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Take on “True Wolf”


It’s hard to know the right thing.

“Do we have to discuss this at 2:30 in the morning?”

“Yes,” was the answer, “since you’re going to write about this tomorrow.” Ah, that tempering subconscious had awakened me again.

I had come home depressed and edgy from a documentary called “True Wolf,” which I had seen at The Screen. At the very beginning, an old film is shown of what looks like a firing squad of men in black, mowing down a lone black wolf in a snowy landscape. Much of the remaining hour or so was blighted by the impact of that image.

The movie was about the life two Montana wildlife activists, Pat and Bruce, had devoted to a gray wolf named Koani. They had met Koani as a nursing pup destined to appear in another documentary. At the end of the project, the question was whether to have the young wolf euthanized or try to raise it, and they chose the latter, very difficult path. Koani lived with them for 16 years and traveled the country in educational programs dedicated to dispelling myths about the wolf and revealing its true nature.

Because wolves are never alone in a pack, Pat and Bruce finally had to get Koani a dog buddy to curb overwhelming anxiety if someone wasn’t with him every minute. They walked him on a long lead in beautiful landscapes two hours twice every day, fed him fresh meat from the butcher shop, built a tunnel to their home to give him easy access to the house from his kennel, and made every effort to socialize him with dogs and other people.

What stayed with me, however, was the image of Koani’s light eyes staring uneasily  at the camera from a lowered head. When he was filmed on walks, every sense seemed alert, the rangy body tense and ready to bolt at any opportunity. He clearly became steadily more comfortable with people and dogs, but there was never a recorded moment–except when he slept–that he seemed truly at peace.

Pat and Bruce are interviewed throughout to create the story, and their concern about whether they did right by this creature they clearly loved is obvious. It’s hard to know the right thing. Pat commented that wolves are not comfortable being touched, and yet there was view after view of her tussling way of expressing affection.

Throughout the documentary there are views of handsome wolf packs in the wild and recordings of their beautiful, eerie call. Bruce states that no one is ever the same after looking a wild wolf in the eye, and the camera captures the visage of a gray wolf that makes that point. One wonders what it is about the cast of the head, the color of the eyes, and the steadiness of the gaze that seems to address the soul. And there is so much in the documentary, including the faces of raging ranchers and demonizing Christians, that makes the expression of the wolf seem noble by comparison.

Wolves don’t live long in the wild, and it could be said that Koani dedicated many times the normal life span in service to his species. He was euthanized at the end of it, and Pat and Bruce carried him to a level place up in the mountains and left his body to deteriorate there naturally. Their intent was to set him free at last, but they installed a time lapse camera to record the steady deterioration of his carcass. At the very end, green spring growth is coming up among the white bones.

I don’t know what to think about this conclusion. Maybe it is what I feel about it that is important.

One Response to “Take on “True Wolf””

  1. Michelle Mosser

    Thank you Ellen…for writing about the documentary and this emotionally-charged topic. I found Pat (who I believe is also a wildlife biologist), Bruce and Koani’s story pretty inspiring…perhaps more so because of both the time (coinciding with wolf reintroduction programs) and area of the US where they lived. (Montana where to this day, wolves are hated)

    It’s hard to believe we’re living at a time where the hunting of wolves, (Congress sanctioned) just began again again in this country on the first of October. I dream of a day where “ecosystem education” is required in K-12 so that children learn about the natural and necessary roles of predator species, about the level of sophisticated and emotionally bonded relationships most keystone species have, about humans’ interdependence and place in ecosystems.

    What courage Koani, Pat and Bruce had…to use truth as their weapon. To stand “unarmed” in front of lynch mobs, to persevere with their mission of reaching children before their minds were sealed shut by adult-born ignorance and fear.

    At Saturday’s first showing, a member of the Wilderness Alliance was available after the film for some Q&A. Someone asked what Pat and Bruce are doing now and the WA gal said one of their current efforts is working to stop the wolf-hybrid dog breeding.

    As you know, I feel called to participate in hybrid rescue, training and knowledge sharing in an attempt to help reduce their abuse, as well to end the cross-breeding.
    Even with this issue…as more enlightened people work to stop hybrid breeding or defend the right for wolves to live free …are we forgetting the need for caring for the cross bred dogs who are here now?

    Mostly I see communities of fearful humans outlawing hybrids or other breeds, (like pit bull terriers), assuming that every dog within a breed behaves exactly the same, rather than learning more about animal socialization, their true nature and what people can learn from them.