There is place in howling distance of the Old House Hotel, that will likely change you forever. People have come from as far as Belgium to see one single animal, Tundra the wolf at the SWELL WOLF EDUCATION CENTRE. As close to wolf as you can get (90%), this amazing female’s hazel-green eyes look right through you. She, with the gentlest of dispositions, has inspired more humans, softened more hearts belonging to children and adults alike, than I dare to count.
Tundra is one of those unique individuals whose soul and purpose are so closely matched that they speak to you as if you were the only one to experience it. She is a gift. She is an animal whose presence immediately makes you aware of the emptiness her passing and the extinction of her species would leave. You want to celebrate her, share her with everyone you can. That’s the way her pack leader, Gary Allan approaches it.
You will find him traveling with his celebrity wolf, from Tofino to Vancouver, from schools and First Nations ceremonies to nature centers and coastal communities, educating folks about the irreplaceable value wolves have in managing our ecosystems. Other times the visit simply breathes hope and wellness into people who desperately need the healing power of wolf. He puts to bed myths about menacing wolves and shares the inspiring truth: as top predators, they are astoundingly gentle in their nature when it comes to raising their pups, living in packs and generally living peacefully with humans when given enough room to roam. (And, yes, wolves, need a lot of room to do their part for balancing nature.)
Tundra’s people/animal pack actually numbers five. Two other dominant wolf dogs live there and are just over three years old. Nahanni is an Arctic wolf, and Mahikan is a black wolf; both are almost “full wolf” and astoundingly beautiful and fascinating to observe. While somewhat elusive, they are still very interested in humans. Few people on the planet can or should handle such an immense responsibility; Gary is one them. He lives, eats and sleeps the care of his wolves.
Also one of North American’s most committed wolf conservation advocates, he and his devoted wife Sally share their house with Tundra. You haven’t seen a large dog bed until you’ve seen Tundra’s! Having recently relocated the Centre from Malcolm Island to their property in Nanaimo, they have created a beautiful studio for wolf video viewing, long conversations and wolf introductions. Even though I have seen Tundra several times, I still felt my heart explode when she came through the curtained doorway and welcomed me with a nibbling lick.
This on-site education is a fantastic segue to what most consider to be the most transforming part of visiting the Centre. Traveling by car, you arrive at the local river trail. Here Gary and Tundra leash up, and a walk becomes an effortless conversation about all things wolves. Tundra takes the lead, stopping at the river where she fills her belly with water and bathes in the coolness.
Whether Gary brings Tundra to the community or Jane Goodall, as he has, or you visit them, these interactions are a commitment to wolf education that seek to set the world right. All of this, funded solely by donations, is an urgent effort to speak for wolves, to bring home the message that British Columbia’s wolf populations hang in the balance, and that we as stewards, have to act quickly to protect them. An eye-opener is that unchecked deer populations as we have in the province and the island spell trouble for other wildlife, landscapes and ultimately humans.
But perhaps the greatest revelation is how purely, deeply lovely, a wolf can be… what beautiful wolves Tundra, Mahikan and Nahanni are. I’m convinced that Gary’s mission for as long as he is on this planet, will be to shed light on wolf misinformation and to create more wolf advocates. I strongly suggest a visit to the SWELL Education Centre, less than a two-hour drive south from The Old House. Tundra’s lone howl, or accompanied by those of her pack, will stay with you forever.
Outside The Old House Front Door
A Comox Valley Explorer Blog by Lisa Lauf