A review of Wolves at Our Door by Jim and Jammie Dutcher

Reviewed by Maurice A Williams

Wolves at Our Door
The Extraordinary Story of the Couple Who Lived with Wolves
Jim and Jammie Dutcher
Simon Schuster, Inc
2002, ISBN: 0743400488, 302 pgs., $19.95

Wolves are usually viewed as very dangerous animals, yet dogs domesticated from wolves are known as man’s best friend.  Jim and Jamie Dutcher’s Wolves at Our Door gives an insight into what wolves are really like.  Inspired by the Endangered Species Act of 1967, the Dutchers, in 1990, decided to set up the “Sawtooth Wolf Pack” on the edge of Idaho’s’ Sawtooth Wilderness.  Jim wanted to film a documentary about wild wolves similar to his three earlier documentaries: Water, Birth, the Planet Earth, and A Rocky Mountain Beaver Pond, and Cougar, Ghost of the Rockies.  The latter was a big success on ABC in 1990.  The U.S. Forest Service issued the Dutchers a permit to set up a camp and a wolf enclosure in Meadow Creek near the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, and the “Sawtooth Pack” was officially started.

The Dutchers received a young female wolf cub they named “Chemukh.”  They raised the cub themselves feeding it by bottle “for at least fourteen weeks” to insure it would be comfortable with them.  When Chemukh was weaned, the Dutchers released her join with wild wolves in the area, but Chemukh always came home.  Two years later, Chemukh came home pregnant and gave birth to her first litter of four pups, the first wolves to be born in the Sawtooth Mountains in at least fifty years.

They named Chemukh’s male pups Kamots and Lakota and the female pups Aipuyi and Motaki.  Chemukh’s four pups gained an average of three pounds a week for the first three months of their lives.  Watching how they interacted with one another, it was easy to see why so many early human cultures revered wolves.  Hunting societies especially admired and even imitated the wolf’s skill.  So much of a wolf’s social position depends on the confidence it displays right from the start.  As with human beings, fear in a young wolf is, sadly, destined to become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Some pups naturally possessed more curiosity and courage, some are more playful; some are more skittish.  These personality differences are apparent at a very young age and form the foundation of what becomes the social hierarchy of a wolf pack.

A wolf pack is an exceedingly complex social unit, an extended family of parents, siblings, aunts, and uncles.  There are old wolves that need to be cared for, pups that need to be taught skills, and young adults that are beginning to assert themselves—all altering the dynamics of the pack.  Wolf packs have at least one alpha male and alpha female and usually an omega wolf, but these positions can shift among the wolves depending on the fitness and energy of the individual wolves.

In a wolf pack there are no equals.  Each one always has the slightly upper hand, even if it changes from day to day, and there is always a chance of moving up the ladder a rung or two.  The pack is bonded by the wolf’s strong cooperative nature, which is, perhaps, its greatest survival skill.  Life in a wolf pack is an incredible balance of competition and cooperation.  The Dutchers were always afraid that one of the wolves might climb the fence and run away.  They were surprised that not a single wolf showed the slightest interest in getting away.  Their bond to the pack was so strong.  “One of the most difficult of all things to endure for a wolf is to feel alone and separated from one’s own kind.  A sense of belonging is a very strong bond that gives the pack its strength and unity.

There are plenty of wonderful things to say about wolves, about the way they communicate and care for each other.  Unfortunately, the competition for the alpha female is not one of those things.  The females are much more aggressive, whereas the males are comparatively laid back, sorting out their position through threats and bluff.  To say that the alpha male choose his mate is really an oversimplification.  The strongest female fights off her competition, making herself, in effect, the alpha male’s only possible choice.

It is common behavior in a wolf pack for the alpha pair to be the only two to mate.  There rest of the pack devote themselves completely to the few puppies that are born to the alpha pair.  The birth of new pups is like an explosion in the pack.  The celebration and joy that comes over the wolves is incredible.  One moment they will be running around exuberantly and the next they will be back at the den site, whining and shifting from one foot to the other, barely able to contain themselves.  The permissiveness that adult wolves demonstrate toward the pups is astonishing and never more apparent than at feeding time.

This fascinating look at wolves was brought to fruition when the Dutchers released their documentary Wolf: Return of a Legend, aired on ABC’s World of Discovery, and the documetary resulted in worldwide sympathy for our wild neighbors.  Both the book and the documentary provide a deep insight what wolves are really like.  You will enjoy this book.

About the reviewer:  Maurice A. Williams is an author of inspirational articles and poems and has published a book: Revelation, Fall of Judea, Rise of the Church.  Prior to his retirement, he was Director of Research and Development for a firm that did business all over the world.  He has traveled to many countries himself.  He is also author of technical articles in scientific journals and chapters in technical books.  He has four children and six grandchildren, and lives at home with his wife.  You can visit his Web Site http://www.mauriceawilliams.com