On a stretch of Highway 95 in Cocolalla, the Wolf People’s sign stands out as a unique welcome to passersby. Beyond its doors is a world-renowned education facility about wolves.
For owner Nancy Taylor, what started as a love of wolf dogs evolved into a full time commitment to raise “high content” wolves and to educate the public about them. Most wolves are mixed with dogs, so it is uncertain how pure a wolf ’s blood is, she said.
Ms. Taylor acquired her first high content wolf, Cherish, at seven weeks of age. She got a male wolf the next year, but friends were fearful for her.
“They’d ask me, ‘Aren’t you afraid that they’ll turn on you and attack?’” Ms. Taylor said. With that in mind, she and her husband at the time bought the building where the Wolf People is today. And it’s been nearly 20 years since they first opened their doors.
“We loved these animals so much and felt that nobody really understood what they were like. We felt the need to have a space where people could see wolves and learn about them,” she said.
They expanded the pack from there. In addition, they ran the store and focused on displaying how wolves live. Today, Ms. Taylor and her assistants care for a pack of 25 wolves that can be visited by the public.
The pack lives in enclosures on a wide acreage near the Wolf People’s store. Patrons can take a tour of the pack, which consists of grandparents, parents, and the newest pups born last year.
Bill Ross, their handler, explained the heritage of each wolf pair and their individual personalities. He helped raise each wolf there and speaks like a proud parent. He is their leader, their alpha, since he feeds and plays with them daily.
“They’re very intelligent and have problem solving capabilities. They can get the latches open,” he said. At the end of the tour, he starts a howl that one of the wolves by him, Coco, answers. Soon the pack is calling back to them.
There is even a star among the wolves. Niwa, named after the North Idaho Wolf Alliance, was filmed in the upcoming documentary, “OR7 – The Journey.” The documentary is about a radio-collared wolf that left his pack and traveled from Oregon to California in search of a mate.
“It’s a very pro-wolf movie with a powerful message that people need to hear to truly understand what a wolf is like,” Ms. Taylor said. It’s not the first documentary filmed with the help of the Wolf People either. A Korean television station did a story on them a few years ago. It was so popular with its viewers that the filmmakers came back and did a follow-up story.
“Our lives are saturated with wolves but also with sharing them with other people so that they may enjoy them and see what intelligent and fantastic creatures they are,” she said. “We’re trying to dispel all the myths that came over from Europe and all the stories that are being told today that are not true.”
Wolves don’t have the best reputation to say the least. Up until a few years ago, wolves were a protected species in northern Idaho. Now they can be hunted, though their numbers are still low – around 1,700. Many hunters argue that wolves have decreased the deer and elk populations.
“The wolf is to the Native American as the dog is to man. They had no problems with the wolf that man seems to have today. There was no overpopulation of wolves, and they still had plenty of elk and deer to eat,” Ms. Taylor said.
In addition to operating the Wolf People, which is a business, Ms. Taylor is in the process of creating a related nonprofit organization called the Wildlife Organization Learning Facility or WOLF, which will spearhead the educational aspect of the Wolf People and care for the wolves. The nonprofit will also rescue and rehabilitate local wild animals. However, their focus will remain on educating the public about wolves, in particular, children.
“We’re constantly trying to reach the kids because it’s the children who will decide the fate of the wolf in the future,” Ms. Taylor said.