A Researcher Chokes On Her Popcorn: Wolf Myths Live On in 2012

Digging up the real biology and behavior of wolves and then getting the true story out there for the general public is pretty tough. There is so much misinformation about these animals in popular media, ranging from the ridiculous: Wolves will steal your children off the backyard swing-set, to near hero-worship: the Wolf is a spirit guide for the lost human soul. Both are myths. Wolves are canine predators with their own agenda, which for more than a century in this country has been simple survival. Take the most recent killing of 832F, the breeding female of Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley pack. She left the safety of the park and met hunters with itchy fingers and wolf tags still wet with ink.

Wolf researchers dedicate years, sometimes their whole lives, to debunking misinformation and mythologies about wolves. So it’s incredible that a Hollywood film can come and go from theaters and undo all that painstaking work in two hours. Truth has a hard time competing with the flash and drama of the big screen.

The best part of The Grey is the plane crash.  I like it when Liam Neeson turns upside down.  The plane has been ripped open and Neeson’s character John Ottway is suspended over the Alaskan tundra, two seatbelts holding him in his chair. Hey, it could happen.

It’s also believable when the pipeline workers, “men unfit for mankind,” (chunky, beer-guzzling alcoholics–the kind of men that played football back in high school and put their best days long behind them)  call the wolves “motherfuckers” for noshing the corpse of a stewardess still strapped to her seat.  Freaky scene, but yeah, wolves will scavenge. They only make a successful kill about one out of every ten tries, so these guys often go hungry. When they do get food, they seriously pack it away. In one sitting, a wolf can eat the equivalent of 133 McDonald’s Happy Meals.

When Ottway gives the crash survivors mini lessons in wolf biology and behavior–most of his information is wrong, by the way–Neeson delivers these particular lines stiffly, as if he’s not sure he really believes what he’s saying. And he shouldn’t.

The movie really jumps the shark when computer-generated (CGI) wolves, their eyes glowing green in the firelight, circle the plane wreckage and growl at the men. Wolves just wouldn’t do that.  They might sniff around (maybe) then vanish.  And by the way, the growls and snarls sound like hyenas fighting over a kudu carcass, not wolves.  (The DTS Dolby Surround Sound gave the theater subwoofers a serious work-out!)

One of the truest lines Neeson delivers about human beings in the film is this:  “We’re a threat.  We don’t belong here.”  When the men manage to kill a wolf, repeatedly stabbing it—partly out of drunken rage and mostly from sheer terror—they cook the wolf over the fire and eat it. With a belly full of liquor and wolf gristle, one of the men slices off the wolf’s head and puts it on a stake to show the other wolves that the “man pack” means business.  But the other wolves don’t seem to “get the point” and stay in hot pursuit of the straggling humans.  Can I get a witness?

Frankly, I think director Joe Carnahan would have done well to hire veteran wolf biologist David Mech to consult during scriptwriting. As a result of my dismay at the film’s portray of wolves, I contacted Carnahan and we engaged in a little twitter spat. I asked him to tell me the truth about the source of those dead wolves I’d seen in the film. His answer came with a breathless defensiveness and sounded like a well-rehearsed line from his publicist: “No wolves were killed in the making of The Grey.” Hmm…perhaps the wolves weren’t killed specifically to feed the large appetite of the film industry for animal actors. Maybe Carnahan simply found a trapper to pull some wolves off his line or out of his freezer and paid handsomely for the carcasses.

I don’t mean to suggest that a wild wolf would never attack a human. It has happened, but fatalities are rare–only two cases in North America in the last one hundred years. In 2010, Candice Berner, a 32-year-old special education teacher, was killed by wolves while jogging outside a rural Alaskan village. Before that, in 2005, twenty-two-year-old geological engineering student Kenton Joel Carnegie was killed at Points North Landing, a remote mining camp in Saskatchewan, Canada. After hearing expert testimony, a six-person jury ruled that Carnegie had been killed by a pack of four wolves habituated to humans as a result of an illegal garbage dump located at the mining camp. However, behind the scenes, those who examined the forensic evidence still debate whether wolves or an American black bear killed Carnegie.

But let’s face it, in 2011 alone domestic dogs killed 31 people. Wolves attack and/or kill so few people that the issue barely warrants mention. And how many wolves have humans killed? That’s right…no contest. And yet Roger Ebert had this to say after screening The Grey:  “When I learned of Sarah Palin hunting wolves from a helicopter, my sensibilities were tested, but after this film, I was prepared to call in more helicopters.”

