Behind the scenes in the lives of captive wolves

  • At the end of the day, Apollo trots in his enclosure at Mission: Wolf. The facility is well-regarded, accepting only wolves that would have otherwise been euthanized.

    Chris Schneider
  • Illiamna, an Arctic gray wolf, in an enclosure at Mission: Wolf near Westcliffe, Colo., home to 37 wolves and wolf-dogs.

    Chris Schneider
  • Orion, a wolf-dog, howls in his enclosure at Mission: Wolf.

    Chris Schneider
  • Young wolves at the Wolf People compound in Cocolalla, Idaho, excitedly jump for their food as Michael Marzio enters an enclosure.

    Matt Mills McKnight
  • A Wolf People volunteer prepares meat for feeding time.

    Matt Mills McKnight
  • Signs like this one at Wolf People help lure visitors into captive wolf facilities.

    Ceiridwen Terrill
  • Zephir howls at Mission: Wolf near Westcliffe, Colo.

    Chris Schneider
  • Two wolves jump at the gate to their enclosure at Wolf People in northern Idaho.

    Matt Mills McKnight
  • Visitors greet a captive wolf at Wolf People. Kent Weber of Mission: Wolf says that people often come away from such an encounter saying, "That was the most amazing experience of my life."

    Matt Mills McKnight
  • Volunteer Adam Sievering with Abraham, a wolf-dog, at Mission Wolf.

    Chris Schneider
  • Wolf Haven International breeds Mexican gray wolves, an extremely rare subspecies, to assist a long-term federal reintroduction effort in Arizona and New Mexico. Two of the facility’s Mexican wolf family groups were released in the Southwest in 1998 and 2000.

    Ceiridwen Terrill
 

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In my arms, in my house, or in a kennel, living in Tucson and then the Reno area, Inyo could not stand confinement, period. She climbed electrified fence, gnawed through heavy-gauge chainlink and my front door, ripped through drywall and insulation. Out now! I thought she loved me in her way, but she was always trying to leave, and I didn’t know why.

Scientific research told me she was an animal compelled by instinct to be free and constantly traveling over new terrain. A graceful athlete and great partner on wilderness or rock-climbing adventures, she was miserable in the everyday life of city neighborhoods, where in spite of two-hour daily runs and miles of trekking, her howling and repeated escapes got us evicted from house after house. Even on remote acreage, she attacked livestock and neighboring dogs, genetically driven to hunt and defend her territory.

Inyo could not be my guardian; instead, I was hers — and I could not protect her. I began contacting sanctuaries. Not surprisingly, they were all full.

When Inyo used her teeth to correct what she perceived as misbehavior on my part, finally tearing my flesh to the bone, I had to make a decision that will always hurt. In 2003, after nearly four years together, Inyo and I took a last long run through the desert, and then I drove her to our veterinary office and had her put down.

After Inyo’s death, haunted by her drive to be free, I learned all I could about captive wolves. Now I do whatever I can to help ease the way for wild wolves in my home state of Oregon. That includes supporting the kind of operations where dedicated staff work to make sure that the life sentences of their captive wolves help serve their wild relatives.

I’ve learned that we need accurate scientific information in order to treat wild animals humanely. And I’ve also learned that, with canines, there is a simple credo: If you love dogs, you keep them close. But if you love wolves, you leave them wild.

Ceiridwen Terrill is an associate professor of science writing and environmental journalism at Concordia University in Portland, Oreg. Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc., has just published her book, Part Wild: One Woman's Journey with a Creature Caught Between the Worlds of Wolves and Dogs. During her research, she visited the Colorado Wolf & Wildlife Center in 2007 and 2009; Mission: Wolf in 2007 and 2009; WERC in 2008, 2010 and 2011; Wolf Haven in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011; Wolf People in 2006 and 2011; Wolfwood Refuge & Adoption Center in 2008; and Eagle Tail Mountain Wolf Sanctuary in 2008.

Correction: This story's mention of Jim and Jamie Dutcher has been corrected to make clear, they did not purchase the wolves that they filmed in their documentaries, "Wolves at Our Door" and "Living With Wolves." Those wolves were donated by people in Montana and Minnesota. The primary donor felt that the lives of those wolf pups would do more to advance the understanding of wolves as the subjects of an educational documentary than if they lived their lives confined on her property. No wolves have ever been purchased by the Dutchers or their nonprofit organization, Living with Wolves. The only time the Dutchers conducted financial business with Triple D, a game ranch in Kalispell, Mont., was to photograph a mountain lion at Triple D, years before the wolf documentary project. Triple D does not groom its wolves and believes they resemble wild wolves in the area.