How realistic is the depiction of wolves in Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing?

Answer by Oliver Starr:

While I don't recall every aspect of McCarthy's description of the she wolf or her behavior, his eulogy was so moving that even just recalling it makes my eyes well up.  It is spectacularly accurate and is among my favorite pieces of literature.  Everything I love about wolves is captured here:

β€œThe eye turned to the fire gave back no light and he closed it with his thumb and sat by her and put his hand upon her bloodied forehead and closed his own eyes that he could see her running in the mountains, running in the starlight where the grass was wet and the sun's coming as yet had not undone the rich matrix of creatures passed in the night before her. Deer and hare and dove and groundvole all richly empaneled on the air for her delight, all nations of the possible world ordained by God of which she was one among and not separate from. Where she ran the cries of the coyotes clapped shut as if a door had closed upon them and all was fear and marvel. He took up her stiff head out of the leaves and held it or he reached to hold what cannot be held, what already ran among the mountains at once terrible and of great beauty, like flowers that feed on flesh. What blood and bone are made of but can themselves not make on any altar nor by any wound of war. What we may well believe has power to cut and shape and hollow out the dark form of the world surely if wind can, if rain can. But which cannot be held never be held and is no flower but is swift and a huntress and the wind itself is in terror of it and the world cannot lose it.”

― Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing

How realistic is the depiction of wolves in Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing?


How is a red wolf raised in captivity so that it can be reintroduced to the wild?

Answer by Oliver Starr:

All wolves destined for release (or re-release) are handled in a similar way:  ideally they are kept in an habitat that closely mimics their natural environment including being fed diets that consist of what they'd typically be eating if they were wild.

In addition every effort is made to limit their exposure to people to avoid any habituation.  This is especially important where food is concerned since captive wolves don't generally have the chance to hunt.  As a result keepers need to reduce to a minimum any actions that cause the wolves to associate people with food.

Here's everything you might want to know about the red wolf species survival plan from USFWS:  Red Wolf Recovery Program

And some video / live cams of red wolves at the Wolf Conservation Center in NY:  Red Wolf F1397

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What climate do wolves prefer?

Answer by Oliver Starr:

Wolves can thrive in most environments but they're the champions of winter!

Wolves are one of the most adaptable mammals on earth and formerly were also the widest ranging predator of all.  Wolves have found success in ecological niches ranging from the high arctic to the Arabian deserts.

There is much diversity in the species with specific adaptions to various climates evident in their size, pelage, and even the shape of their ears.  Wolves have proven capable of killing the largest prey species in their given ecologies – in the arctic, mainly musk oxen, on the tundra, caribou, they used to feed on bison on the great plains and continue to eek out a living in the forests preying variously upon elk, deer and even moose.  Desert dwelling wolves are adept at surviving on much smaller prey – rodents, rabits, small deer and possibly even certain insects or grubs.

I would say their "preferred climate" is the one most conducive to efficient hunting that is still reasonably temperate. 

That said, in the areas where wolves have been observed most: Denali, Yellowstone, Isle Royale and Ellesmere Island, they are clearly creatures that enjoy the greatest advantage during hard winters.

As the snow becomes deeper, forage for grasses and the other food deer, elk, moose, muskoxen, bison, etc. rely on to survive become more difficult and energy intensive to find and consume. Deep snow further is a further disadvantage to large ungulates. They are slower, punch through the soft surface and have to use much more energy than the lighter and perfectly adapted wolf that literally floats on top of crusty snow.

This makes food easiest to come by as a result of the large number of advantages enjoyed by wolves. Further, in the midst of winter in places were wolves and bears share habitat, the fact that bears hibernate is another advantage for wolves as bears are often capable of driving a pack of wolves off a kill.

On a personal note, our pup, Aqutaq, exhibits remarkable adaptions to snow, including the ability to fully splay her toes before contact with soft surfaces giving her the ability to literally float on snow as in the image below:

(Look at how her leading from foot is massively splayed on the snow to distribute her weight and keep her mostly on the surface – it's a huge advantage to have built in snow shoes!)

In fact, I have a short verse about this phenomenon:

In the snow wolves can't be beat
I've got snow shoes but they've got
snow feet.

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What does it feel like to have a wolf as a pet? What is it like to have a pet wolf?

Answer by Oliver Starr:

I love the question. Answering it has become a project.  Much more to come but for today, this is what it's like living with a wolf…

(scroll down for more older updates or click here:… ) for more #wolf related content.