In the face of films like The Grey, with its freakish wolf fantasies that darkened the year 2012, researchers have to quadruple their efforts to communicate real information about wolves. It’s going to be a long road, but I’m hopeful for the year ahead.

Toward the end of the film, John Ottway yells at God, “Show me something real!” God doesn’t answer—surprise! And I find myself wanting to shout in the sparsely-populated theater: “Neeson, Carnahan–seriously guys, show me something real!”

Posted in Animals at Large, Hollywood, Wolves | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

17 Wolfdogs Killed at “Sanctuary”

The animals at Wolfsong Ranch, a wolfdog sanctuary, have been the victims of neglect, betrayed by the very people who claimed to be their last resort for protection. Located in Lone City, Ohio, Wolfsong is a private, non-profit organization “dedicated to providing a safe, healthy home for unwanted and abandoned wolves and wolf dogs that have been bred in captivity and held privately as pets.” Yet events unfolding this week call this claim to the mat.

Why were dozens of animals left to fend for themselves in their enclosures without food, without water for weeks? Where was the owner and caretaker, the one in charge of keeping these animals safe? Neighbor Larry Bethel went up to the sanctuary to check on the animals after hearing rumors the owners had left. He had this to say: “I went up there and checked on them and couldn’t believe they left them. They didn’t have any water or food up there… all their bellies were cut trying to get water in the containers.”

On recommendation of Guernsey County dog warden Kissy Moore and two veterinarians, 17 of the wolfdogs were destroyed. Trenda Bethel said she heard shots fired as the animals were killed. “We just kept hearing gun shots go off…” she said.

Kissy Moore told reporters the animals were emaciated and too far gone to save. Cruelty-to-animal charges have been filed against the owner by the Guernsey County Dog Warden’s office. Ironically, even with all evidence pointing to severe neglect, the sanctuary’s owner, Johanna Trejo, submitted a plea of “not guilty” in court this week.

There is a serious problem out there—and it’s a human problem. So-called wolfdog advocates who tout the joys of human-wolfdog companionship and who seem to view themselves as messiahs “dispelling myths about wolfdogs” should turn their marvelous energies to policing the people who keep breeding wolfdogs for the market just so they can end up in places like this when one human after another fails them.

I have visited numerous sanctuaries doing outstanding work—ethical facilities where the animals are housed better than their caretakers. These are the facilities that deserve our money, our attention, our support.

Stay tuned for updates on this story…Wolfsong Ranch logo

See video footage of the Wolfsong Ranch and news coverage:

17 Wolfdogs Killed 10tv
Sanctuary owner pleads “not guilty”


Posted in Captivity, Health and Nature, wolfdogs, Wolves | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

“M”–a wolfdog owner–shares his views

Over the years I’ve had countless people approach me extolling my dog’s beauty, and more than a few have expressed the desire to go and get one just like him. This is written for them.

It’s true. My dog is absolutely stunning. He’s smart, affectionate, playful, clean, and remarkably well-behaved. He’s an amazing animal, I love him deeply, I have been incredibly fortunate to have him as a part of my life, and I would recommend that anyone considering going out and getting a wolf hybrid pup to go and have their head examined.

To begin with, I got lucky. It is an absolute roll of the dice in terms of the genetic lottery with hybrid animals. Some individuals, like mine, can become well-adjusted, fantastic companions. But for every one like mine, there’s one who never quite learns how to deal with life in civilization and a four-walled world. If you are considering purchasing a hybrid pup or otherwise supporting their continued breeding, know with absolute certainty that you are helping to doom many animals to lives of misfit misery. Better yet, go to a sanctuary and see for yourself what that really means. If you have anything resembling a conscience, I rather suspect that you’ll be unable to both follow through with this idea and sleep at night, .

But maybe you have a shred of decency after all. Maybe you’re considering rescuing a hybrid instead- really, how hard could it be?

I’ve lived with my dog for five years since rescuing him as an 8 month old pup. His first owner was wholly unprepared to deal with the dog, and, as soon as he started changing from a cute little furball into an adolescent dog with boundless needs for exercise and attention, first beat the dog then chained him out to a mailbox while asking passers by if they wanted him. When I heard about his situation he was less than a week from being taken to animal control to be euthanized.

