By SUSAN SCHELL
WILLIAMS Little Red Riding Hood met him in the woods. He caused major real estate problems for the three little pigs. Jack London was fascinated by him; most ranchers want to eliminate him from the face of the earth altogether.
The big, bad wolf is woven into the fabric of American folklore and remains a prominent figure in myths and literature. He is loathed in centuries-old fairy tales, and stories of werewolves, howling and the full moon still send shivers around campfires.
Wolves were here long before people were. The Indians respected them, but the white man has persecuted the wolf ever since he first set foot on this continent. Over the years, the chasm between man and wolf has grown wider and wider, and the lines between fact and fiction have become so jumbled, this shy and elusive animal has become almost as mythological as his storybook counterparts.
The states of Alaska and Missouri still carry a bounty on them, and 23,000 wolves were killed in Alaska in 1999 alone. They are now on the endangered species list, and mans continuing need for land has pushed the wolf population dangerously close to extinction.
Sherrie and Charlie LaBat are determined to prevent that from happening. The LaBats own 13 1/2 acres of wooded land just outside the town of Williams. They share a love of wolves, and 11 years ago, started taking in wolves who had been injured, confiscated by authorities or abandoned by their owners who tried to raise them as pets.
We had the land, and we enjoyed wolves so much, we wanted to do something to save them, said Sherrie.
The couple founded Howling Acres, a sanctuary that now houses 29 wolves. Howling Acres became an official non-profit organization in 1999.
We just started out as a little mom and pop business, Sherrie recalls with a laugh. I never dreamed this hobby would turn into a lifetime career.
The LaBats now take their show on the road, visiting schools and events to educate children and adults on the plight of the wolf. Dakota, a 4-year-old female Timber wolf, often accompanies the group as their roving ambassador.
Shes a perfect ambassador, Sherrie said. Shes been around humans so long, shes tame, and the children can pet her.
Dakota made the rounds at the Brookings-Harbor schools and the Chetco Community Public Library last week.
When she walked into the library conference room, limping slightly from a gunshot wound in her shoulder, kids gathered around her to stroke her silky white, silver and black fur. They were anxious to get a chance to touch the animal and discover that the storybook villain of years past was not such a monster after all.
Dakota came to Howling Acres after being found by a jogger in Sonora, Calif. She had been shot by a rancher and was near death. He took Dakota to a veterinarian. The vet inserted two pins in her shoulder to hold it together so she could walk again. The bullet is still there. The rancher was fined and when Dakota reached Howling Acres, she weighed only 40 pounds. She refused to eat or drink for four days, and suffered from depression, but with the constant help of volunteers and staff, she eventually recovered and grew to trust humans.
Other wolves in the sanctuary have sad stories to tell as well. Tango and Lakota were rescued from a fur farm, where they were being raised for their pelts. Chains still dangle from their necks; a tell-tale sign of their former mistreatment.
We havent been able to keep them still long enough to cut the chains, Sherrie said. Theyre still a little wild.
Beasly was confiscated by the California-Oregon Border Patrol as his owner was trying to smuggle him into California. The owner had gouged Beaslys eyes out in attempt to control him better; the man is now serving a 25-year prison sentence for cruelty to animals.
Mac-T, a Mackenzie timber wolf, was purchased from an exotic animal dealer for $3,000 by his owner, who later died of cancer. He is the celebrity of the group, and has appeared on the television show, Animal Tracks.
Sherrie and Charlie said they worked hard to create a safe, natural setting for these animals to live their lives in peace. They believe the future of the wolf in the wild is in the hands of mankind, and their biggest hope for survival is teaching humans that man and wolf can co-exist, and each have a place on Earth.
Howling Acres is open to the public seven days a week (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and welcomes group tours.
The sanctuary is having a Halloween party Sunday, Oct. 28, from noon to 5 p.m. For information call (541) 846-8962 or visit http://www.howlingacres. org.