SPOTLIGHT: KENNETH J. DE NAULT, '65, PhD '74
Wolf's Best Friend
By Natalie Pearson
A decade ago, Ken De Nault’s daughter, Lisa Keehner, then a veterinary student, called him about a timber wolf. Buck, who had been chained in an abandoned feedlot, was near death from mistreatment. Someone was needed to oversee his recovery.
De Nault, a geologist, told himself his plate was full: his fieldwork travel schedule was fully booked, as were the geology courses he taught as an associate professor at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. The last thing he needed was an emaciated wolf (Buck weighed just 51 pounds—he’s a svelte 120 now) suffering from injuries, mange, malnutrition and parasites.
Despite misgivings that befriending a wolf might be “the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” De Nault brought Buck home. And the wolf enriched the man’s life in ways he never could have imagined.
Buck recovered and became an instructional animal. He and De Nault have visited schools, care facilities and youth programs across the United States, appearing before more than 200,000 people. Wolves are often portrayed in myths and folklore as evil creatures. De Nault believes Buck’s work helps dispel this misinformation. “Everywhere Buck has gone, he’s been an ambassador for wolves,” he says.
Buck’s greatest impact has been with abused children, who find his story especially inspiring. “I show them his scars—his ears where they were eaten off by flies—and I say ‘bad things happen.’ The natural response to mistreatment—for any creature, wolf or human—is to get angry,” De Nault says. “We can choose to let our anger control us or we can, like Buck, say, ‘Whoa, glad that’s over. Now let’s get on with life.’”
De Nault takes Buck with him to work, where the trickster likes to hide books and play ball with students. The wolf also accompanies him to the track—De Nault’s hobby is racing Formula Mazda cars. Buck has become a minor celebrity at the track and has an ESPN sports pass, complete with an identifying paw print, that gains him access to restricted areas.
Working together, De Nault and Buck have educated many humans about wolves. Though many are wary of the animals, the National Wildlife Federation states that there has never been a documented case of a healthy, unprovoked wolf killing a human in North America. “We have a lot of prejudices about animals,” De Nault says, “but none are as wrong as our beliefs about wolves.”
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Data is from the past two weeks.