For almost a full year after bringing him home, my life was completely dominated by the dog. He was completely unsocialized to both people and other dogs, un-neutered, and had developed both substantial fear aggression toward people and severe separation anxiety. I was lucky at the time to be working a part-time job from home most of the time and taking a light load during grad school, but even so, the little bit of time that I had to be out of the house was enough to have both of us- me and the dog- at the ends of our respective ropes.

When I say “separation anxiety” you probably think of him making sad puppy dog eyes and maybe letting out a mournful (but nonetheless kind of adorable) whimper or howl because he misses his people. You don’t think of frantic pacing and digging to get out. You don’t think of an animal in such abject psychological misery that he drools incessantly and loses control of his bladder and bowel. You don’t think of an animal so desperate to not be alone that he will bite and thrash to the point of destroying reinforced steel breeders kennels and break his teeth on the bars. You don’t think of the looks of horror and disgust you get from your neighbors who’ve listened to all of this, sure that you are abusing this animal horrifically when you’ve had the temerity to dart out for half an hour to go grocery shopping.

Likewise, while you may envy my high spirited and independent animal, the day-to-day reality of life with him for the first eighteen months was nowhere near as rosy. Every day was another contest of wills, another test. Are you prepared to physically wrestle him into his kennel to go on that grocery trip? Are you prepared to strive with ninety pounds of muscle and teeth, day in and day out, sick and tired alike? Are you willing to shove your hand in those jaws to retrieve the chicken bone you didn’t see quite in time to stop him from scarfing it up? To be jerked around like a crash test dummy every time he sees another four-legged creature?

Are you prepared to walk around bruised and bloody, to lose homes, jobs and relationships, to dedicate every day to caring for this animal?

Finally, are you willing to lie for his safety every day? To hide his true ancestry behind lies and omissions because, were his ancestry known, it would put him in mortal danger? And are you willing to live with the knowledge that, if things ever go really wrong, this animal that you’ve bled, sweat, and cried for will be killed outright, there will be nothing you can do about it, and in the meantime you will quite possibly be facing criminal charges, to say nothing of an almost guaranteed civil suit?

Bringing a hybrid into your life is not something you do lightly. It is not something you choose because you want a pretty or tough looking dog. This is something you do out of love, because you want to help to mitigate some of the misery caused by the breeding of these animals, and because you are convinced that you’re strong and dedicated enough to live up to this challenge and, as such, it is your duty to do what you can. If you’re very lucky, as I have been, your reward will be the knowledge that you’ve changed the life of a wondrous animal in need for the better.

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Part Wild reader shares her experiences

I was given your book the other day & started reading it last night. I finished it in the early morning, reading it all in one sitting. I sat staring at your book, lost in all that you had shared with me. I wish I had the words to tell you how much your book means to me. You have put my thoughts & many of my experiences on paper. It was a bit uncomfortable at times to read how similiar our experiences have been, but good for me to read.

All my life I wanted a dog. Dog & then horse were my 2 first words, literally, not momma or dada, much to my parents frustration. I got my first dog at the age of 29 year old & she was all I ever dreamt of & more. Booker was my constant companion, my best friend & the daughter of my heart. She was well worth the wait. A beautiful little blue merle Aussie, Booker brought me along the path of rescuing dogs that no one else wanted. She taught me everything I know about not only helping animals, but about being a better person & being able to (sometimes) accept that I am worthy of breathing the air. Through her & the dogs that have come into my life over the past 21 years, I have become a positive dog trainer, a behaviorist, massage therapist, Ttouch Practitioner, vet assistant & super pooper scooper. I cannot imagine who or what I would be if it were not for Booker & all the animals that have come our way since 1990. Each one of them brought me things I needed to know to help the other animals who came my way & surprisingly, myself.

I worked with several wolfdogs early on & since. I was mystified at the difference, when everyone around me was telling me that dogs were descended from wolves, the whole alpha pack teachings, people who thought they were Shamans, & what I was actually experiencing & learning. I had no one but Booker to teach me & only my heart & mind to go on. I am a horribly entrenched people pleaser, so going against the crowd was not something I was wired to do. So I did it quietly. I watched & learned. The wolfdogs broke my heart. All of them were as you described & my experiences mirrored your own. I doubted myself & thought if I just was a better trainer, a better listener, a better…”FILL IN THE BLANKS”…, the wolfdogs would be fine. I was letting them down because of my own failings & had to try harder. It was Booker that showed me wolves are not dogs. I went back to watching her & how she handled herself when she was among them. I watched what they did. I watched what their owners did. And so it was that I learned what Booker & the wolfdogs already knew & were showing me. Wolfdogs are not wolves, they are not dogs. They are stuck in the hell that is inbetween. The inbetween is not life, it is imprisonment. It is painful. It is hell. Agreed, for some of them, not so much, but for most of them, this isa true story.

