Dances with Wild Wolves


In anticipation of last Saturday’s National Rally to Protect America’s Wolves, Brenda Peterson had a lovely blog/essay in the Green section of The Huffington Post. Entitled “Dances with Wild Wolves: Rally on the National Mall“, Peterson relates a story of individual transformation by wolf skeptics when they met an ambassador wolf, Merlin from Mission:Wolf.

Led for decades by two wonderful human ambassador for wildlife — Kent Weber and Tracy Ann Brooks — Mission:Wolf is a wolf rescue, rehabilitation and education organization. Each year, Kent criss-crosses the US and Canada in a converted bus bringing wild, socialized wolves into schools, auditoriums and other public venues. With wolves quite literally walking about and meeting people up close, Mission:Wolf educates about wolf biology, behaviour and ecology, and dispels many of the myths that have poisoned human-wolf relations for too long.

Speaking of her experience with Mission:Wolf in 1997, Peterson says in part,

“Most of what we believe about wolves is a myth and has nothing to do with the real animal,” Kurt said. “There is no such thing as the Big Bad Wolf,” he said softly. “Never was.”

Education, he said, not fear, was the key to restoring the ancient co-existence that our species once shared with the wild wolf — and now with their domesticated cousins, our companionable dogs. As Merlin stood before the group of ranchers, the room was very still. After all, for generations ranchers had poisoned, trapped, shot on sight this country’s wolf population until they were extinct in the Lower 48. Now a wild wolf had ranchers in his sights. Not a single hand reached out to Merlin. In fact, there was a kind of stoic stalemate: arms across chests, shifting, some eyes averted, others staring with open aggression. Surely Merlin sensed the anger and defensiveness

“Meet the wolf’s eyes,” Kurt advised one of the ranchers, a big man with a strong, sun-blasted face, “not as an aggressor, but as an equal.”

The rancher steadied his gaze and Merlin faced him, those wild eyes assessing. And then with a slow grace, the wolf took the man’s entire face in with his strong tongue. Grinning ear-to-ear, the rancher rocked back on his knees and whispered, “I feel as great as the first time a girl said, ‘yes’ when I invited her to dance.” He paused. “I guess this is a dance.”

Then Merlin moved on to a ranch woman who did not hold out her hand. Her fear and distrust were palpable; even I could almost smell its stringent scent. Merlin sniffed the air and kept a respectful distance. What he did next surprised us all. Suddenly stretching and arching his back, Merlin sat down next to the ranch woman’s outstretched legs. There was nothing domesticated about him as Merlin yawned to reveal startlingly white fangs. Then his huge jaw clamped shut, he shook his massive black head, and with great poise lay on his side only inches away from the ranch woman’s boot. The wolf and the woman remained like that in a motionless dance of opposites.

Merlin closed his great eyes, sighed. Stretching, he let out a soft growl, and then turned over on his back to look directly upside down at the ranch woman. Lying so near her, Merlin was no threat, and the ranch woman at last met the wolf’s eyes without any fear. “He’s… he’s really something,” she said slowly. “He does have a way of getting right up into your heart, doesn’t he.”

She then goes on to note the indispensable role wolves play in restoring and maintaining the wild health of the American landscape.

I have several stories like the one Peterson relates. My first introduction to Mission:Wolf was when Rami (the ambassador after Merlin) sidled up to me while I was sitting on the ground tying my running shoes. I hadn’t taken a good look at Rami yet, and thinking he was a big domestic dog, I scratched behind his ears and underneath his chin while chatting with him. At some point Rami gazed at me straight on, and I realized he was a wolf. It was a magical moment like the ones Peterson describes above. I have seen many more when presenting alongside Mission:Wolf. It is a superb organization, and if you get a chance to see them, please do so!

Image: Rami (1993-2008), former ambassador from Mission:Wolf.

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