Sep 22, 2010

A Wolf in the Family

by Jerome Hellmuth

Another book I've had a chance to read again after so many years passing I hardly remembered it. Which is kind of funny, because I mentioned this book earlier on my blog here. I like the other, newer cover image better (featured on my previous review) but this one, which is actually on my copy, is interesting too because the book blurb is right on the front! Kind of tacky, don't you think?

Right away I found it very enjoyable. Hellmuth writes in a way that is fun, informative and insightful altogether. The book reminded me a lot of Lois Crisler's Captive Wild, although this one doesn't seem quite as serious. So here's the basics: Hellmuth wanted to prove, in the 1940's, that wolves weren't all "big and bad" but social creatures that could respond to love. He raised a wolf alongside his children to prove the stereotype wrong. There were lots of things here that I had completely forgotten. The family originally lived in a New York apartment but then moved to Seattle before they got the wolf where they had a house with a large yard. He purchased two newborn wolves from a zoo in Tacoma, for a mere $30, intending to return one to the zoo once it was grown. But the smaller pup didn't make it. The surviving wolf was named Kunu, and the family attitude quickly went from trepidation and doubt to utter love and devotion to the animal. To the point that once when Hellmuth tried to physically chastise the wolf for stealing food from the refrigerator and table (it was so bad his wife could hardly cook) his daughters jumped to the wolf's defense! I had thought, with my faulty memory, that all his children were small when he got the wolf cub but it turns out only one was under 5, his three other girls were nine, twelve, and fifteen. They were not completely unprepared for living with a wild animal, having had any number of unconventional pets before (raccoons, skunks, you name it) and also had three dogs. It was really touching to see how one of his alaskan malamutes, who had recently lost her own litter, tenderly adopted the little wolf pup.

One of the most amusing things in the book, to me, was seeing how the attitudes of their neighbors and acquaintances changed (or didn't). At first they worried about telling people they had a wolf, so they passed Kunu off as the malamute's real offspring, and not many people questioned that. Later when they decided the whole experiment was pointless if they couldn't be honest about it, none of their friends believed she really was a wolf (too friendly). On the other hand, people who instantly recognized Kunu for a wolf were terrified by her friendly enthusiastic greetings, which they took to be attacks! In fact, one neighborhood which was petitioning to get rid of the wolf, completely changed their tune when Kunu frightened off some burglars she wanted to make friends with.

Near the end of the book, the Hellmuths decided they wanted puppies out of Kunu, but all their attempts to mate her with malamutes or husky dogs failed (some very amusingly so). The book ends on both a sad and happy note; the other dogs in their household passed away, leaving Kunu bereft of canine company. But then they made plans to add another wolf to the family, so that Kunu could have a mate when this new pup grew up. It left me only wanting to read more; what happened next? did the new wolf pup have an entirely different personality? did he become Kunu's mate? how did the family (and neighbors) handle living with two wolves? But I can't find any more books by him about wolves. O well. A Wolf in the Family really is an excellent book. I'm so glad I got to read it again.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 186 pages, 1964


Kate said...

This sounds like such an interesting book! I've heard of people keeping wolves as pets, but usually those wolves are born into a domestic setting. If I could raise any wild animal in my home I think it would be a fox, not a wolf. = )

Zibilee said...

This sounds like a strangely wonderful story! My daughter would be beside herself with glee if we decided to adopt a wolf into the family. I would definitely like to get this book for her. I think she would really enjoy it. Thanks for the excellent review!

Jenny said...

Wow, I'm very impressed that they managed this. I think I would be a little freaked out if I went over to someone's house and they had a pet wolf! But I guess I'd get used to it pretty quickly - when my friend Jane got a boa constrictor, I was really alarmed at first, and then I got very fond of the snake. And baby wolves are much cuddlier than baby snakes! :)

bermudaonion said...

I'm surprised things went so well for them. I love dogs, but I would be reluctant to have a wolf in my home, even if I got it as a pup.

Jeane said...

Kate- Well, it seemed to me that this one was born into a domestic setting. It was taken from its mother (poor mommy wolf was so distraught!) on the day of its birth and never knew another environment from that home.

Zibilee- I don't know how old your daughter is but you might want to look at the book first. There's quite a bit of explicit talk about animals having sex.

Jenny- Snakes are so cool! But I'd think a snake would take up less space than a wolf. And by the time this wolf was six months old she was quite a large presence in the house- not a baby for long, that's sure!

Bermudaonion- I'm wondering if things didn't go so well with the second wolf and that's why there's no sequel...? I've heard that wolves have as varied temperaments as humans; perhaps they just got lucky that their first wolf pet was gentle and friendly.