Most all of the wolfdogs I have met have had to euthanized or were killed. A few managed to survive with one woman I know that considers herself a shaman & they live a life in the prison of 4 concrete walls, with no windows, a hotwired door, with some limited exercise & interaction. It hurts me to this day to know they are there & what they endure in the name of love & religion.

Thank you for sharing your & Inyo’s life with me. Thank you for putting into words what Booker & the wolfdogs taught me & I have tried so hard to teach other people. I hope your book helps teach more people & save more of these beautiful, tragic wolfdogs from being born, bought, & live only to die for being who they are.

Thank you for being you.

Warm regards, woofs & whinnies,
Karin & the zoo

PS: I have Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese”, printed & framed on my home office wall. I don’t know if I will ever fully feel that I don’t have to walk through the desert on my knees, repenting for the sin of being alive.

Posted in Captivity, Dogs, domestication, wolfdogs, Wolves | 1 Comment

Belyaev’s foxes–a few more thoughts

Why I went to Siberia:

I was writing my book Part Wild, my personal story about raising a wolfdog, an animal both dog and wolf, who turned out to have a very “wolfy” brain.  No matter how much I enriched her environment, no matter how much I trained with her, she remained driven by wild instincts including the constant urge to roam and to defend territory and resources, more or less indifferent to my human agenda. She braved fences reinforced with 5,000 volts of electricity. She hunted neighbors’ pets and livestock.  She reprimanded me with her teeth for breaches of wolfy etiquette. By contrast, the two pound puppies I brought home wanted nothing more than to stick close and please me. They acted impulsively at times; they had drives of their own. But because they were domestic animals, they could–with training, most of the time–inhibit those drives in favor of doing what I wanted them to do. I wanted to understand why my dogs were so different from Inyo, my wolfdog, and I wondered whether Belyaev’s foxes, who are genetically tame, might represent an intermediate step, a kind of “missing link.”

Dmitry K. Belyaev was clear: Along with achieving certain physiological benchmarks of domestication, which included the ability to reproduce outside a strictly seasonal pattern, the foxes would be fully domestic when they obeyed human commands as dogs do.

In every paper he wrote, Belyaev insisted on dog behavior as the benchmark his foxes must achieve in order to be domestic. Not cat behavior or horse behavior or the behavior of any other domestic animal: dog behavior, including both eagerness and capacity to obey human commands.

What I found when I got there:

A population of genetically tame foxes, selectively bred over 51 generations to welcome, even crave, human contact. These animals were not “tame,” which is learned tolerance for the nearness of people and cannot be passed to offspring. These were “genetically tame” animals whose tame behavior is inherited and passed on to the next generation. However, major obstacles stand in the way of classifying the foxes as “domestic.”

