Three Among the Wolves – Pet Travel Book Club

Do you have anything in common with a couple who treks miles into the Canadian wilderness and across the frozen Arctic sea to observe wild wolf packs? You might be surprised.

They Are Not Like Us

Dempster Highway on Flickr by Dave Barrett

From the rugged Dempster Highway, the Thayers hiked deep into the wilderness.

In the wonderful Three Among the Wolves: A Couple and Their Dog Live a Year With Wolves in the Wild, Helen Thayer tells a remarkable story. When Helen was 58 years old and her husband 67, they hiked miles into the Yukon and set up camp overlooking a wolf den. They hoped their dog Charlie would help them gain acceptance from the wolves.

Yes, I know. You can’t imagine trekking miles from the nearest “highway” with your crazy terrier/St. Bernard mix, living in a tent for months, and hoping to see a few wolves. But Helen and Bill Thayer and Charlie the dog are pretty special individuals.

Helen was an Olympic athlete before going onto bigger adventures. At 50 years old, she became the first woman to complete an unaided trip to the magnetic North Pole, pulling her supplies behind her on a sled the whole way.

Bill Thayer was a bush pilot who had worked in wildernesses across the world. He also accompanied Helen hiking to the North Pole in 1992, becoming the oldest person to do so at 65 years old.

And Charlie was the grandson of a wolf, raised in an Inuit settlement, and given as a gift to Helen to protect her from polar bears on her solo trek to the pole.

And yet, as amazing as these three are, Helen writes about experiences that will sound very familiar to anyone living with a dog.

A Dog is a Dog is a Dog…

On their very first night in camp, Helen describes sleeping with Charlie. “Around midnight, I had felt his generous frame overflow across my [sleeping] bag, giving me only half the length I needed. Too groggy to argue, I had turned over, shifting into the shape of a pretzel to accommodate him. But I made a mental note that things would have to change.”

Any pretzels out there that can relate?

Over the course of the year, Charlie never found his own bed. And Helen never complained. Well, almost never.

Especially not once Charlie also became a grizzly warning system and wolf introduction service.

Dog People Can’t Help Making Mistakes

Wolf Seen from Dempster Highway on Flickr by Eric Fortin

A Wolf spotted from the Dempster Highway

The Thayers knew their plan had risks. They could be injured or killed by the terrain or a grizzly. But they were putting Charlie at risk as well.

They kept Charlie on a leash while hiking and a 70 foot lead once they set up their main camp. In their home at the Northern Cascades, the Thayers had met many hikers who felt confident they could walk with their dogs off-leash—until, that is, they came across that one animal or scent that was too irresistible and the dog took off. The Thayers were determined not to lose Charlie in the wilderness.

But one day, when he showed some interest in some nearby Dall sheep, Helen decided to give Charlie a little freedom. He took off running after a sheep and was soon out of sight. The heartbroken couple called after him before deciding to return to camp in hopes he would return on his own. A half hour later, they saw him wandering toward the tent.

They never again allowed him off leash on their trip.

This was probably the most important thing I read in the book. A dog who can always be trusted off-leash is the Holy Grail many of us pursue. But any dog, even a super, amazing dog like Charlie who was bonded enough to his people to protect them from polar bears and grizzlies will someday find something more appealing than staying beside his people. And even super and amazing people like the Thayers sometimes forget this lesson.

Among the Wolves

The Thayers did earn the trust of the wolves and observed behavior few have ever seen in a wild pack. Three Among the Wolves is filled with pictures of the wolves (including their pups) and the irrepressible Charlie.

You can read more about the family’s interaction with the wolves in my review, And An Inuit Dog Shall Lead Them, appearing today at A Traveler’s Library. Please stop by and leave a comment.

And to hear Helen Thayer’s photos of the wolves and Charlie along with her description of the trip, watch this video. Yes, it’s long but it’s definitely worth watching.


Pet Travel Book Club – Coming Attractions

In the next installment of the Pet Travel Book Club I’m reviewing the cat travel trilogy: The Cat Who Went to ParisA Cat Abroad: The Further Adventures of Norton, the Cat Who Went to Paris, and His Human, and The Cat Who’ll Live Forever: The Final Adventures of Norton, the Perfect Cat, and His Imperfect Human. Peter Gethers wrote about his remarkable traveling cat over the course of a decade.

The books are not new but how many intellectuals do you know who write about traveling with their cat?

So check out these books and join us on July 12 for the Pet Travel Book Club here and at A Traveler’s Library.

Disclosure: The book links on this site are to Amazon. If you buy a book through a link, I will make a few cents which will go directly to Blue Host. Thank you. All photos are from Flickr. Please click the photo to get more information.

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  1. Now I am really looking forward to this one. Amazon hasn’t delivered it yet, I hope I will get my hands on it soon!

  2. Another one to add to my list Pamela. Right now I have far too many and too little time. :-)

    • Well, aren’t eating, sleeping, and working terribly overrated? :)

      One great thing about this book is that it’s a quick read. It’s very simple and straightforward and makes you feel like you’re there. I really think you’ll love it when it comes up on your ever increasing list.

  3. This sounds like it would be right up my husband’s alley! He loves stories like that!

    • I suspect he would very much like it. But you might want to be careful. If you see him searching online for winter camping gear and wilderness quality dog collars, you might want to ask what he’s planning. :)

  4. Wow, they did all this at 58 and 72? What a powerful reminder to keep in good physical condition. I don’t think I’d have the stamina to do this now at age 30. But then, I am also a coward and Helen and Bill are quite obviously not.

    I am so so cautious of the idea of hybrid dogs as pets but it sounds like Charlie was more dog than wolf. He certainly was the perfect companion for their journey.

    • If you’re impressed by this, you don’t want to search in google for “oldest female bodybuilder.” It will just make you crazy. :)

      I think the big difference with Charlie was that he was born and spent most of his life in an Inuit settlement which is very different from keeping a dog in a city or suburban home. He lived a life where he could express is dogginess and wolfiness safely.

      BTW, I didn’t mention it in the review but Charlie has since passed–at 23 years old!