We take for granted the luxuries of civilization here at SP Kennel. We simply expect the running water and electricity when we awake each morning. Powerful lights brighten the dog yard at any hour. We have a heated garage and workshop for gear preparation and sled repair. The conveniences of town are really not too far away in a warm dog truck. Sometimes, it seems our life here is not so different from Suburbia, USA.
Then something happens that brings us back to reality and we realize … our corner of Alaska is still the wilderness!!
For the past few weeks SP Kennel has been the target of a wolf hunt. A wolf hunt, not as in: "we are hunting for wolves", but as in: "we are being hunted by wolves". Our dogs have become prey for the largest canine predator in North America.
Wolves are not uncommon in the Arctic. We see them several times a year on training runs and adventure trips, far from civilization. Wolves are known to be shy but clever hunters. In general wolves avoid human interaction. Why deal with the threat of man when they can go about their business in isolation, preying on moose, caribou and the occasional sheep?
Aliy and Allen have great respect for the wolves of the arctic. I (Aliy) spent a few years working as a Biology Technician for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the early 1990’s. I surveyed migration patterns and population trends of moose, caribou and wolves. Wolves appeared to be the noblest animal of them all. They chose to remain secretive and totally removed from human interaction, the epitome of independence. The wolves stayed aloof and in a world of their own.
Aliy tags a sedated wolf during her days as a US Fish and Wildlife employee.
But the wolf pack stalking SP Kennel is an anomaly. The wolves are not shy. The smell, sight or sound of humans does not threaten them. They have become acclimated to humans and their world. This creates huge problems for both the wolves and the kennel. Despite the fact that natural food sources are abundant in the area, the wolves are becoming accustomed to ‘civilized’ food sources. The kennel’s biggest problem, of course, is that our dogs are not happy to be the wolves’ prey. We are not happy either.
The wolf pack has been coming near the kennel at around 3 AM. A lone black wolf walks down the driveway and up to our house while the others wait near the field. The wolf comes as close as 20 feet from the garage door. It is stalking the closest dogs, at their houses on either side of that garage door, "Stella", "Girlfriend" and "Tyson".
Tyson's hiding place, behind the big birch.
Our dogs smell the wolves as they approach SP Kennel from a distance. The dogs start barking - a panicked, fearful bark - which, fortunately, awakens Aliy and Allen. However, in the short time that it takes for us to run downstairs and flick on the lights, the wolf is standing only 5 feet from its prey. When the lights come on the wolf slowly slinks down the driveway, turning to watch us watching him.
On several nights Aliy and Allen followed the wolf. We saw the rest of the pack at the end of the drive, waiting. Sensing a threat, the other wolves trotted off down the well-used dog mushing trail. Every 50 feet or so they stopped and looked back.
Allen even got a shot off at the wolves one night as they left the driveway. The wolves scattered and ran off through the brush. In only a minute they stopped and began to howl…separately. They called to each other. As this continued, the individual howls became one choir. It was obvious that the pack had regrouped.
Wolves are awesome creatures. They are magnificent canines with stealth and courage. But, they are more than a nuisance right now. SP Kennel has been lucky because we have lights in the dog yard, and Allen and Aliy are light sleepers. In the past month this pack of wolves has killed and eaten several pet dogs in the neighborhood.
One good thing about these "city wolves" is that they seem to take the easy route to their prey. They have approached SP Kennel only using the driveway and the trails. Since this is their pattern, Allen has rigged the driveway with an array of motion detectors. Some set off alarms. Others set off lights.
The alarms have not been activated for several nights. Neither have the lights. There have been no reports of wolf activity nearby for a few days. All of this is good for us and good for the wolves. But it doesn’t mean that this wolf pack has gone. And if they have, it doesn’t mean that they won’t return. The dog yard may be a bit more relaxed now, but that doesn’t mean that we can ignore the daily potential dangers that exist here at our little civilized oasis. Our corner of Alaska is definitely still the wilderness!!
For more info on the Two Rivers wolf stories link to: http://newsminer.com/2007/12/07/10280/