Haven't updated here in a while but have thousands of photos and videos to organize.  We'e just started working with GoPro so expect to see some fun additions here from an entirely new perspective in the very near future!

5/6/2014 10:18PM
Dinner Time:

On Wednesday November 28th, Aqutaq and Bixby were feeling feisty. It was nice and cool outside.  But just look at how relentlessly she pursue's Bixby's tail.  Some days, if you're a Malamute, it's not so great living with a wolf:

On Saturday, Novermber 24th, Aqutaq was very excited and was running back and forth along the fence at the top of our property. There was something in the woods…

On Tuesday, November 20th Sandi Thompson of Bravopup ( came for a visit. We took Aqutaq to her "puppy-socials" and then to her puppy 1 basic training. Aqutaq is a graduate!  Sandi was so entranced by our amazing blonde creature that she asked to work with her more.  She's the only person besides my wife and myself that has ever had Aqutaq with her overnight.  It had been a year since Aqutaq had last seen Sandi and I bet my wife she'd recognize her and that there would be no doubt.  See for yourself.  After Sandi left, Aqutaq howled for half an hour.  She was calling out for her friend. I think she missed her more than anyone realized.
On Monday, November 19th I needed to clean Aqutaq's secure "condo" where she stays when we're not on the property.  She decided she wanted my push broom…

On November 17th we were hiking in the evening. Listen for the neighbor below howling back for Aqutaq. Now listen to her responses: November 16th, 2012 we took Aqutaq on a hike with a friend. She really wanted one of his treats… (look at the difference between her behavior and that of the two dogs, both patiently waiting for their treats!)

It was raining on Thursday, November 15th, Aqutaq came inside to get dry and made herself cozy on her bed with a toy and a towel. She looks like an angel here but this "precious moment" lasted all of 15 minutes and then the toy was toast.

On June 9th, 2011 it was like this:

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Is it a good idea to share my bed with my dog?

Answer by Oliver Starr:

In the bed or not in the bed – that is the question.  While some of the other answers are cute I'm not sure they address your primary concern – that allowing your canine to share your bed might provoke problems when this request is subsequently rejected. I feel your pain.

First let me address the cleanliness aspect:  dogs should not be bathed every day or even very often.  Especially with soap.  Doing so actually causes them to become dirtier because even mild soaps strip natural oils from the dog's coat that actually allows it to be self cleaning.  The oils don't allow dirt to stick and they prevent the coat from becoming overly tangled or matted.  Better to keep your dog well brushed and then use a damp or dry towel to remove dirt. (unless the animal has rolled in something foul in which case a night (or three) outdoors, or a bath might be in order.  Wiping the feet is an especially good idea since that's the part of a dog that is most likely to track things you don't want into your bed. If you are one of those people that's obsessed with cleanliness, if you carry a lint brush in your purse and know where every cleaning attachment for your vacuum cleaner is located, a dog in the bed is probably not for you!

Second issue is pests:  do you live in an area where fleas or ticks are endemic?  Does your dog tend to get fleas or ticks?  Are you using a flea or tick preventative like Frontline Plus (or in serious cases a Preventic collar)? Is Lyme disease prevalent in your area?  Do you sleep sans clothing?  If you answered yes to the pests (as opposed to the dress) you might want fido to stay in his or her own bed.  Waking up flea bit or carrying a few embedded passengers is the cost of a cozy canine should pest issues be part of your equation.

Third others in the bed: do you live alone? do you have guests that come and might share your bed?  Does your dog think that you're his or her human?  All these factors should also guide you in your decision, and depending upon the size of your canine they might be the most important of all.  Here's why: dogs are territorial.  One of the reasons dogs circle and scratch before they lay down is to put their scent into their bedding – in effect, claiming it.  If you make your bed, your dogs bed, don't be surprised if they become possessive over it.  If you usually sleep alone and bring a stranger into your bed and therefore want it to be "dogless" at least for the night, don't be surprised if your pooch is none too pleased.

This could mean on the spot bad behavior (like a night spent howling, scratching at the door, marking around the house, etc) or even overt hostility to your guest.  You might even have the dog decide to reinforce his or her claim to the bed by urinating or defecating in it since that's how dogs mark their territory. They're not being dirty, They're saying MINE! (and they're also removing the offensive scent of the interloper in the process — dogs are no dummies!)

On the balance these are a lot of drawbacks in order to be cozy with your canine.  That said, the warmth, companionship and bond you can achieve by allowing your animal to share your bed can be well worth it if your a real "dog" person.

