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Red in Tooth and Claw

It's not about whether wolf reintroduction is a good idea. It's about what happens if a wolf attacks your dog or your horse–both of which just happened in the Gila.


I have written about the Mexican wolf probably more than any other writer in our fair state; my first column ever, way back 10 1/2 years ago, was about the critter. So it seems odd to me that there are folks of the pro-wolf ilk who insist that I am anti-wolf, even though I have declared several times in print over the years that I'm pretty much neutral on the issue.

I'm also somewhat cynical about the actions of folks on both sides of the fence who are extreme in their opinions. Take, for instance, those people who are anti-wolf and insist that wolf packs are overrunning their yards and threatening children and pets. I figured there may be a whole lot of exaggeration on their part about the supposed threat just so they could justify their argument for exterminating said Lobo. So I pretty much dismissed their tirades.

That was before I spoke with a friend of mine who happened to buy a ranch surrounded by official wilderness. He is neither a cattle nor livestock grower, even on his patented portion of land. He, his wife and their eight-year-old daughter live part-time on the ranch and eventually hope to turn it into a youth ranch to be utilized to teach about the outdoors and the Gila Wilderness. A great plan, almost.

Recently, though, he called me–highly distraught. While he and his family were staying on the ranch, a pack of wolves attacked, not once but twice.

The first incident occurred as he and his dogs were on a run. The dogs got out of sight and soon his ears registered quite a racket. He rushed ahead and found wolves attacking one of his dogs. He intervened by throwing rocks and sticks at the critters and managed to drive them off. His pup wasn't hurt much, except for maybe its ego.

A couple days later, mid-morning, my friend sent his daughter out to water and feed the horses. That's when the ruckus started and he heard the girl screaming as she ran into the house.

It seems the wolf pack had charged into the yard, not 20 yards from the eight-year-old, and attacked another hound dawg that was up in age. They had the dog on its back on the ground. Husband and wife rushed to the rescue and once again, with a mite of difficulty, drove the pack out of the yard. The lobos had already inflicted severe damage on the dog, so next came a 120-mile round trip to save the dog's life and many bucks and stitches spent on the rescue.

My friend was beside himself! What if his daughter had been attacked as she fled from the scene? It is a predator's instinct–whether domestic dog, wild cougar or wolf–to chase down anything that flees. How in the world could he expect to run a youth ranch with such animals ready to possibly attack?

Coincidentally, that same week, I read of another wolf attack up in Alaska that happened in the early fall. A young woman was out from camp and hiking by herself when she and a lobo met face to face. Not knowing any better, she turned and ran; the wolf followed, biting her three times on the leg. Fortunately, her camp-mates drove the wolf off with rocks, then got her to a hospital.

Most frightening of all, after I'd finished the first draft of this column, my friend's wife called me and related the following: On Jan. 9, while they were away from the ranch at their other home, the Aspen Pack attacked eight of the family's horses. The pack cornered one horse–an expensive birthday gift from her husband–in the corral near the house, killed and ate it. The federal wolf team verified this as the first horse kill by wolves in New Mexico. Tracks were everywhere in the front yard; the pack even defecated on the front porch. State Game & Fish wolf personnel said the pack's alpha male has no fear of humans, but the feds would not issue a kill order; they will try to dart and remove it and hope the remaining pack leaves the area.

What can I conclude? A wolf is a wolf is a wolf, no matter whether it resides in Alaska or New Mexico.


Now allow me to make this personal for you. Suppose you are pro-wolf reintroduction, and you don't believe in hunting, trapping, killing or guns, even for personal protection. You do own a dog, though, and it is your everywhere-companion. Let's call it "Rocky."

You and the beloved Rocky are out on a long hike somewhere north of Silver City. You've made many outings together of this sort. The sun is shining, the breeze gently blowing your hair. You've both been on this trail many times before and neither of you has a care in the world.

Then a squirrel jumps out and runs down the trail, with Rocky giving chase. They turn the bend and are out of sight when you hear your companion shrieking in terror.

Rushing to find out what the heck is going on with that squirrel, you are horrified to see Rocky, bloody and on the ground with several wolves attacking him. His leg is broken and his innards are spilling into the pool of blood by him.

Now I ask you, what would you do? Even if the wolves break off the attack as you scream, what now? Your dog is too big to carry, plus he's too hurt to try. You can't or won't leave him. What do you do?

If it were me and my dog instead of you and "Rocky," I'd be carrying some sort of gun to prevent the attack or at least shoot the critters attacking my dog. And I'd make dang sure I knew how to shoot that gun beforehand, by attending one of the local personal-protection classes.

But here's the problem: Right now federal law doesn't allow you or me to use deadly force to protect our pets from wolf attacks–period. Even in my friend's case, all they could do was throw stones and yell.

My dawg is as much a part of my family as my kids were when they lived with me. I should be allowed to protect him from a wild predator with whatever force I choose. I'm sure many, if not most of you, view your pets in the same manner. Would you allow a wolf to do as it wants to your beloved pet?

Is the reintroduction of a large predator worth what some will ultimately pay? Is the possible attack on a person worth it?

Let me make this perfectly clear: This is not a wolf issue; it is an issue about being able to protect my pets and potentially myself or my family by using deadly force against a wolf that's lost its natural fear of humans. Although my friend, for instance, could shoot a wolf that's actually caught in the act of attacking his daughter, who would want to wait that long–until it may be too late to save her life or keep her from being disabled or disfigured? It is ironic that I can use deadly force against a threatening bear, a cougar, even against another human, but not against a wolf!

Having said all that, it is still my opinion to let those Mexican wolves roam free hereabouts with no restrictions. Give them the same rules as any predator hereabouts, and treat them the same as we would coyotes.

If they survive, so be it; if not, that's OK too. (I told you I'm a centrist here.) And for goodness sake, allow humans to use deadly force to protect themselves and their critters. The way I figger it, my Ol' Barney-Dawg is worth 10,000 of those wild curs.

As always, keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever god bless you in your wanderings.

Larry Lightner writes Ramblin' Outdoors
exclusively for Desert Exposure.


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