By Jim Poling Sr.
I am standing on the deck, drinking coffee and surveying the domain.
Down at the lake one of the young folks is on the family-built rink, stick-handling a tennis ball while the three family dogs chase it.
Farther out on the lake, about 200 yards beyond the rink, a four-legged animal comes into view. It isn’t one of our dogs. I fetch binoculars and focus on the animal, trotting calmly, tail almost straight out, pointed ears erect. It is a charcoal black wolf. It stops and stares intently at the dogs on the rink. Then it turns its gaze to the two-legged guy with the hockey stick and breaks into a trot towards the woods farther down the shore.It is exciting to see a wolf in the wild and the sightings seem to becoming more common.
Some years back two grandkids playing in the snow watched two wolves pull down a deer on the ice-covered lake in front of our cottage. It was a savage scene but a valuable lesson about life and nature.
Last year, on a trail behind the cottage, I came face to face with a wolf. Normally it would have been well aware of my presence and stayed hidden but it was preoccupied chasing a snowshoe hare. It ran right into my path, skidding to a stop in the snow and giving me a look of complete shock before bolting into a dense cedar patch. It was amazing to be that close to a wolf and brought on a flood of memories about the controversy over whether wolves will kill and eat humans.
The patriarch of the newspaper where I got my first journalism job made a career promoting the theory that wolves will not eat people. James. W. Curran was publisher of the Sault Ste. Marie Daily Star early in the 20th century and promoted the surrounding Algoma District through his defence of wolves. The newspaper’s logo was a howling wolf and J.W. wrote two books about them, the most famous titled Wolves Don’t Bite.
J.W. offered a cash award to anyone who could prove he was “et by a wolf.” It was a publicity promotion and of course no one ever claimed the reward. Sadly, there is evidence that wolves, given a safe opportunity and the right circumstances, will kill and eat a human.
A most recent Canadian case is documented in a newly-released book titled Cry Wolf: Inquest into the True Nature of a Predator by author Harold R. Johnson. In November 2005, Kenton Carnegie, a geological engineering student from the University of Waterloo went for a walk at a mining camp in northern Saskatchewan. He never returned because he was attacked and killed by wolves.
Wolf attacks are so rare and the subject so controversial that the Saskatchewan coroner’s office hired a wolf expert to investigate. The expert concluded that Kenton had been attacked and killed by a bear. Kenton’s parents refused to accept that finding. It was November, with snow on the ground, bears presumably hibernating and wolf tracks near the body. They hired Harold Johnson, a Metis, Harvard Law graduate and retired Crown prosecutor to represent them at the coroner’s inquest.
The coroner’s jury, according to Johnson, “saw through the biased report” by the wolf expert and hearing expert evidence gathered by the parents and presented by Johnson, concluded that Kenton had been attacked and partially eaten by wolves. Johnson later decided to write a book about the tragic case and it is an intriguing read. Intriguing because Johnson included a theory raised by some Indigenous elders.
The theory is that wolves were almost eradicated in North America because humans hated them for killing wildlife like elk and caribou, and more importantly, livestock. Many places offered bounties and wolf populations crashed. The Indigenous elder theory is that the wolves slaughtered through hateful attitudes and government bounties were older wolves, the ones that train the pups.
Now we see more wolves; wolves chasing snowmobiles, wolves coming into yards to attack dogs. Wolves that haven’t been taught fear by their elders.
Johnson writes that to survive in future, humans must save the ecosystem that includes wolves as well as humans. And, we must figure out how our two species can share the planet.