken too seriously. I suppose a few might have been delusional. Others may have seen something, a bear or demiwolf or coydog, perhaps, and interpreted their sighting as the newly-popular folkbeast.

The 1987 encounters predicted by the song occurred near Luther and Sparta, Michigan. The Luther encounter amounts to creepy clawmarks supposedly found on a cottage door. The Spartan story is meatier. In the autumn of that year, two men heading to a cabin reported seeing something grey, furry, and upright at the side of the road. They acknowledge that it may have been a person in a costume. Yet they also claim that, subsequent to the sighting, they found themselves further back along their route than they'd been.

Other allegedly real stories since incorporated into the lore include an encounter in 1938 between a 17-year-old and a pack of wild dogs or wolves. One of these had unusual eyes and it reared up on its hind legs, but it only loosely qualifies as a "dog-man." The years between the encounter and the telling may also raise suspicions in some hearers.

Of course, no cryptozoological tale would be complete without fuzzy film.

In 2007, a digital copy of something dubbed "the Gable Film" turned up online. It appeared in "American Werewolf," the final episode of the first season of the series MonsterQuest. The footage, said either to represent the Michigan Dogman or Wisconsin's Beast of Bray Road, runs little more than three minutes. Apparently shot in the 1970s, it shows people in period clothing performing mundane winter tasks and riding 70s snowmobiles. It cuts to footage taken from a moving vehicle. The amateur videographer has the unusual fortune to be filming a country road and its woods when his camera captures a hirsute beast. He pursues it; the creature turns. The hunter abruptly becomes the hunted, and we get a few seconds of Blair Witch-style shaky-cam, followed by a flash of muzzle and the view from a dropped camera. To no one's surprise, the footage never quite captures a clear view of the cryptid.

A second bit of footage soon appeared, apparently from the investigation of a cameraman's death by cryptid. The final episode of MonsterQuest revealed that all footage was, in fact, hoaxed. Mike Agrusa, inspired by "The Legend of Dogman," fabricated the footage using a vintage camera and appropriate costumes and props. Agrusa also claims that the show's producers knew this from the start.

In 2011, a low-budget Dogman film received its premiere in Traverse City, Michigan. Despite most critics regarding the production as something of a dog, a sequel is in the works. One Frank Holes, Jr., meanwhile, dug the story enough to pen several fictional books about the beast.

Steve Cook has since rerecorded the song a few times, with variant lyrics. The most impressive may be the 2007 version, which features a mandolin and superior arrangements. He also blogs at a Dogman website which sells recordings and merchandise, for the benefit of various animal-related charities.

Dogman, consequently, serves more than the tourist industry and the marshmallow-toasting tale-teller. Perhaps, then, I should soften my skepticism. Significant forests cover Michigan. Who knows what the shadows might conceal?

1. That writing has since been updated many times, and as of 2017, seems more aware of the Dogman's origins.


Steve Cook. "The Legend of Dogman."

"The Legend of Michigan's Dogman." Official Site. Mindstage Productions.

"The Legend of the Michigan Dogman." Absolute Michigan.

Linda Godfrey. The Beast of Bray Road: Tailing Wisconsin's Werewolf. Prairie Oak Press, 2003.

David Sands. "Michigan Dogman, Mysterious Upright Canine Creature, Haunts State's Backwoods". Huffington Post October 26, 2012.

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