‘True Wolf’ follows an ambassador wolf from classroom to classroom

Pat Tucker with Koani and Indy — Photo courtesy of Shadow Distribution

Simple and effective, True Wolf is a beautiful documentary highlighting an important wildlife issue.

Pat Tucker and Bruce Weide live in Montana and have adopted wolf conservation as a calling in life. The film, running a short 76 minutes, chronicles their challenges with raising a captive wolf named Koani. Deciding to take the wolf in rather than have her face euthanasia, the two humans had a great struggle on their hands. This was no large dog. Although used to the company of humans, this wolf had many wolf needs, including long walks, pounds of raw meat and enough space to call her own.

After building a tunnel into their living room and sacrificing their time for the wild animal, Pat and Bruce inevitably became quite close to their adopted pet. But in the back of their minds, they knew Koani would forever be different. There’s no way to take the “wild” out of a wild animal. They have an instinct to roam free and howl in the night. Although the wolf has grown into a popular (and untrue) legend for many people, Koani offered a different side to the ferociousness. She was comfortable in front of classrooms when Pat and Bruce brought her as an ambassador around the country. She was at ease walking next to a dog named Indy, her best friend in life. She was never “domesticated,” but she certainly grew attached to her human providers.

Still, there was always an eternal second guessing on the part of Pat and Bruce. Had they made the right decision to take Koani into their care? They could provide so much for the wolf, but they could never provide freedom.

Born into captivity, Koani had no other choice but to live with humans. Her life, lasting a healthy 16 years, was certainly different than most other wolves, but it served a greater purpose. Because of Pat and Bruce’s work, along with the companionship of Koani, many more people were educated on the facts behind the wolf population. Their dedication to the cause helped sway minds during the heated debates on whether to reintroduce wolves to the northern Rockies. Even though Koani has since died, the debate over wolves continues to this day.

Koani — Photo courtesy of Shadow Distribution

The star of the documentary, directed by Robert Whitehair, is Koani herself. Footage from her 16 years of life has been effectively patched together, showing all the challenges and triumphs that came through the 1990s and 2000s. Newer interviews with Pat and Bruce provide nice transitions for the rest of the movie. It’s obvious within the first few frames that this human couple and their organization called Wild Sentry are the real deal. One can question their decision to bring a wolf into the home. One can question the reintroduction of wolves into the wild. But one cannot question their undying love for this misunderstood animal.

What comes off even more profoundly in True Wolf is how grounded this couple can seem. They’re not nutty wolf-huggers who try to rescue every animal from the wild. At one point, Pat even admits that there needs to be a middle ground struck between the anti-wolf protestors and those who believe a wolf can lay perfectly with a lamb. They are not delusional to the fact that Koani was a wild animal that presented unique problems. But rather than dismissing wolves as monsters, they decided to base their work in sound educational practices.

It’s OK to fear wolves (just watch Liam Neeson’s The Grey). But it’s another thing to wish for their extinction. By reaching out for more information, by getting closer to the truth, the fear will subside and reason will reenter the picture. Koani has taught us to appreciate these animals, otherwise they’ll forever be banished to the realm of fairytales and nightmares.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • True Wolf

  • 2012

  • Directed by Rob Whitehair

  • Running time: 76 minutes

  • Rating: ★★★½

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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