Read an Excerpt
I grew up loving dogs, from the free puppies in a cardboard box outside the 7-Eleven—my mother said no and broke my little-kid heart—to the Welsh corgi of my teenage years, my perfect mimic right down to the resentful glance over one shoulder as we slunk off to my room. Then by chance, at a particularly sad and frightening time in my life, I met an animal labeled “wolfdog” and decided that only a wolfdog could be the kind of companion I was looking for.
Wolfdog breeders believe that introducing a “wild streak” into the dog genome helps to reverse the damage caused by domestication, and produces an animal smarter, stronger, and more independent than a dog. To find out if they’re right, I spent five years tracking down geneticists, wolf biologists, and dog trainers. To grasp the differences between wolves and dogs, I turned skulls over in my hands, peered at teeth, studied paw prints in the snow, and trained my telephoto lens on Half-Tail, a young female wolf of the Agate Creek Pack, as she howled to her pack mates. I found clues in genetics, in behavioral studies, and in theories about the origins of the dog. I hopped planes to Texas and Siberia, attended wolf conferences, visited a wildlife forensics lab, and drove dusty back roads to meet breeders and animal-rescue folks.
Right or not, wolfdog breeders wouldn’t be in business without buyers drawn to the idea of bonding with a part-wild creature, as if surmounting the difficulties of that kind of relationship—as opposed to simply enjoying the easy one with dogs—will fill a great hole in their hearts. That’s why I can’t explain wolfdogs’ genetics, behavior, or the difficulty of keeping them without revealing the reasons for my own longing and telling the story of my life with a wolfdog.
It’s impossible to write about wolfdogs without writing about dogs, the canines designed to be our friends, and about wolves too, the wild creatures who neither need nor want a bond with humans. A book about wolfdogs has to contain it all—the personal desires whetted by myth, political battles in the borderlands where wild ways and human enterprise clash, and the complex and sometimes conflicting scientific studies that seek to expand our knowledge of all the creatures within the genus Canis.
Writing a book that combines the personal with science has meant becoming a little like a wolfdog myself: a zweiweltenkind—a child of two worlds.
© 2011 Ceiridwen Terrill