Forget cougars - and the Jersey Devil. New Jersey wildlife officials believe that a wild dog severely mauled a horse in Camden County last week.
"We think these injuries were caused by some kind of dog, most likely a feral dog," said Darlene Yuhas, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. "There's no evidence that any other kind of animal was involved in this attack."
Buddy, a 14-year-old thoroughbred, suffered gashes on its back and had its belly ripped open Friday night while in a pasture at the Double D Ranch on Watsontown-New Freedom Road in Winslow Township.
"That's where most of the damage is, underneath," said Anjel Barone, 19, a pet-shop manager from Berlin who owns the horse and boards him at the ranch.
After the attack, "there was a flap of skin almost two feet long hanging from his stomach area," she said.
"It's incredible he's still alive," said Capt. Michael Bartuccio of the Winslow police.
Except for going to work over the weekend, Barone said, she has stayed in the barn with Buddy, who is recuperating with the help of antibiotics and painkillers.
Police had wondered if the predator was a dog, bear, or cat, and consulted the state Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife, Bartuccio said.
Barone said she saw pawprints on Saturday that led her to suspect "some type of large cat that's not native to the area."
Winslow police began to hear stories of cougars sighted in nearby towns, including Waterford and Berlin, the captain said.
But Yuhas downplayed that as a possibility.
"We do get a handful of reports about cougars from year to year, but none of them have ever been verified," she said.
A state wildlife expert visited the ranch yesterday and agreed with at least two state investigators that the attacker had been canine.
"Because this horse was primarily injured on its belly, it seemed to us that a dog most likely caused those wounds," Yuhas said.
Until the animal is captured, Winslow police have advised area residents to take measures to safeguard pets and livestock.