In our many years of studying wolves, we found that people have four different perceptions of wolves that often exist side by side.
The first of these perceptions is what we call the wolf of our nightmares. This is the beast of ancient fears, the concept of the wolf that the Europeans brought with them to the New World. This savage creature lingers today in the minds of many ranchers and hunters: a bloodthirsty killer of livestock, big-game animals, and even human beings. Sadly, this view holds fast despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.
The second perception we often see is the carefully monitored wolf of science, the wolf pursued and studied by biologists. This wolf is often depicted through data: statistics of breeding, predation, physiology and travel. Although this view does acknowledge the wolf’s intelligence, it often turns a blind eye to the wolf’s individuality, to its devotion to its family, and to anything that hints at its capacity for emotion.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the third perception, what we call the spirit wolf. This creature, honored in the culture of many Native American tribes, has been borrowed and often distorted by modern wolf advocates. This wolf is an animal of great wisdom to be revered as a spiritual guide. Although this view holds the wolf in great esteem, it often does so at the expense of accurate scientific knowledge.
Finally, there is the wolf that we have come to know, the social wolf. In our years of living with and observing these animals, we learned to see them as individuals, each with its
own distinct personality. Yet they were intensely social creatures, extremely devoted to their pack-- their family.
Time and time again, we saw the great affection and care they demonstrate for one another and concluded that they are capable of not only emotion but also real compassion. This is the view of the wolf that we want to share, a wolf that is neither demon, nor deity, nor biological robot. It is an intelligent and highly sensitive animal that can be at once both individualistic and social. It is an animal that cares for its sick, protects its family, and desperately needs to be part of something bigger than itself-- the pack.