HAPPENED AGAIN. KOANI IS LOOSE. It's always the same scenario: somehow
she's gotten out of the pen or off the leash. She dances just out
of reach and I can see the gears in her brain turning, "What's first:
Killing that dog down the road? How about those sheep in the pasture
on top of the hill? Ooh, look! What's that little human doing in
the driveway?" Before mayhem ensues, I wake up and relief floods
through me. Twelve long years and no disasters. And that is what
it's like to live with a wolf.
begin with, we never dreamed of 'owning' a wolf. Born in captivity,
and socialized to humans from the age of two-weeks, a three-month
old Koani came to live with us as part of an ABC documentary about
wolves that we'd been hired to consult on. The filmmaker had asked
us to further socialize Koani and add her to our educational programs
so he could film us in a classroom. Upon completion of the film,
she was to become part of an educational facility the filmmaker
was creating. For a variety of reasons the latter did not happen
and we ended up with a wolf, "for better or for worse, till death
do us part." Feeling a moral obligation to give her life in captivity
purpose, we founded Wild Sentry, a not-for-profit educational organization,
and embarked on a life of traveling ambassador wolf programs. It's
now twelve years, 1,371 programs and 180,248 people later. There's
no question that Koani has succeeded in changing many hearts and
minds over the years and that in large part is what has kept us
going through some tough and grueling times.
embarking on reasons why having a wolf of your very own is not as
romantic as you may imagine, let me state unequivocally that we
love this animal. We love her like a psychopathic sibling who is
in turn charming and frightening. We do not love her like a child.
We do not love her like we love our dog, Indy. We love her like
you might love an adult being from another planet-a being that is
smart, yet utterly amoral to human values, and for whom you have
been entrusted with the responsibility to protect from humans and
to protect humans from. We would not find it romantic to cage this
alien, fasten a collar around its neck, or attach it to us with
acquiring a captive wolf one takes on a legal and moral responsibility.
The first and primary rule to life with a wolf is that no wolf raised
in captivity and socialized to humans can ever be allowed to run
uncaged, unleashed or initiate physical contact with humans without
supervision by a qualified caretaker. Wild wolves avoid humans.
A wolf raised in captivity is less shy and therefore more dangerous
to humans and destructive of human property-thus it exposes itself
to more danger than a wild wolves encounter.
ensure the safety of a captive wolf and the safety of others, a
ten-foot high fence with a three-foot skirt buried at the bottom
and another eight-foot fence placed four feet outside the ten-foot
fence is required. Each animal needs a minimum of a quarter acre.
Psychologically stable wolves need a canine companion-preferably
another wolf of the opposite sex. A dog is a poor substitute but
better than nothing. However, if a wolf and dog are kept together,
don't be surprised to come home to a mangled dog. Place more than
two wolves in a pen and the chance for injury increases. Wolves
have their own rules of engagement and for a variety of reasons
they may seriously injure or kill a pen mate. While most people
find such actions repellent, to a wolf it has nothing to do with
right versus wrong or like versus dislike. A wolf's morality is
not our own.
need physical and mental exercise. We walk Koani for one to two
hours in the morning and early evening, because it mimics a wolf's
crepuscular activity patterns. These walks occur everyday-including
Christmas morning, Super Bowl Sunday, or after a hard day of skiing.
Due to her walks, Koani doesn't dig, howl, pace and is less likely
to stir up trouble with our dog, Indy. Walks keep her sane and they're
a responsibility we take seriously. She doesn't, however, walk willingly
at our side or at our pace. The leash, connected from Koani to our
modified climbing harness, keeps her from attacking dogs, chasing
cattle, or running horses. Being attached to her is like being attached
to a hundred-pound cat. And while she enjoys these walks, we are
constantly reminded that she'd enjoy them more if we'd just let
a strange dog is encountered, we're jerked, sometimes to the ground,
by 100 pounds of aroused muscle. From Koani's point-of-view, the
dog is in her territory and wolves get rid of intruders. Denying
contact with the dog is our responsibility. We've both come home
with bruised, numb hands and both of us have narrowly escaped serious
injury after being pulled off our feet in an unwary moment. Even
though we outweigh Koani by 40 pounds or more, she's amazingly strong
and much quicker than we are. A momentary lapse of attention could
lead to the death of a neighbor's pet or worse. While constant vigilance
may be good training for "living in the moment" there are cheaper,
less dangerous ways to work toward Zen mastery than walking a wolf.
Koani enjoys the stimulating smells and sounds of a new place (as
long as there's not too much activity), transporting her is hardly
worth the energy or effort for her or for us. Koani doesn't travel
well. Wolves don't possess the "filtering" apparatus that dogs do.
