By Kathleen Knowles
Millions of people across America own dogs. Ron Everitt is no exception. He too has been the proud owner of several dogs. Then something happened. He was introduced to the ancestors of the domesticated dogs of today.
Ron Everitt was born in Port Huron Michigan in 1956 to Ray and Dorothy Everitt. Educated in Port Huron, Ron graduated from Port Huron Central High School. After attending Saint Clair County Community College for 2 years, he moved to Denver, Colorado where he worked construction for 4 years. While residing there, he met and married his first wife in 1981. At that time his wife became pregnant with their first child. Eight months into her pregnancy, she decided she wasn’t going to have the baby away from the rest of the family, so the couple moved back to Port Huron. They would have one more child together.
Ron did construction work, concrete work, welding, and was a jig builder before deciding to go back to school to study engineering, once again at the local college.
In 1989, when a motorcycle shop went up for sale, Ron purchased the Owosso Sports Center. Naturally, this meant leaving Port Huron and moving to Owosso, Michigan. It has been his home ever since.
An ex-Vietnam veteran came to his shop to purchase a motorcycle. He soon learned that Gordon Redmond bred and raised wolves on an old horse farm. He bred the wolves to Alaskan Malamutes for sled dogs. Ron explained, “Back in the day they called them super dogs. Wolves are so much taller and longer and can handle pretty much any kind of weather. They bred the wolves to Malamutes and would get an animal twice the size of the sled dog. They would have a lot longer stride. Nothing could keep up with them.”
Ron clarified that this was before they introduce the wolves back in upper Michigan, as well as before any laws were created for wolves or hybrids. When the wolves were listed on the endangered species list, everything changed.
“Anyway, I sold him a motorcycle, and he was wearing a leather jacket with a mural of a wolf on the back of it. I told him that it was a cool jacket, and he said it was a likeness of his “dog.” He revealed that he had 27 wolves. “I didn’t believe him at the time, but he could tell his story any way he wanted as long as I could sell him a motorcycle.” But when Gordon picked up his bike, his wife was with him. He told his wife to show him pictures of the “kids.” She pulled out her wallet like a grandmother would and showed Ron dozens of pictures of their wolves.
Gordon then asked Ron if he would like to have one of his own. “I told him I would love to have a wolf.” He told Ron the next time he came through town, he would bring one of the pups for him to check out. One month later, he came into the shop with a little tiny ball of fur, a four-week-old wolf pup. Gordon said if he was serious to come up to his place in a couple weeks and get one. Ron did just that. When he arrived, he could not believe all the wolves Gordon had. “I was in shock!”
Everitt brought home his first wolf, a female named Tundra. That was the beginning of a life long love affair with wolves. Unfortunately, sometime later Tundra got out. Ron was having the house sided and one of the workers didn’t shut the gate. “Wolves are pack animals. She didn’t like new people on her turf. They were not part of her pack.” Ron wasted no time in seeking help to find her. “I immediately notified animal control, the sheriff, and DNR. Despite asking them for help to find her, they refused to assist in her capture. I put flyers up as well as an ad in the local paper.”
Four days later a woman called the authorities and said there was a wolf in her back yard. The state police came to her house (a half mile from Ron’s place). Since there weren’t any wolves roaming the area at that time, they shot and killed her.
The tragic incident did not deter him from owning a wolf. Ron wanted another one. Realizing he could not go back to Gordon Redmond who was no longer breeding wolves, Everitt made phone calls to those whom he knew had them in the past. With their help, he was introduced to someone who had a litter of pups, and he purchased a male. He named him Thor. “He was perfect. He didn’t want to be an alpha, he just wanted to hang out.” Thor was a hybrid, about 15% Alaskan Malamute. Still, Thor was mostly McKenzie Valley wolf, which is the biggest of the wolf strains. (Ron now owns Gray wolves)
When Thor was three years old, Ron wanted to try his hand at breeding. He took Thor up to Mt. Pleasant to Gordon Redmond. Although Gordon was no longer breeding wolves, he still had two of his own. Thor remained with Gordon for a month. The attempt was made to breed him with Gordon’s female who was 100% wolf. She would not mate to him. “Wolves pick their mate and breed only to that one mate for life. If one dies, that can change,” Ron said, “but, for the most part, they breed for life.”