Now for a personal anecdote: as those of your that have read my profile heading and some of my posts know, I live a rather unique lifestyle in that I actually do frequently sleep next to a wolf.  This is not an exaggeration as you can see from the photo above.  When I say it's wild kingdom in my bed almost every night, I'm being literal and I'm really not bragging πŸ˜‰

While I dearly love sleeping sandwiched between my wife and my wolf there's a price.  Of course my wife doesn't mind because the chances of another woman sharing this bed are pretty much nil.  As it stands I think the only reason Aqutaq lets Thanya (my wife) in the bed is because she also raised her, but she definitely wants to share the bed with me.  In hotels it's even worse. Since Aqutaq doesn't have her own bed, we share the bed. Motel 6 (which is spectacularly dog-friendly) considers double beds adequate.  Aqutaq does too, but only because I get all of 8 inches and a foot in my face most of the night!  If there's only one bed in a room, guess who gets the floor? No, not Aqutaq.  It's a good thing I married an understanding woman.

So… if you love canines, don't mind the hair, some dirt and the occasional trespassing critter, snuggle up.  Otherwise make fido a comfy place he or she can call their own.

Me and 200 plus pounds of canine cozy in bed at a Motel 6

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Are wolves a danger to humans?

Answer by Oliver Starr:

(the myth)

As someone that has raised, studied and work with wolves for the over a quarter of a century, I get asked this question a lot.  The numbers speak for themselves.  In modern history in North America there are 2 fatalities that were possibly caused by wolves.  During this period humans have killed between 500,000 and 2,000,000 wolves!

The two recent attacks were:

Kenton Joel Carnegie and Candice Berner (… )

The first of these, Kenton Joel Carnegie has not been ruled conclusively to be the result of wolves. In fact,  the two biologists that actually investigated the scene both came to the conclusion that a black bear was responsible.  One of these two biologists, Paul Paquet is someone I know and whom I have every confidence would make a correct evaluation.  Regardless, the circumstances were peculiar and included the fact that wolves in the area had become somewhat more habituated to people than typical wolves as a result of their access to garbage dump that was accessible to wolves and other predators.

In the case of Candice Berner, wolves are considered the most likely predators responsible, but this attack too had certain elements that made it odd. Namely that Ms. Berner was a very petite woman (somewhere around 5 feet tall) and she was running alone, at dusk and apparently wearing headphones.

I shouldn't have to tell you how foolish it is for anyone, least of all a person of diminutive stature to go running alone at dusk in an area frequented by large predators, and while intentionally hearing impaired due to the use of a headset. Her death is tremendously unfortunate, but it was likely the most unintentionally provoked wolf-related death ever.

Overall, wolves are vanishingly shy animals.  Even those raised by people and heavily socialized are typically quite timid (as anyone that has met our current animal will attest).

For the last several hundred years, humans have actually been intensively engaged in a program of selective breeding to keep wild wolves shy.  How? Because wolves that come near people are frequently killed.  In the general scheme of things, when wolves and humans mix, wolves die.

When you are outdoors in a truly wild place such as those where you'd be likely to encounter wolves, chances are you might hear them but not see them.  In fact it is only in the most unusual places (like Yellowstone National Park or Denali National Park) where wolves live free from the impact of human hunting and trapping that they can generally be seen and photographed in the wild.  Even then, it is usually with enormous telephoto lenses from a good distance away.

In fact, there's a joke among wolf watchers that you know wolves are around because people are praying to Manfrotto ( )- a  reference to the fact that folks are bent over cameras or spotting scopes on tripods and they look as if they are bent in prayer.

That said, wolves are large wild animals and because they make their living bringing down animals much larger than themselves they must be regarded with respect.  They are incredibly strong and highly intelligent.  If they were bent on killing a person, your chances of surviving, particularly if a pack were attacking you are very slim.  As someone that has actually experienced a wolf attack (I have written extensively about this experience here: Animal Behavior (Ethology): Would a lone adult wolf be able to take down an unarmed, athletic adult human? I can tell you more about this than you ever wanted to know.

I have also provided advice on how to prevent an attack from occurring, here:  Wolves: What should you do if you are attacked by a pack of wolves?

Overall, the chances of being attacked by wild wolves are incredibly small.  You're more likely to be killed by a bee sting, lightning, or trampled by cows but as with all large wild animals, being alert while in their domain, and having some familiarity with their behavior will make even this very small possibility one that cannot even be reasonably calculated.

(the sad reality) (Please note this gruesome picture can be found by typing  "wolf kill hero shot" into Google, though I see absolutely nothing heroic about this grinning idiot myself)

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