The entrance to the small green shed that is home to the Northern Lights Wolf Centre is covered in the skulls and antlers of Canadian Rockies natives. And a door the same colour as the nearby mountain town of Golden is our gateway to an experience for which I’m not fully prepared.
We’re going to walk with wolves, and I’ve watched enough Game Of Thrones to wonder whether I’ll have to adopt a Yorkshire accent to ensure the world’s largest wild canids know I’m friend rather than foe.
The centre was established in 2002 when Casey, a former Hollywood animal trainer, and Shelley Black decided to educate people about the majestic wolves and the important role they play in the environment. They started with just one wolf, but now have a pack of seven that live in a 5000 square metre enclosure.
A chorus of howls adds a backing soundtrack to Shelley’s warnings as she prepares us for what’s to come: “It’s important to remember, we’re on wolf terms.” Thankfully, the wolves, which have been born and raised in captivity, are used to the presence of humans. As a result, they act more like dogs than wild animals.
A leash is attached to young female Flora, who follows Casey to his sedan and is loaded into the back. Riding behind with Shelley, I see Flora’s yellow eyes peering through the back window. She has a pup-like appearance, but this is a 45-kilogram grey wolf with the strength to take down a cow.
It’s a combination of the breath-stealing scenery and majestic nature of the long-legged creature padding beside me that makes me want to pinch myself through my puffy jacket. Flora disappears then reappears far ahead or behind us. It doesn’t faze me until, as I crouch down next to a glacial creek snapping photographs, she starts running towards me. I freeze before remembering Shelley’s words: “Always stand taller than the wolf.” I don’t realise Casey is holding a treat, which is what has Flora’s attention, but before he says, “Don’t panic,” I’ve jumped up and moved well out of her way.
With my heart pounding, we continue. I’m still unsure of my relationship with Flora. She’s not let me pat her, nor has she sniffed my feet as a normal dog would. Shelley instructs me to stand next to a log, and I oblige. Within moments, Flora has jumped up on it and run her tongue along my face, leaving a trail of saliva. It’s the most action I’ve had on this trip to Canada and, wearing the remnants of her sloppy kiss, I’m no longer left wondering whether I’m friend or foe