  1. Belyaev considered the dog’s semi-annual breeding cycle a benchmark of its domestication, and in 1969 he noted hopefully that “those foxes which behaved most like dogs showed signs of reproductive activity outside their characteristic season.”  Yet in the forty-three years since, the experiment has yielded only a few out-of-season matings and a somewhat lengthened breeding season. Overall, Belyaev’s foxes are still bound by the reproductive cycle of Vulpes vulpes, becoming fertile only once a year.
  2. They live in 3×3 wire cubes, not with people. The foxes are not socialized or trained. Results of testing by anthropologist Brian Hare and his team have shown that Belyaev’s foxes respond to pointing cues almost as well as dogs.  But although we have the occasional anecdote of a fox walking on a leash or another sitting for a treat, Lyudmila Trut tells me that the friendly foxes are not as submissive to people as dogs, her remark suggesting that the foxes may not be as eager to comply with commands as dogs are. Nevertheless, they’ve never been given a chance to show what they can do.  “If the fox kits could be raised and trained the way dog puppies are now, there is no telling what sort of animal they might one day become,” she said.
  3. The classic definition of “domestic” is this: A domestic animal of any species is a representative of a wild species, differing from its ancestor by a set of morphological, physiological, ethological, and behavioral traits, by which it is reclassified as a separate species from its wild ancestor. We might also add “ecological niche” to the set of characteristics that separate domestic animals from their wild cousins. For example, domestic dogs live with people. Living with humans is the domestic dog’s ecological niche. They are no longer suited to life in the wild. When and if Belyaev’s foxes reach a state of domesticity, Vulpes vulpes will be reclassified as Vulpes familiaris. Belyaev hoped one day to have a population of domestic foxes, but as Lyudmila Trut put it: “So far [Belyaev’s foxes] still belong to Vulpes vulpes…For now, the differences between tame and wild foxes haven’t yet reached ones between species. We need to set [the] foxes free from their cages and settle them with humans.” A 3×3 wire cage is not an ecological niche.
  4. Referring to Belyaev’s foxes as “domestic” is a pervasive error—one perpetuated in the popular media (and even among some scientists who carelessly interchange the terms “tame” and “domestic”). We may, in fact, require a whole new term for these foxes. They embody something between genetically tame and domestic. They are beyond the former but not quite the latter.
  5. Dogs and humans co-evolved, mutually influencing and changing each other. For now, the fox experiment runs one-way—intellectual stimulation and influence runs only from researchers to foxes. Perhaps the foxes are stuck in a seasonal reproductive pattern because they are confined to cages. Interrupting the seasonal cycle might only happen when foxes live with people. (This may have happened with dogs. We don’t know.)

Could foxes be our next pet trend?

Personally, I hope not. We have enough companion animals in desperate need of homes. In the United States, 6-8 million cats and dogs end up in shelters every year. Dogs have been designed to do so many things for us: serve as companions, hunters, herders, guards, disability assistants…  They’re a miracle! Martin Luther said: “The dog is the most faithful animal, and it might be held in great worth, if it were not so common.” And he was right.

The scope and ambition of the project is impressive.  But I found the conditions personally very distressing, and hardly slept during my visit. Over the course of my visit, many foxes shoved their noses against the doors when I opened their cages, trying to push past me and get out.  Each evening, when I returned to the Golden Valley Hotel, picking fur out of my teeth and smelling of fox musk, the guard at the door, his Nikonov assault rifle slung over his shoulder, wrinkled his nose as I passed. I would spend all night recalling the dilapidated shed rows, containing hundreds of bare wire cages devoid of stimulation, where genetically tame foxes, selectively bred to need human touch and affection, would spend their whole lives alone. Frankly, the situation distresses the experimenters too.

And then, what are the so-called “pet” foxes really like? Their window of socialization is long over by the time they arrive from Russia at 4 months old. They can’t be left alone in the house; they must be caged. Even if it’s a larger cage, it’s still a cage. According to wolf-behavior specialist and dog trainer Beth Duman, Belyaev’s foxes still have to pass the “Can I Stand to Live with These Critters?” test.  And of course the test also applies in reverse:  Can the “critters” stand to live with us?

What does the future hold:

Director of the Canine Cognition Lab, Clive Wynne, has been trying to secure grant money for testing “to clarify once and for all if the foxes are analogous to dogs.”  Establishing control groups for comparison, he would like to hand-rear and socialize the foxes. There may be more surprises to come, but financing is needed to push the experiment forward and to ensure that the foxes are more humanely housed and provided with the regular human contact they were designed to need. The foxes are begging us to think outside the box.




Posted in Captivity, Dmitry K. Belyaev, domestication, foxes, genetic tameness, Russia | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

William and Donald enjoying their morning alfalfa together.

Donald is a young St. Croix hair sheep, playful and friendly.  William, a retired thoroughbred jumper, has the nickname “The Philosopher.” He often considers the world before responding to it–a jay perched in the apple tree, a deer grazing the pasture, the neighbor’s barking dog. We also call him “Captain Fiddlelips” because he can open any door, any gate with his velvety lips.  If I’m late getting home from work, he lets himself into the barn to go to bed.

In autumn when coyotes crawl under the fence and trot across the paddock to eat fallen apples, Donald stands under William’s belly to watch them. William is Donald’s safety, his point of reference.

Donald experienced his first snow a few days ago.  He frisked and gamboled, tossed his head and chased me around the paddock.  We had a good game of tag.  He’s naturally polled, so horns are not a concern.  He does have a tough head, though, as my dog Argos discovered.

