Playing With Wolves

What do you do when you discover that you are really wrong about something? Blog about it, I suppose. Ever since I wrote Dogs Never Lie About Love, and in several books about animals since (including my recent The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving) I have gone on record as saying that wolves are not suitable as companions (known in the past as “pets”). They are not domesticated, animals, I wrote and no matter how tame, one never knew when they might revert to their nature as a wild animal. Would I allow my young children to play with such an animal? Not likely.

Then two days ago, while in LA with my friend Jeff Nelson, I ran into an old acquaintance, Lorin Lindner, a Ph.D. psychologist who many years ago started a parrot sanctuary (www.parrotcare.org) still thriving on 20 acres of garden on the grounds of the VA Hospital in West Los Angeles where returning veterans get to work with therapists with feathers. She told me that she and her husband Matthew now run a wolf sanctuary, in Lockwood, in the hills about an hour north of Los Angeles, off Highway 5, called Lockwood Animal Rescue Center. Manu, 10, and Ilan, 15 were immediately alert: “Dad, please can we go?” So on our way back to Berkeley for a day (before returning to Auckland), we stopped off at the sanctuary. We only had a few hours, but I have to say it was among the most amazing two hours I have ever spent, and my family would concur. As soon as we got out of the car six dogs surrounded us, and without further ado we were ushered into the wolf enclosure (acres of ground) where Manu was immediately the object of affectionate attention. There were wolves licking his face, others rubbing against him like cats, others wanting to play. Ilan and Manu were transported into wolf heaven.

Before I could register a single objection, or even attempt to give voice to my (false) views on how dangerous wolves could be, Lorin and Mathew and the two boys were playing and laughing and running around with wolves of all kinds. “Low content wolves” (the new PC term I learned from Lorin), medium content wolves, high content wolves, and pure wolves, were all as playful, as friendly, as eager to please as any dog I have ever known. We walked over the house, and there, on the balcony, were another 8 wolves. They had two acres to play in, but they were all eagerly awaiting us, tails wagging, chuffing with delighted anticipation. They wanted to be around humans! And these were all wolves who had been rescued. One had even been shot by a human, but found it in her heart to forgive. Others had been abandoned, or had become too wild to keep. But with the love that Lorin gives them constantly, they have become completely reliable animals who would never dream of hurting a human who comes to them with love.

Matthew, or as Ilan calls him, Mr. Macho (he built a fence in an afternoon when Lorin requested it), himself a Desert Storm vet, works with combat veterans suffering from PTSD in a program called “Warriors and Wolves.” They are introduced to the wolves and wolfdogs, and the results have been nothing short of miraculous. I urge you to read for yourself (lockwoodarc.org; or call directly 661.245.3111 or you could email her at wolf@lockwoodarc.org) and better yet, make the trip there, and plan to spend some hours with the wolves. I can promise you it will be an experience you will not forget.

About jeffreymasson

My new book BEASTS is out this March from Bloomsbury http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/beasts-9781608196159/ or the eBook http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/beasts-9781608199914/
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6 Responses to Playing With Wolves

  1. Patty Bowers says:

    Jeffrey,
    I LOVE your books and have read almost all of them now! I think your great experience in the wolf sanctuary is delightful and heart warming. But I do believe, much as I would like NOT to, that wolves are still wild and can turn on someone in a heartbeat. Mabe some slight action or excitement can be interpreted as a threat or whatever. It seems foolish to trust any wild animal 100% and if i were you I would caution others about that too. Remember how many yrs. that Matthew in Alaska was “friendly” w/ the bears, until one ate him and his girlfr. NOT that the wolf sanctuary is even close to the the same, but I still would retain a healthy amt. of caution. It can’t hurt. In the meantime, LOVE them up! And your friends are saints for having a wolf sanctuary and I give them so much credit, gratitude and honor for their love of wolves. BLESS them for their work! Unfortunately we lost the wolf hunting battle here in Montana and 11 have been SPEARED in Bow season and killed so far. Just wait for rifle season! It’s sickening and those w/ murder in their hearts are allowed free range to indulge in the murder of a beautiful animal with NO use for their “meat”, hide or anything. It’s revolting.

