Photos of a canine trotting through a snow-covered field in south Bozeman have set off alarms that wolves have begun migrating out of mountains and into the Gallatin Valley.

But the pictures that have landed in e-mail boxes across the state and beyond, accompanied by subject lines like “Wolf in Bozeman city limits” and messages that say the “wolves” “were coming into town (Wednesday) chasing a small herd of elk,” are not of a gray wolf but an Alaskan malamute picked up 10 days ago by animal control, authorities say.

“It’s not a wolf,” said Lt. Rich McLane, who oversees the police department’s animal control division, after seeing the photos going around the Internet. “It is a malamute. It’s at Heart of the Valley and up for adoption.”

But photos of the dog that the animal shelter named “Mikhail” — after communist leader Mikhail Gorbachev — drew reaction akin to a red scare.

“We knew they would come down out of the mountains eventually, but I didn't think it would be this soon,” read one e-mail sent to the Chronicle with the two photos attached. “Everybody better keep their pets, kids and anything they don't want eaten inside the house!”

The wolf-dog mix-up is understandable. The online dog reference guide Dogster says malamutes “may look like lone wolves,” have a “wolf-like” expression and “probably descended from the wolf,” though its origins are obscure.

And Mel Frost, spokeswoman for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 3 in Bozeman, said that while the animal in the photos is most definitely a dog, a wolf coming near town is within the realm of possibility, given their population is growing.

“It wouldn’t be surprising if we had wolves on the outskirts of town, south of town and perhaps even north of town,” she said. “There have been reports of wolves south of town, but nothing has been confirmed.”

Frost said people should treat wolves like any other wildlife: don’t feed them, don’t leave food out if they are in the area and don’t provoke them.

“Wolves tend to be curious, but they tend to fear people,” she said.

If there is a close encounter, people should treat the wolves like they would a mountain lion — try to appear big and make a lot of noise while slowly backing away from the area. And, all encounters with wolves should be reported to FWP, Frost said. That way the agency can start detecting patterns and determine whether wolves that are spotted are forming packs or just passing through.

“Generally speaking, a wolf has somewhere to be and somewhere to go,” she said. “Usually, that doesn’t involve people.”

Mikhail was adopted on Saturday, according to Heart of the Valley.

Daniel Person can be reached at dperson@dailychronicle.com or 582-2665.