Argos and Donald had a game of chase on. It was all good fun until Donald headbutted Argos in the ribs.  Argos yelped and now keeps a comfortable distance from Donald.

Occasionally, when William becomes a bit too pushy, shoving Donald this way and that, Donald will stand on his hind legs and give William a headbutt on the kisser.  Seems to set things square between them.  Little Donald is coming into his own this winter.

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A canine fan of PART WILD

One reader sent this to me:  Her dog Stella reading PART WILD on a rainy day.

2011-12-14 21.16.15.jpg


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Paying the Price for Captivity Stress

People aren’t the only ones to pay a high price for their animals’ captivity stress…

By frustrating an animal’s urges–inhibiting its natural drives to disperse, hunt, and mate–physical confinement in the form of a pen or even a leash can be enough to trigger an emotional meltdown in some mature wolves and wolfdogs.

Sandra Piovesan, a wolfdog breeder who lived thirty miles east of Pittsburgh, hadn’t understood the needs of her animals, her role in the social “pack” structure, or the consequences of her animals’ severe confinement stress. She started with a single breeding pair and produced a litter of pups every year. Although she gave away or sold some of the puppies, she always kept a few animals from each litter. Some ten years later she owned eleven intact male and female wolfdogs, all living in a single 50’x100’ enclosure (about 1/3 acre).

Humane Officer Elaine Gower, who’d made frequent visits to Piovesan over a period of several years, became increasingly concerned as the number of animals in the enclosure grew. “They were stressed,” she told me. “The space was too small for that many animals.” When we spoke, Gower emphasized that she could not prove wanton and willful neglect. Except for being overcrowded, these animals, licensed as “mixed-breed dogs” to avoid hassles with law enforcement, were in decent physical shape. “I was on friendly terms with Sandy. I wanted to work with her and come up with a solution to the situation,” she said. Then some of the lower-ranking animals were badly injured and even killed by other pack members when they were attacked and couldn’t escape. (Many sanctuaries keep wolves in pairs rather than groups to avoid this kind of “mob” situation.)

Piovesan grew wary of entering the enclosure because a white female had become particularly territorial and aggressive, often circling behind her. Gower issued warnings to Piovesan for having filthy water in the kennels, and demanded that she seek veterinary care for wounded animals. She offered to spay and neuter the animals at no charge, but Piovesan declined, saying that the animals were living in a natural state, and to spay and neuter them would “disrupt the pack dynamic.” Gower found a sanctuary willing to take three of the wolfiest-looking puppies in order to ease the stress on the other animals in the enclosure, but Piovesan refused to give them up, telling Gower she was thinking about driving some of the animals to Minnesota to let them go. Gower told her such a move would be illegal and that the animals wouldn’t survive—they didn’t know how to hunt and wild wolves would likely kill them.

Over the years, some of the puppies that Sandra Piovesan sold or gave away (puppies from the white female) met with tragic ends. One pair acquired by a man who identified himself as Native American and went by the name “Lone Wolf,” didn’t have a fenced area or the necessary permits, and when the animals were caught killing sheep, animal control turned them over to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. When “Lone Wolf” was interviewed he said that as a Native American he had a right to own wolves without a permit: “It’s a spiritual thing.” But without a captive wolf permit, the Game Commission would not return the animals to him and quickly offloaded them to a woman who did have a permit. The woman attempted to breed her dog to the intact male, who subsequently killed the dog. The woman then shot the male and the female escaped. She traveled into a neighboring county where she was shot the following year as a “white coyote.”

Another pair of offspring from the white female went to a husband and wife who were starting a backyard zoo at their home. When the wolfdogs attacked the wife, the husband shot both animals.

Meanwhile, Piovesan’s white female grew increasingly stressed out and dangerous, and Piovesan confided to Gower that some of the other animals had also begun to circle behind her when she went inside the enclosure. Co-workers reported that Piovesan had come to work with her arm bandaged and admitted that she’d been attacked by one of her animals. Several months later Sandra Piovesan’s daughter Crystal found her mother’s mauled body inside the enclosure. Her femoral artery had been severed and she’d bled to death.

Sandra Piovesan wasn’t the only one to pay a high price. Authorities tranquilized the animals with dart guns and euthanized them. “They were beautiful animals,” Gower says. “I was just sick about it. I called several sanctuaries, but no one wanted them because we weren’t sure whether the animals were pure wolves.”