After the failed breeding, Ron went to Michigan’s upper peninsula and purchased a female, Zoie, another Malamute hybrid. Again, he ran into the same problem. The two just would not breed. “Unfortunately, they dug out and took off as a pair, and we never got them back. We tried for the longest time, but never saw them again.” Despite the heartbreak of losing them, Everitt said once you have a wolf, you want to be around them.
Once again, he put the feelers out and got a male, Bear, who was two months old from a preserve in Cadillac, Michigan. Ron said a wolf pup must be taken from the parents and siblings at about 2 weeks of age before it has time to bond to them and develop as a member of that pack. Otherwise, they will never become a pet. Again, they are not the same as a dog. One can not get them at 8 weeks of age, it is too late. Since Bear was much older, he had already become a member of the pack he had been with. He simply would not interact with Ron or his wife. He had to be returned to the preserve.
The owners just had a litter of their own which was not one of the preserve’s wolves. Ron brought home Cheyenne, a female. She was 2 1/2 weeks old. Everitt’s wife bottle-fed her. Cheyenne was a full-blooded wolf. This time it worked out. She lived out her entire life with Ron for 15 1/2 years. “No one could come onto the property unless I was there to let them in. She was a little tougher to deal with being a full-blooded wolf, but I knew that going into it. I was prepared for that.”
When asked if he had any dogs during her lifetime, and if so, how did she interact with them? Everitt said yes, they had 2 Dobermans, a Labrador Retriever, and a Welsh Corgi. She got along with all of them. “Cheyenne and the Lab were best buddies,” he said.
A third try at breeding proved once again to be unsuccessful. Gordon Redmond brought his wolf-hybrid to Ron’s house. “She tolerated him, but when she came into heat, she just about killed him. At that point, we gave up breeding.”
Even though he was never able to breed her, this time he had the one that worked out. She remained in Ron’s “pack” her entire life. When they lost Cheyenne, he decided that was it, no more wolves.
Everitt continued to emphasize the difficulty of taking on an older wolf. He spoke of a friend in Owosso who had a 5-year-old Timber wolf-German Shepherd hybrid. When the rules in the city changed, he was forced to give her up. He asked Ron to take her and made him promise he would not send her to a reserve. Despite trying for months, she would never bond to him. Unfortunately, he had no choice but to put her down. He adopted Cheyenne at a very early age. She bonded to him, and as a result, she became a member of his “pack.” His friend’s wolf never saw herself as a member of the pack, therefore, she never became a pet. She literally became a “lone wolf.” She was miserable and stressed.
A year after the death of his beloved Cheyenne, that nagging love of the wolves won over. Ron wanted another one. “Once you have a wolf, you simply can’t be without one.” After talking to his wife, who was receptive to the idea, he once again set out to find a new “pack” member. He went down to southern Ohio. The breeder had two pairs of breeder wolves with a litter from the one pair for sale. Being too late to have pick of the litter, Ron decided to wait. About six months later, the second pair had a litter. This time, he took the pick of the litter, a male name Oden. One week later, the breeder called. She told him she had one female that was not spoken for. The rest had been sold. He asked her to send a couple pictures of the pup. With his wife in agreement, Ron went back to Ohio and brought back Lexie.
This time, Ron purposely chose Malamute-wolf hybrids. “After 15 1/2 years of owning a wolf, I didn’t want a full-blooded one. I wasn’t up to that challenge again. Sometimes you have to put them in their place. You have to be the alpha. You have to be able to control them.” Ron doesn’t have a problem with Oden. He is not an alpha male. Lexie wants to be the alpha, but she naturally submits to Ron because he is a male.
When asked how long a wolf lives, Ron said they live about the same as some breeds of dogs, about 10 to 11 years. However, their average age in the wild is much lower at about 5 years. “It’s a tough life. They don’t have their meals put in front of them.”
Everitt pointed out owning a wolf is not the same as owning a domesticated dog. “They are pack animals. In a wolf pack, every day they want to be one step up the ladder. Their goal is to be at the top. Only one can be the alpha male and one the alpha female. They are the only ones that will breed in the pack. These two use intimidation and stress. As a result, if others want to breed, they have to leave and form their own pack.” For this reason, wolves are very difficult for someone to keep as a pet. He kept stressing that wolves are not dogs. Many people get a wolf thinking they will make the same kind of pet as a dog. They have them for seven or eight months and realized they are not equipped to understand or deal with the wolf. “You can’t just give them to a friend,” Ron said, “they bond to that one person; they consider that person to be part of the pack and the minute they are separated, it’s a lone wolf. It’s not going to be part of another pack.”