    All the very best to you and your family,
    Patricia Bowers
    Polson, Montana

    • You make a good point. I have to admit, I was very nervous, as was Leila, the boys’ mom, and a pediatrician! But Lorin tells me that in the 3 years they have been with the wolves nobody has ever been bitten, hurt or even threatened. Could it be that once they recognize they are in a safe environment, even a top predator like a wolf can become as gentle as our Benjy, the lab who loves all sentient beings?? Jeff

    • I can certaInly understand wanting to caution people especially based on Timothy Treadwell’s experience with grizzly bears in Alaska (he was a vey dear friend of mine) but these wolves and wolfdogs are in sanctuary and all have had prior (positive) experiences with human contact – and of course we would never allow contact with Soren or Sera (for example) as they have not shown interest or prosocial behaviors. You were brought into the enclosures with animals we have daily contact with and who have never shown any dominant behaviors with humans – and of course have never been “in the wild.” As they mature and work out their social structures (with us included) we keep a watchful eye and then only those who still exhibit all those loving, friendly qualities you observed (like with Compass and Rider) will we allow people to handle (it also makes a big difference that we go into the enclosures with you because we are part of the pack and by default you become part, too). There are many other dynamics I can explain about the animals we work with daily and of course would never encourage people to interact with wild animals as they naturally behave in ways we humans cannot always understand (and then tend to demonize).

  2. Marga (researcher, editor, and indexer says:

    What a great read! Thank you–! Makes up for not having more of your time at the party for you in Berkeley. I brought you gifts I didn’t get to give you yet–one from volunteering the weekend before for the WCN table for Ethiopian Wolves–the world’s most endangered canine–only 550 on one mountain top in Ethiopia. Their DNA proves, the Oxford head researcher said, that they are related to GRAY WOLVES, not the African jackals or painted dogs you’d think, and they are playful and sociable like the wolves you met in California AND like many of the gray wolves at Wolf Park, where Californian Monty Sloan captures the true spirit and variety of our U.S. apex predator. That was the second gift I had for you–Monty Sloan’s book (w text by Shaun Ellis, Wolves: Capturing the Natural Spirit of These Incredible Animals (2011 Parragon Books Ltd). I wanted to be sure you had seen it while you’re still working on your new book. In it Monty writes,

    “Despite decades of research, both in captivity and in the field, despite success in recovery programs .. despite growing public support for wolves and predators in general, despite the fact that you are far more likely to be killed by a toaster than a wild predator, especially a wolf, this animal remains in peril, or has already become locally extinct in many parts of the world. . . .I can only hope that we can now come to accept the wolf for what it is, rather than live in fear for what it is not.”

    My third gift to your family is a copy Jane Goodall signed for me at the WCN (what a convergence of my favorite writers on animals this October!). It is a children’s book, The Eagle & the Wren, about what bird could fly the highest–and you certainly turned out to be an eagle in the field!!

    I’ll try to figure out how to send you a copy of a picture of me with an Arctic Wolf Monty Sloan took at a wolf rendezvous a good many years ago. It’s funny, although the joke’s on me.Many who came to the private “convergence” who loved wolves and had been wolf educators said they no longer took wolves into schools or made them out to be able to be “pets.” Yet the day I spent with Elizabeth Marshall Thomas for my article on her and tigers, what animal, unleashed, came up to us at Point Isobel in the sunset by the golden gate? Yes, a wolf!

    I’m counting on you to get the story about wolves and other apex predators right, perhaps help us end the aerial slaughter of wolves that can’t help but destroy the friendly ones, like the ones I’ve met and now you have, too..

    So happy to have seen your family, and thanks to your handsome son for helping me in with my walker and all those gifts I didn’t get to you –yet. Warm best wishes, Marga Riddle, Oakland

  3. Christina Stevens says:

    My best friend was a “high content” wolf-dog. I named her after the goblin creature in George McDonald’s “The Princess and Curdie”. Lina. She was magical. She was a loving, funny member of our small family and a great protector of the neighborhood.
    Thank you for acknowledging the wonder of a well-loved wolf. Is it any wonder we invited them to our fireside?

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