According to Pat Goodman, research associate at Indiana’s Wolf Park, captive female wolves are much less tolerant of other females than male wolves are of other males: “We have witnessed deadly aggression between [captive] female wolves since the seventies… I suspect that female pack members… have a naturally selected ‘incentive’ to disperse of which they are not conscious…”

At age 50 Piovesan’s life was cut short, and death became the only “freedom” her animals would ever know.

NOTE: Wolves aren’t the only animals to experience temperament changes and captivity stress as they mature. According to April Truitt, the executive director of the Primate Rescue Center in Lexington, Kentucky, once primates reach maturity, their behavior can become unpredictable. “An adult chimp has seven times the strength of a man…but even a 24-pound monkey has the reflexes and agility to take down a man,” Truitt remarked. “These animals have to be removed at birth from the mother, put in diapers, put on a bottle and sold before they start depreciating—which they do, quicker than a Cadillac… By the age of 3, maybe 5 or 7, they reach adolescence and their hormones are telling them to do anything but take commands from humans. They are interested in dominating whatever social group they find themselves in. If it’s a human home, they often go after children first, then teenagers, then mom, and by the time they get to dad, we usually get the call.”

Posted in Animals at Large, Captivity, Health and Nature, Uncategorized, Wolves | Leave a comment

Dog Runs and Rainy Days

The woods of Forest Park received a sprinkling of snow last night. My two dachshunds have become heat-seeking missiles, preferring to hibernate for the winter rather than venture outside. I take Argos, my 11-year-old shepherd mix, and head to the Wildwood Trail for a run. Swollen with recent heavy rains, fallen trunks of maple and cherry sprout olive-green mats of Lyell’s bristle moss. A brisk wind shakes the last of the leaves loose from an old maple, and Argos and I keep running, mud slopping into my shoes and between Argos’s toes. It’s a good day to be outside.

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PART WILD is available now! See what readers are saying…

PART WILD:  One Woman’s Journey with a Creature Caught Between the Worlds of Wol ves and Dogs

“Terrill will make you fully understand the differences between wild and domestic animals.  Her riveting prose about her wolf hybrid is essential reading for everyone who is interested in animals.”–Temple Grandin

“This introspective and lyrical book will be an eye-opener for all lovers of dogs.”–Booklist

PART WILD is the unforgettable story of Ceiridwen Terrill’s journey with a creature whose heart is divided between her bond to one woman and her need to roam free. When Terrill adopts a wolfdog—part husky, part gray wolf—named Inyo to be her protector and fellow traveler, she is compelled by the great responsibility that accompanies the allure of the wild, and transformed by the extraordinary love she shares with Inyo, who teaches Terrill how to carve out a place for herself in the world. But this is no sentimentalized account of spiritual healing; Part Wild is a memoir of the beauty—and tragedy—of living with a measure of wildness.

Over almost four years, Terrill and Inyo’s adventures veer between hilarious and heartbreaking. There are peaceful weekends spent hiking in snowy foothills, mirthful romps through dirty laundry, joyful adoptions of dog companions, and clashes brought on by the stress of caring for Inyo, insatiable without the stimulation of a life lived outdoors. Forced to move and accommodate the complaints of fearful neighbors and the desires of her space-craving wolfdog, Terrill must confront the reality of what she has done by trying to tame a part-wild animal.

Driven to understand the differences between dogs and wolves, Terrill spent five years interviewing genetics experts, wolf biologists, dog trainers, and wolf rescuers in the United States, Germany, Hungary, Sweden, and Russia. The fascinating results of her investigation make Part Wild as informative as it is moving.

What readers of PART WILD are saying:

“I really admire Terrill’s bravery in telling the story of her wolfdog Inyo and illuminating the heartbreak and danger of trying to contain wild animals in human bonds. She went farther than personal memoir with a great deal of research into the challenges facing wild wolves, the still-debated origin of domestic dogs, and the “genetic tameness” experiments with foxes in Russia. She is also an accomplished writer and describes nature and its creatures in eloquent detail. Compelling and sobering.”–Lara

“Terrill raises Inyo to the best of her abilities, forms a deep bond with her “part wild” companion, and shares her experiences in a memoir that is impossible to put down, even as it breaks the reader’s heart.”–Kristen

