Rothenburger: Myth of the big bad wolf is back

My friend Gloria Fraser would have been appalled to hear ranchers talk about killing wolves again.

Gloria knew a lot about wolves. One evening, back when she and her husband Don lived near Lac le Jeune, she got a desperate call from a fellow animal lover saying a wolf cub had been orphaned and needed rescuing.

Kila, as Gloria named the pup, grew to be the smartest, gentlest, most beautiful four-legged creature I've ever had the honour of knowing. She was black as night, fringed with silver on her legs and ruff in later years, and had eyes that blazed like lasers.

Kila was a good teacher, and Gloria came to understand wolves like no one else could. She loved that wolf, and the wolf loved her back. It broke Gloria's heart when Kila died.

Gloria lived a varied and fascinating life, which made her a tremendous storyteller. She loved music and animals, and told of dance halls and honky tonk joints in the rough end of Vancouver in the old days, and of sled-dog racing and her work with mistreated pets and persecuted wildlife.

She strongly believed that anyone capable of cruelty to animals is a short step away from violence against people. It was her determination to give animals a voice that put us in touch, when we were among a handful of people who founded a group called the International Wildlife Protection Association in the '70s.

We grew to a few hundred members, mostly local but some in the U.S. and Europe. One of our causes was protecting wolves.

Wolves were the bane of ranchers, who supported lacing baits with strychnine and Compound 1080 to "cull" the packs that supposedly killed their cattle. Strychnine and 1080 are terrible, inhumane poisons, sending their victims into violent, agonizing convulsions that can last several hours before inevitable death.

One weekend, a bunch of us from the IWPA boldly, maybe foolishly, took the fight to our opponents' territory, showing up on a rancher's doorstep to convince him of the error of his ways.

Our trespass was greeted with tolerance, all things considered, though we didn't change anyone's mind that day. But Rafe Mair, the MLA for Kamloops and the province's environment minister, could find no proof that wolves were responsible for cattle losses, and in 1979 stopped the wolf slaughter by banning the use of poison.

Now, more than 30 years later, B.C. ranchers are renewing their call for a war on wolves. Never again, one hopes, will strychnine or 1080 be part of the "wolf cull" vocabulary here but ranchers want more of them shot.

Once again, economics wins over wildlife, with wolves a convenient scapegoat. Gloria would have had plenty to say about that, but this time the wolves won't have her as their champion; we lost her the week before last.

When friends gather at her home Saturday to celebrate the life of this remarkable woman, they'll remember her bright smile and ready laugh, her courage, and the many animals that found sanctuary with her. And stories will be told of the most amazing rescue animal of all - Kila, who proved that the myth of the "big bad wolf" truly is a fairy tale.

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