Wolves at Our Door: The Extraordinary Story of the Couple Who Lived With Wolves

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Overview

For centuries wolves have haunted the human imagination. It has been accepted as conventional wisdom that they are savage predators, creatures of nightmare. Determined to overcome such misconceptions, Jim and Jamie Dutcher spent six years in a tented camp on the edge of the Idaho wilderness, living with and filming a pack of wolves. Now, in this breathtaking and lyrical memoir, the Dutchers share their experiences of life among these wondrous animals.

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Overview

For centuries wolves have haunted the human imagination. It has been accepted as conventional wisdom that they are savage predators, creatures of nightmare. Determined to overcome such misconceptions, Jim and Jamie Dutcher spent six years in a tented camp on the edge of the Idaho wilderness, living with and filming a pack of wolves. Now, in this breathtaking and lyrical memoir, the Dutchers share their experiences of life among these wondrous animals.

Wolves are so intelligent and elusive that they alter their behavior when closely observed by humans. 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, antic play, and strong social bonds.

Yet Wolves at Our Door is much more than a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a wildlife documentary, more than an exploration of animal behavior. 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.

The narrative ranges from humorous to heartbreaking and reveals some of the surprising intricacies of wolf behavior. By introducing us to the unforgettable Sawtooth Pack, Wolves at Our Door provides a window into the lives of these astonishing creatures and a fresh look at ourselves.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The Dutchers spent six years living with a pack of captive wolves in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, producing the Emmy Award-winning documentary of the same title. In this book, Jim (The Sawtooth Wolves, with Richard Ballantine) and Jamie elaborate on their experience, describing how they became involved with the project, sharing their most memorable moments in the pack, and revealing the logistical problems posed by wildlife filming. Supporting the premises of their movie, the book details many myth-dispelling, playful interactions among the wolves and between wolves and humans. (These wolves were raised largely by Jim in captivity but in a large wilderness area with minimal interference from humans.) The reader gets to know the various wolf "personalities" that beguiled and bedeviled the authors, including Kamots, the calm, regal alpha who once comforts Jim by placing a paw on his hand; Matsi, the gentle beta; and Lakota, the slump-shouldered, tail-dragging Omega who is also the joker of the pack. Episodes of tragedy and mourning (as when a wolf is killed by cougars) are countered by moments of exuberance and touching inter-species communication. The Dutchers describe how the wolves dance in delight at the snows of winter, compete viciously for status and entertain themselves with complex social role-playing. This accessible book will delight nature fans and general readers alike. Maps and color insert not seen by PW. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Intent on dispelling the misguided notion that wolves are dangerous, predatory creatures, the Dutchers went to great lengths to observe a wolf pack's natural, unguarded behavior: they created a 20-acre enclosure for the wolves in Idaho's remote Sawtooth Mountains and moved their own quarters inside of it. There, the couple spent six years living among and filming the wolf pack, and their resulting film won an Emmy Award and became the Discovery Channel's highest-rated natural history documentary. This written account of their film explains how the Dutchers set out to capture the intimate daily life and social structure of the wolf pack. They observed behavior of a complex nature, a complicated and rigid family orientation, unexpected playfulness, and unyielding social bonds and achieved their goal of revealing a more sensitive, gentle wolf. This reads like a novel about relationships, but the main characters are animals rather than humans. It will captivate readers who are drawn to the wilderness and the somewhat mystical social structure of wild animals. Jim is a filmmaker and author of The Sawtooth Wolves, and Jamie is a former National Zoo employee. Highly recommended for popular wildlife collections and for those studying the social structure of animal groups. (Photos not seen.) Deborah Emerson, Rochester Regional Lib. Council, Fairport, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641660214
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/1/1902
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Read an Excerpt

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
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Table of Contents

Introduction

The Den

Inspiration

Wolf Camp

Jamie

Trust

Makuyi

Motaki

Filming

Kamots

Changes

Arrival

Lakota

Moving Camp

New Additions

Matsi

Motomo and Amani

The Pack

Winter

Concerns

Autumn

The Alpha Pair

The Sawtooth Pups

A New Home

Jamie's Epilogue

Jim's Epilogue


Bibliography and Further Reading

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First Chapter

The Den
Jamie

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 otherwolves 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

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