“Amazing read, you will not forget this story once you read it. Powerful.”–Llk

“Many issues are brought to light–the wolf as a pet, environmental issues related to the wolf, the bond between “man and dog”, the monumental challenges of confining an animal with “wild” instincts. It is a great read for dog owners as well as a good introduction into wolf conservation and management.”–Susan

“Recommended reading for anyone who loves dogs and/or wolves, especially those who seek to understand the relationship between the two.”–Amber

“[Terrill] is an amazing, articulate person who is so courageously sharing the knowledge gained from her own mistakes. When an audience member told her “You’re being too hard on yourself!” Ceiridwen replied “I’m a researcher – I should have known better.” One more hero in my panel of canid writers.”–Lara

Excerpts from Part Wild:
I’d already had one breakdown of my own on the trip. In a fit of exhaustion I told Ryan he shouldn’t follow me to Reno, that this was all a mistake, we were moving too fast. He ought to turn that U-Haul around and go back to Tucson while Inyo and I continued to Reno alone. If he and I still liked each other after some time apart we’d get married the following year. It would be a good test of our relationship.
“You’re overtired,” he said. “Drink some water.”
I took a lukewarm slug from our Nalgene bottle and we drove on.
We arrived in the Biggest Little City in the World by midnight, and on a tip made our way north on Virginia Street toward the parking lot of the Circus Circus casino. Brake lights flashed ahead as a policeman wearing a Reno Gang Unit jacket waved his light stick to direct cars into the other lane while his partner hogtied a man with zip cord. Someone set off a bottle rocket, making Inyo pace the back of the van. “Easy, girl,” I said. Women holding martini glasses danced in tight jeans to a cover band doing Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day.” A man on the sidewalk yelled “God bless America” and vomited into the gutter. As we rolled by the Shamrock Inn Motel with its neon sign flashing NO Vacancy, frat boys tipped back Jell-O shots on the balcony. Metro Pawn was open in case someone wanted to buy a last-minute wedding ring, and three couples were lined up to get hitched in the Chapel of the Bells. Midnight heat and exhaust from the line of cars made the red letters of the Circus Circus sign look like flames. In the parking lot, luminous as a football stadium, Prowler and Aristocrat RVs had lined up for the night in the pink glow of the halides. We parked Hanna and the U-Haul next to a Big Tex trailer, and Inyo and I squatted to pee in the shrubs along Sixth Street, below the casino’s giant neon clown. I padlocked the U-Haul while Ryan folded down Hanna’s bed, and we climbed in, throwing T-shirts over our eyes to keep out the light. Lamps buzzed and Lupe burbled contentedly from inside his travel cage. Inyo chewed my toes through the blanket. My teeth itched, and a quick glance in the rearview mirror had shown highway grit in every pore of my face. First thing in the morning, I’d find a bathroom and discreetly take a sponge bath.


Inyo was incredibly smart and could and did learn, but on her own terms. She would sit and lie down when she felt like it, would come when it suited her and the wind was blowing west. Her compliance had been much like that of the wolves I would later visit at Indiana’s Wolf Park, whose tameness was learned, not genetic. They accommodated their handlers when in the mood and rewarded with food. From Renki’s balancing act on a wooden teeter-totter to Wolfgang’s performance of “Leaping Lizards,” a duet performed by the handler and wolf, complete with a bow and a backward leap through the air, the wolves complied for strips of jerky hand-delivered to them after every fair performance. The wolves were never forced to do anything. These behaviors developed naturally in each individual wolf; the handlers merely cultivated and reinforced them. As handler Pat Goodman told me, “We demonstrated to the wolves that these are behaviors we’re willing to pay for.” Kent Weber, cofounder and director of Colorado’s Mission: Wolf, put it to me simply: “Wolves do what they want. Dogs ask ‘What do you want me to do?’”
Thelma and Argos had often demonstrated their doggy eagerness to please. When I told them “Leave it,” they would drop Ryan’s tube sock or my underpants and accept a toy in trade, and after only a few times, they left those items alone permanently. Inyo didn’t pay any attention to the “Leave it” command. No matter what I said, everything was fair game. Eat the peanut butter! Stalk the bird! Gnash the pencils! Chew the computer cords! Peel the wallpaper! Eyeglasses, toothpaste, chair, rug and fluffy pillows—feathers flying!
To read another excerpt click here.
Where to purchase Part Wild:
Powell’s Books
Barnes & Noble


Posted in Dogs, Health and Nature, Wolves | 1 Comment