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NORTH KINGSTOWN â The sound of a wolfâs soulful song to the skies fills the air in Dave Hornoffâs cozy cabin on Pojac Point. It is coming from a video playing on his laptop.
No, wait! Itâs coming from his gorgeous Australian shepherd Cheney (for Lon, the actor, not Dick, the heartbeat-away-from-the-presidency guy.)
Wait! Itâs coming from Daveâs cell phone.
Oh, good grief. Itâs coming from all three. At once.
Some might find the prolonged, haunting howl â oww-ooooo â chilling or eerie but to Dave it is an aria to the gods, music of which he never tires. Well, there must be a reason the Mozarts named their baby Wolfgang.
Cheney likes it, too, and always sings along. On command, she can tell you what the wolf sounds like: oww-ooooo.
Welcome to the headquarters of the founder and executive director of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition or, as his daughter calls it, the Wolf Museum.
Itâs true: this place is more than a home, more even than the nerve center of a major advocacy-education organization; it is a shrine filled with images of Fidoâs ancestor. There are beautiful, framed photos of wolves in the wild, wolf candleholders, wolves made of recycled paper, metal and birch bark. The curtains are decorated with wolves.
And then thereâs the Little Red Riding Hood bathroom.
âI pick stuff up everywhere,â Dave admits.
It isnât difficult when he visits Yellowstone National Park three to four times a year, checks in at the organizationâs regional centers in the Carolinas, Great Lakes and Northern Rockies or, as on one special occasion, makes a pilgrimage to South Dakota where âDancing with Wolvesâ was filmed to visit Kevin Costnerâs memorabilia-filled casino.
Dave even has a wolf tattoo.
While some guys like to bowl or play golf and fill their man-caves with ribbons and trophies, Hornoff is a man with a cause. He spends much of the day hunkered down, sharing information via telephone, e-mail, text and Facebook
In post-retirement â he was a 20-year veteran of the Warwick Police Department â he has answered the call of the wild, campaigning to elevate the wolfâs standing as part of our national heritage.
âMy interest is in doing what I do,â he says simply, adding that he plans to move to Montana some day.
Loving the outdoors and its boundless gifts comes naturally from a childhood spent on his grandfatherâs farm in St. Albans, W. Va.
âAll my familyâs there,â he says. âIâm actually related to the Hatfields [of feud fame.] My grandfather, who lived to be 100, worked on the railroad and he would see [Devil] Anse get on the train and go to the last car where he sat on the floor holding his six-shooters crossed over his chest. He was so afraid of being shot.â
Daveâs fascination with wolves began when he saw a documentary featuring Dr. Douglas W. Smith, renowned biologist who heads the Yellowstone Gray Wolf Restoration Project and has studied wolves for more than three decades.
âI saw him carrying a big wolf across his shoulders and I thought âThatâs who I want to beâ.â
Hornoffâs group is raising awareness of wolvesâ behavior patterns and the dangers they face from human predators. The all-volunteer grassroots coalition has spread the word about the importance of long-term survival of such wolf breeds as the gray, Mexican gray (lobos), red and Eastern Mountain. Education, with an emphasis on reaching schoolchildren, has also been key as has Daveâs role as a spokesperson against such issues as cruelly trapping wolves and hunting them with dogs; he has also called out filmmakers for spreading misinformation in such movies as âThe Grey.â
Heâs excited by the interest in school systems, such as West Warwickâs, in pursuing a nature-based course that included the recent visit of a snow-white Arctic wolf. âTheyâre really adopting these programs,â he says. âTheyâre studying wolves and other animals.â
Awareness of the beauty of wolves in the wild is boosting Montanaâs economy where three million visitors a year go on Yellowstone wolf watches, generating 35 million in tourism dollars.
Dave hopes a modest foray into merchandising will help his organization, too: He plans to start selling Wolfwatcher-logo items online.
âOne hundred percent of the money goes to the wolves; to education and wolf centers.â
People donât realize what a major role the wolf has played in changing the ecosystem, he adds. By keeping down the coyote population, a cascade effect has caused small animals and songbirds to return, trees to flourish and water sources to deepen.
âWhen we advocate for wolves,â Dave says, âweâre really advocating for the environment.â
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.