So what happens to a wolf that is abandoned by its “pack leader.” According to Ron, they are given to a preserve or put down. Everitt kept driving the point home that a wolf is not a dog. If a person is not prepared to have a wolf and understand it, they should not attempt to own one. He repeated, “They don’t act like a dog. Dogs have had thousands of years of domestication by man.”
With that knowledge in mind, some people might go for a hybrid (a wolf bred to a domesticated dog). The most common cross is breeding to an Alaskan Malamute. Others cross them with breeds such as German Shepherds and Akitas. Ron’s opinion is the only way to breed hybrids is the Malamute. They tone down the offspring’s temperament a bit and give them girth.
Ron did not recommend that people go out and buy a full-blooded wolf. Wolves want to be by themselves. By the most part, they don’t want to be around humans. They are afraid of them. “When you get one, you are keeping them contained. It is stressful for them, and they act out just like a teenager. The wolf will want to get out. It will do everything to escape unless it is happy where it is. A hybrid tones that down a bit. That is one of the reasons Malamutes are the breed of choice to breed to the wolves. Hybrids are not normally afraid of a person, but they still have wolf in them. Depending on the percentage of wolf in the animal, they want to be the alpha, and most people don’t understand the person must be the alpha every minute of every day for the relationship to work. When people come to visit, you have to put them away. They are not part of the pack. It is a lot to deal with if you are not prepared to do so.”
Ron even went as far to say that if you want a hybrid, you better think long and hard about it. Once you get one, it is part of your “pack” and it is with you for life. It is not a dog; it cannot be given away. If you abandon it, it will become a loner, miserable and stressed out every minute of its life until it gets back to you or it is put down.
Another consideration is the strict regulations that must be followed to have them. Obviously, they cannot be kept in the city. Regulations require a person to have 900 square-feet of kennel with a roof over a portion of it. It must have concrete or wire floors with 8 foot high walls or a roof over it to contain the animal. The kennel is required to be inside a fenced in area.
Is there a danger in owning a wolf or a wolf-hybrid? Ron said the danger is more to the wolf than the human. People try to handle them as if they were a dog, and they simply aren’t. They don’t take into consideration they are wild animals and have no idea how to deal with them. Still, Ron never felt he was in danger from the wolves he has owned. There can be a liability of owning a wolf. “If the wolf gets out and kills the neighbor’s cat or dog, there is the possibility of being sued, or if someone comes onto the premises and is bitten by the wolf who is protecting his territory, it also could result in a suit as well as the possible loss of the animal.”
Why does Ron prefer to own a wolf over a dog? “They are so loyal, so smart, and they handle any kind of weather. You just develop a respect for them. The longer I had them, the more I was willing to do whatever it took to keep them. Every one of them has a different personality. I treat Oden different than I treat Lexie. There are certain things she doesn’t like. If I reach out to pet her, her first instinct is to dodge her head. On the other hand, Oden loves to be petted and rubbed. With Lexie, you use reverse psychology. Ignore her, and she will be right there jumping on you. They love to lick you. Their whole world is their nose and sense of smell, and they need to check you out.”
Ron has stated time and time again, if you think you are interested in owning a wolf, to think very hard about what you are about to embark upon. He has made it clear that wolves are not dogs, and cannot be treated as such. They are pack animals and must look at you as the alpha. If you are not prepared to learn and understand them, then don’t even consider getting one. It must be a life-long commitment. You cannot give it away if you are unable to deal with the wolf. Most people are not cut out to own these magnificent animals. Remember, they will look at you as the leader, a role you must take seriously and live every minute of the day for the life of your wolf companion. If you can’t do that, then buy a dog. You, the dog, and the wolf will be much better for it.
Thank you, Wolfman Ron, for sitting for this interview for Blue Water Healthy Living.
Blue Water Healthy Living Contributing Writer
Kathleen Knowles is a life-long resident of Port Huron and a 1973 graduate of Port Huron High School. After attending St. Clair County Community College, she has worked for credit unions all of her life as well as a professional dog show handler, known for handling Pekingese. Kathleen has been writing fiction for years as a hobby, having posted many stories online.