We had received e-mail from an old friend that he and his wife were touring Alaska and would be in Palmer for a few days. We changed our course and ran down for some quality time with them, and to put on an impromptu show for the caravan he was traveling in. Palmer is only about 30 miles outside of Anchorage, which was where we had been heading. While in Palmer we took a look at two local attractions. The first one was Wolf Country, which boasts of having the largest Hybrid Wolf Pack in Alaska. Here we met a most fascinating character. Werner Schuster has been raising wolf hybrids for most of the last 50 years. A wolf hybrid is the product of a wolf and a dog. It looks like a wolf but often acts like a dog. Although he started with 6 animals, he now has 49 wolves of various concentrations. He breeds them, as there is a market. Some people like this type of animal but not all of them can be handled like a dog. Many of the 49 have been dropped off by people, who for one reason or another, just couldn't handle them anymore. We were taken down a path that ran through the back lot of the compound. There were no cages. Each wolf hybrid was attached to a pole by a collar and chain, much the way you might find a domestic dog in a suburban back yard. Werner led us past animal after animal. Each one in turn instantly recognized him and would go into some form of dance of its own invention as a sign of recognition. Werner would talk affectionately in turn to each before tossing him or her a dog biscuit, which was devoured with relish. Some he would caution us to stay clear of while others he would allow us up front and personal. On several occasions he went inside the guardrail and played with the animal just like a dog. He would sit on the doghouse, and having placed a dog biscuit between his lips would allow the creature to come up and remove it with its teeth. Toward the end, we passed a particularly pretty female, which was very friendly. Here Laura took her turn with a biscuit as she knelt down and allowed the creature to come up and take the biscuit head to head. The last image we had of these most interesting animals was when Werner told us he was going to walk by the last dog and ignore her. Having done this, the pretty little thing raised her left paw and waved. At this, Werner came back and gave her a treat. This last example displayed many of the dog qualities making it seem perfect as a pet. Having returned to the compound building, we got our final treat. Two absolutely delightful wolf pups, which were no more than a few weeks old. Bright eyed and full of mischief, they darted around their enclosure, getting into everything they could. One of them was finally corralled and brought around to have its picture taken. He sat in the attendant's arms as content as a kitten and watched the camera as I moved from one angle to another. All babies are cute but these two really stole the show. Although you can easily see the wolf in them, they acted like puppies.
To augment the information we had received about the wolf hybrids or wolf-dogs as they are known locally, we stopped by the wolf center in downtown Anchorage. This center is dedicated to education about the wild wolf of Alaska. Wolves are widely distributed throughout Alaska and exist in a variety of habitats that include the rain forest of the Southeast and the arctic tundra. On average adult males weigh from 85 to 115 lbs with an individual occasionally reaching a weight of 145 lbs. Females traditionally weigh 10 to 15 lbs lighter. The wolf is a social animal and lives in organized packs of 6 to 7 individuals. However some packs have been observed to include as many as 20 to 30 wolves. In Alaska, the pack's territory can range from 300 to 1000 square miles, the average being around 6000 sq. miles. The chief food source for wolves are the hoofed animals that are many times larger than the wolf. Most commonly they hunt the caribou. They accomplish this by working in teams and utilizing attack plans that confuse the faster caribou that can easily outdistance the wolf in a straight run. Incredibly, before the time of man, the wolf had only one competitor. The giant brown bear, as big as a grizzly, who had no qualms about dropping by a recent kill and helping himself to what ever was available. The wolves, even though great in number, often avoided direct contact. One swipe of a paw could be fatal in a land where any debilitating injury could mean eventual demise. The downtown wolf center (in Anchorage) was filled with flyover shots of wolf packs hunting or just being around the den. There also was a 45 minute film with some very good nature shots, documenting a year in the life of a wolf pack. For the $3 entrance fee this was a pretty good deal.