I was walking my dog through the local forest the other day when I met a 12-year-old neighbor boy for the first time. His name is Vinny; spelled with a Y on the end, not an IE. “People mix that up all the time,” he said. He was walking a chocolate lab who was also 12 years old. His lab got along well with my goldendoodle so we let them off their leashes to romp.
Vinny was the talkative sort. I’m always amazed at how much kids unknowingly reveal about their lives and their parents’ lives to strangers. While on the one hand, I’m glad children are still trusting, on the other hand, I shudder to think what could happen if the information made it into the wrong ears.
During our short walk, and with hardly any prompting from me, I learned about all of Vinny’s former and current pets, that Vinny’s parents are hiring a nanny for the summer to drive him to his soccer games, that he has a sore knee but his mom said that some exercise walking the dog would probably be good for it (I had to smile at that one), and that Vinny’s dad shot a wolf.
Of course, as a wolf novelist, this last bit of news gave me pause. I can’t even remember how the topic came up, but suddenly, there it was, as unexpected and pungent as blood on leaves. I do remember that Vinny was explaining how he likes to deer hunt. He was in his deer stand when he was 7 and a wolf appeared and scared him. From questioning and further conversation, I got the impression he was in the stand alone, but that his dad was nearby, possibly in a different stand. Vinny ended up meeting up with his dad and telling him about the wolf. That’s when he told me his dad shot the wolf.
Oh, there were so many things I could have said and so many routes our conversation could have taken. My first instinct was to trot out the fact that wolves have not been documented to kill a human in the U.S. but once in recent history; that they are shy and normally do not approach humans. But I didn’t. I wasn’t there in the forest in a deer stand with a scared young boy. Obviously, something the wolf was doing scared him and concerned his dad enough that he decided to kill it. And during my book signings in northern Minnesota and Michigan, I’ve heard many stories from people about wolves. I understand that they are capable of all sorts of behaviors, many of which are seen as threatening by humans.
Instead, I said something about wolves usually being curious more than anything else. I wanted to ask him if his dad reported the shooting, because I’m sure at that point in history (5 years ago) the wolf was still considered an endangered species and thus illegal to kill. But I really didn’t want to know.
Vinny then went on to describe a plan he and his dad made in case Vinny ever felt threatened by a wolf again. He told me the special kind of ammunition they would use, which would hurt/scare the wolf but not kill it. This gave me a bit of consolation. At least they knew that killing the wolf was wrong and either got the special ammunition idea from a conservation officer or his dad had thought about it enough to figure it out. I doubt that shooting a wolf with anything is a good idea because the wolf could die of an infection, but I kept my mouth shut about this, also. I didn’t want to criticize Vinny’s dad because that could shut Vinny off for future conversations about wolves.
Our conversation ended with Vinny asking me if my youngest son likes to hunt. I told him we weren’t hunting people, but that my son enjoys fishing. By that time, we were at a crossroads and we separated, each to our own homes. I hope I meet Vinny again. Maybe I’ll have another chance to educate him more about wolves. I sure hope so.