I flicked on the flashlight and slithered down the passageway into the den. There, my beam of light found a furry black mass huddled against the earthen wall. The pups looked almost like little bear cubs, jet black with flat faces. As their newborn eyes were still tightly closed, they could not make out just who or what I was, but I'm sure my human scent revealed me as something new and unfamiliar. With a boldness afforded only to the very young and innocent, the pups sniffed the air and chirped at me, perhaps hoping I was there to feed them. I couldn't help thinking that this was exactly how they would have regarded a wolf hunter in the 1920s as he pulled them from their den.
I turned off the light and backed my way out to where Chemukh, their mother, was waiting. She looked at me, cocking her head, listening to my voice as I gently congratulated her, then giving me a reassuring lick on the nose.
Only two years had passed since I had raised Chemukh herself from puppyhood, taking over the role of her mother, feeding and cleaning her so that she would be at ease around human beings. From the time she was three months old, however, she had run with a real wolf pack, living in their society and obeying their laws with very little human intervention.
I was amazed at her display of absolute trust, allowing me to crawl right into her den and inspect her precious litter, the first pups born to the Sawtooth Pack and, by all known accounts, the first wolves to be born in the Sawtooth Mountains for fifty years or more.
The birth of pups is a momentous event and the excitement within the pack was electric. The other wolves were intensely interested in seeing the new arrivals. Although pups are born to the alpha male and female, the leaders of a wolf pack, they really belong to the group as a whole. Every wolf in a pack is part of the extended family. All share in the joy when pups are born and all play a role in their upbringing, from feeding, to education, to discipline. What was truly remarkable was that Chemukh allowed me to crawl into the den, a privilege that she did not extend even to the other wolves. To her, I was not a stranger who might harm her pups or steal her food, I was a familiar and trusted friend.
For as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for wildlife. My grandmother used to tell me that the first recognizable picture I drew was not a house or a stick person, but an elephant. My treasured books were not Nancy Drew mysteries but animal stories. When I was a young girl, the woods behind my Maryland house, just outside of Washington, D.C., served as the great wilderness; the walks I took among the oaks and hickories, looking for salamanders and white-tailed deer, were my safaris. I remember, at the age of seven, hearing that someone had seen a black bear in nearby Rock Creek Park. For days I searched the woods, wondering if the bear might stop by, hoping to not only see him but befriend him. I figured he would like me as much as I knew I would like him.
Of course, when we are young we have many dreams and fantasies. When we grow up, some come true and some do not. I never did make friends with a wild black bear, but here I was, so many years later, sitting side by side with a wolf -- an animal that has such a traditional fear of humans that few people ever see one. Yet I was welcomed into her pack and treated to a glimpse of her family's private life, invited to share in the excitement of birth.
This experience and new life of mine, observing wolves, recording their howls, and documenting their family structure would never have come about were it not for the vision of one man. In 1990, filmmaker and naturalist Jim Dutcher had an idea, a way to film an elusive animal up close without disturbing its natural behavior. He envisioned creating a balance between a captive and wild state in which wolves were raised in a huge enclosure, but with minimal interference from humans. While they could not hunt or roam without boundaries, they were free to build their own society, choose their own leaders, and sort out their own disputes.
In the beginning, this was just an idea for a film, a one-hour television documentary. He never dreamed that the project would last for six years or that these wolves would become famous throughout the world. Nor could either of us ever have imagined that it would affect us so personally and so deeply, bringing us so much wonder and joy, and so much heartache.
Jim and I are not scientists. This book is about the years we spent filming, observing, and living with wolves. It is not a scientific treatise but rather an account of what we experienced, learned, and felt as filmmakers and as human beings. This at times allowed us a freedom of speculation that no scientist could afford. Conversely, we were very careful not to let ourselves be blinded by fantasy, making these animals out to be more than what they are: neither demon nor deity, but simply wolves, incredible and inspiring in their own right.
Copyright © 2002 by Jim Dutcher and Jamie Dutcher
The Extraordinary Story of the Couple Who Lived with Wolves
Wolves at Our Door
The Extraordinary Story of the Couple Who Lived with Wolves
By socializing with the pack from the time they were pups, the Dutchers were able to gain the wolves' trust and observe their behavior in a way that few people ever have. What they witnessed was remarkable: a complex nature oriented toward family life and strong social bonds.
Wolves at Our Door is much more than a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Dutchers' Emmy Award-winning Discovery Channel documentary. It is the story of two people brought together by their devotion to wildlife and held together by their belief in each other. It is about their struggle to keep the project alive amid marauding mountain lions, forest fires, subzero temperatures -- and the never-ending storm of controversy that surrounds the wolf.