Lisa Nicely

Defiance is preparing to host the first-ever Dogman Symposium in August.

"It's a growing subject, and we're hoping it attracts a lot of people for the curiosity, if for nothing else," said Ken Gerhard, event organizer.

Gerhard is a cryptozoologist and has been featured on several televisions shows for the History Channel, National Geographic, Travel Channel and others. Cryptozoology is the study and search for animals, whose existence is unproven, in order to evaluate the possibility of their existence.

"There is a handful of cryptozoology conventions that go on, and most are dedicated to Bigfoot," Gerhard said. "West Virginia has something called the Mothman, where they have an annual event."

The Dogman Symposium will be held from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Aug. 6 at the Defiance VFW Hall on Clinton Street.

"The dogman is the enduring legend," said Gerhard. "The first sighting was in the 1870s in Michigan. Dogman is a mysterious creature reported throughout the Midwest... The modern description of dogman is a creature standing 6-7 feet tall, walking like a man and covered completely in hair, but having a head like a dog. From a scientific perspective you're talking about something impossible. Dogs can stand on their hind legs only briefly. We're talking about a mixture of dog and human characteristics."

Defiance was chosen as the location for the first symposium for two reasons -- the community had its own series of dogman sightings in 1972 and it is in a centralized location as there are/have been other dogman sightings across the Midwest.

Even though sightings date back to 1870s, the topic of a dogman didn't begin to gain national attention until the 1990s with the Beast of Bray Road in Wisconsin, Gerhard said. The beast had canine features and was sighted several times near the towns of Delavan and Elkhorn in Wisconsin.

Linda Godfrey, who covered the sightings and has now written several books on strange creatures, will be a speaker at the symposium.

"Right now we have six lecturers booked," Gerhard said. "They are leading experts in their fields."

Other speakers will be Stan Gordon, who is best known for his UFO investigations; Nick Redfern, who will speak on werewolf legends in England and America as well as hellhounds (large phantom black dogs that may be related to the dogman phenomenon); David Weatherly, who will discuss Native American traditions relating to skinwalking (where a person can transform into another animal); John E.L. Tenney, who will speak on the Michigan dogman sightings; and Gerhard, who will talk about the Beast of Gevaudan, a well-documented werewolf case in the 1760s from France. Lyle Blackburn, author and investigator, will be the master of ceremonies for the event.

"We're focused on the Midwest dogman accounts, but broadening accounts to look at the phenomenon overall," Gerhard said. "Is it possible they could be some unknown creature, something metaphysical or supernatural that can explain the enduring legends throughout the years.

"Some think dogman sightings are related to Bigfoot. A lot of people think it is subspecies of Bigfoot. Some think it's paranormal. Some think it's a para-dimensional creature. Some think it's a shape shifter. It's a global legend."

Gerhard said he's really looking forward to the symposium and thanked the Defiance community for being so enthusiastic about being its inaugural host city.

"We encourage people to come out and participate," he said. "If there are any locals who remember the 1972 report, we would love for them to come out."

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