My Minnesota: Childhood love of wolves carries through to adult life

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 11, 2014 - 5:15 PM
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My Minnesota, Terri Petter

Tucked away in the back of the Sportsmen’s Show at the St. Paul RiverCentre was a menagerie of critters: indifferent ocelots, prowling bobcats, a bristling porcupine, and two Minnesota citizens you rarely see downtown these days: wolves.

Inasmuch as these creatures can belong to anyone, they belong to Terry Petter.

Mission: “We teach Minnesotans about North American fur-bearing wildlife. We have around 25 wolves.”

Since “Wolves for Sale” isn’t a standard Craigslist category, she’s bought them from breeders, noting that their operation is federally regulated, and they have all the licenses.

“The first wolf I got when I was 18, and decided I liked animals more than I liked people.” She laughs. “Her name was Sooka, and she was 2. She was a rescue, and then I bought friends for her so she had someone to play with. It grew from there.” That’s how it works — you get one wolf, and the next thing you know you have two dozen. But where did the desire to tell others about wolves come from?

“We used to own a retail store, and I always had the wolf with me …” — there’s a way to make your business stand out — “ … everyone would ask questions. They all knew the myths, and the fairy tales, but no one knew the facts. So I started teaching the facts. One day in the store I had a blond raccoon out, and a lady said, ‘That’s a really cute kitty in the cage.’ When I said it was a raccoon, her 18-year-old daughter said ‘Oh, those are the things that squirt.’ Well no, that’s a skunk. That’s when I decided that some people needed some education.”

Some people still have a lot of misconceptions about wolves — they’re really just large noble dogs.

“They actually are the predators that everyone thinks they are. They aren’t big, fluffy puppy dogs. Fifty percent of all wolves are killed by other wolves. They’re great hunters. People think they can just go up and pet one. Ours are socialized from a young age, thousands of hours, so they’re not stressed out when we bring them out in the public.”

Indeed: When we went into the pen, George the wolf was curious about emptying the contents of my pockets and seeing if anything squeaks and might be delicious. Just my phone, alas. Have it, Mr. Wolf! All yours!

We should note that Petter is wearing a Snugli-type baby carrier with a raccoon inside. “She’s just a baby and wants to be carried at all times.”

So is she living the wolf lover’s dream: in the country with wolves who know her? “A lot of people think it is a glamorous life, but it’s a lot of hard work. The other day it was minus 30, so a lot of animals had to go to the barn.”

And then you have to wear them out until you put them in front of the TV to watch Elmo, right? “You’re always watering. You’re always feeding. We don’t go on vacations — we just basically work and provide for the animals.”

Any frightening moments stand out? “Between humans and wolves, no. But during breeding season relationships change between them, and they’ll fight. We usually carry a 9mm, which we shoot up in the air. It makes them stop and think.”

JAMES LILEKS

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