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Tell Me Your Story: Ex-cop Hornoff's group serves and protects wolves

June 9, 2012

NORTH KINGSTOWN – The sound of a wolf’s soulful song to the skies fills the air in Dave Hornoff’s cozy cabin on Pojac Point. It is coming from a video playing on his laptop.
No, wait! It’s coming from his gorgeous Australian shepherd Cheney (for Lon, the actor, not Dick, the heartbeat-away-from-the-presidency guy.)
Wait! It’s coming from Dave’s cell phone.
Oh, good grief. It’s coming from all three. At once.
Some might find the prolonged, haunting howl – oww-ooooo – 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.
It’s 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 Fido’s 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 there’s the Little Red Riding Hood bathroom.
“I pick stuff up everywhere,” Dave admits.
It isn’t difficult when he visits Yellowstone National Park three to four times a year, checks in at the organization’s regional centers in the Carolinas, Great Lakes and Northern Rockies or, as on one special occasion, makes a pilgrimage to South Dakota where “Dancing with Wolves” was filmed to visit Kevin Costner’s 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 – he was a 20-year veteran of the Warwick Police Department – he has answered the call of the wild, campaigning to elevate the wolf’s standing as part of our national heritage.
“My interest is in doing what I do,” 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 grandfather’s farm in St. Albans, W. Va.
“All my family’s there,” he says. “I’m 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.”
Dave’s 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.
“I saw him carrying a big wolf across his shoulders and I thought ‘That’s who I want to be’.”
Hornoff’s group is raising awareness of wolves’ 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 Dave’s 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 “The Grey.”
He’s excited by the interest in school systems, such as West Warwick’s, in pursuing a nature-based course that included the recent visit of a snow-white Arctic wolf. “They’re really adopting these programs,” he says. “They’re studying wolves and other animals.”
Awareness of the beauty of wolves in the wild is boosting Montana’s 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.
“One hundred percent of the money goes to the wolves; to education and wolf centers.”
People don’t 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.
“When we advocate for wolves,” Dave says, “we’re really advocating for the environment.”

Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at

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