What a dog takes for granted is a big deal for a wolf and it always
will be. Because Koani is a nervous traveler, she must be confined
to a four by six-foot kennel. The kennel doesn't keep her calm but
it prevents her from jumping in our lap and attempting to wrest
the steering wheel away when she sees an approaching semi. And when
her bowels loosen from stress, it's in the kennel instead of the
are social animals. Isolation to a pen without stimulation is one
of the more cruel fates for captive wolves. But before you allow
a wolf into your house, put the garbage up on the refrigerator,
place soap, food or any other substances that might smell interesting
in the closet (you'll be surprised at what smells interesting to
a wolf), strip the floor of rugs, and exchange heirloom furniture
for some junk from the second hand store. Koani's a good wolf but
she's a really bad dog. Sure all dogs are destructive when they're
puppies and there'll be occasional "mistakes" on the carpet. You
can, however, depend on the fact that after consistent training,
your dog won't wreak havoc when left home alone. At age twelve,
Koani is just beginning to reach that point. Maybe when she's an
elderly fifteen, we'll have a "house wolf." In order to accommodate
her need for social contact, and to keep our home intact, we fenced
off part of our living room and dug a 40-foot tunnel from her pen
to the living room enclosure so that she can come in to see us at
there are vacations. We've yet to find wolfsitters listed in the
yellow pages. Since the Wild Sentry staff consists of two, we are
in the same boat as private individuals when it comes to activities
that require "going away." Captive wolves need professional, as
in expensive, care. (And don't forget about liability issues.) In
our twelve years with Koani, we have not been away together for
more than four nights in a row and that has happened only twice.
My nightmares of her running loose really heat up when we're away.
at the very least, wouldn't a wolf make a great guard dog? If it
did, you wouldn't want to live with it. In the wild, the Alpha wolves
lead the way when it comes to dealing with intruders. Subordinate
pack members, the only kind of wolf you could possibly live with,
basically say, "I'm behind you one-hundred percent." When pit bulls
attacked Indy, Koani wanted no part of the mêlée. In her attempt
to run away, she high-stepped higher than Gene Kelly.
do we think we should be able to do this and others shouldn't? It's
not that we consider ourselves special. We just don't think most
people would make the personal and professional sacrifices we've
made. Really, I guess, we think most people are smarter. To give
us credit though, its not that we've wanted to make the sacrifices.
Again, we never dreamed of 'owning' a wolf. We had one choice and
that was whether or not to become involved with the film project.
Once we opted in, and given that we are people who take responsibilities
seriously, we started down a path of narrowing alternatives.
decision to make a wolf a part of your life should be an "until
death do us part" decision with euthanasia the only opt out. Should
life with a wolf prove more demanding than expected, leaving it
consigned to perpetual boredom in a pen, or shipping it off to a
refuge for ex-pet wolves (good refuges have long waiting lists),
or turning it loose are cowardly alternatives and, in the later
case, also illegal. Look before you leap and, once you've leapt,
be prepared to turn your life upside down or admit your mistake
and euthanise your "pet."
it be that Koani is an especially difficult wolf and that another
might be easier to deal with? Possibly. However, another might be
more difficult. Wolves are born with a wide range of personalities,
many of which do not become apparent until adulthood. While environment
makes a difference, it's unrealistic to expect a wolf to fit into
your life like a dog. Numerous people have asked, "But what if I
raised a wolf pup like a dog and loved it like a dog, wouldn't it
act like a dog?" No. No more than providing all the love and attention
you could bestow to a Bengal tiger kitten would transform it into
a house cat after the tiger grew up.
are there any reasons for captive wolves? In the best of all possible
worlds we at Wild Sentry say, "No." Unfortunately, we don't live
in such a world. Because of this, we do believe captive wolves can
serve important educational purposes. However, in order for these
animals to fulfill an educational mission, they should only be part
of not-for-profit organizations, exhibited by knowledgeable people,
and in a program reviewed and sanctioned by professional educators
have an obligation to help their audiences understand that no matter
how large and natural-looking an enclosure appears, it cannot provide
the space and stimulation to fulfill the prey drive and social interactions
that wolves experience in the wild. Their sacrifice is justifiable
only in that it sheds light on human ignorance. We owe it to wolves
to keep their numbers in captivity to a minimum. Remember, your
desire to be "close" to wolves is not their desire. Just because
you like a captive animal doesn't mean it reciprocates your feelings.
Responsible, sensitive people understand that our desire for personal
contact does not make it right to own a wolf. Caging and chaining
wildness is an oxymoron.
realize that we've concentrated on the negative aspects of living
with a wolf. That's because part of Wild Sentry's mission is to
discourage people from obtaining wolves for pets. However, as we
stated early on, we love Koani. She has added a dimension
to our lives that could not have been achieved otherwise-we've been
honored with a great privilege and responsibility from which we've
learned much. Has it been worth it? Neither of us can speak for
Koani. But we know that for us, the educational good she's performed
is tinged with sadness. Not a day goes by but what we're made aware
of our shortcomings when it comes to providing Koani with the life
of a wolf.
are wild animals that have evolved over millions of years to take
care of themselves. Wolves don't need us to provide them with food,
shelter, or companionship. What they need from us is to leave them
space on this increasingly crowded planet so they can provide these
things for themselves. If you love wolves, work to ensure that dream