Run-in with wolves puts nature in new perspective

A North Idaho woman said she was confronted by at least four wolves between Tensed and Plummer as she walked alone up her rural driveway at dusk on Saturday.

The timing of Karen Calisterio’s phone calls documents her 20 minutes of terror.

Calisterio — who’s involved with Idaho For Wildlife, a group that’s questioned wolf management policies — and her husband, Ed, had returned home after visiting Coeur d’Alene to find their driveway plugged with new-fallen snow. Rather than risk getting stuck, Ed decided to drive to a neighbor’s house to get a plow and clear the road.

Karen, 52, chose to walk the 500 yards up their winding driveway to the house, which overlooks a hayfield where they’d seen 40 head of elk on Tuesday.

As she trudged up, she stopped to answer a cell phone call. When she put the phone in her pocket and continued, she saw two dogs ahead at the crest of the lane.

“It was starting to get dark, and my first thought was that they were our two cow dogs,” she said Sunday in a telephone interview.

“I called to them, but they didn’t react right. Our dogs bark at everything. These didn’t bark.”

Her border collies would have run to her, she said. Instead, the dogs about 200 yards up the lane started walking slowly toward her.

“Then I saw two more of them, and all four were walking toward me,” she said.

“That’s when I said, ‘… I’m alone and I’m in trouble.’ ”

Calisterio said her first reaction was to flee.

“But it stuck in my head that I shouldn’t run,” she said. “I turned and faced them and backed away as I got on my cell phone.”

Describing herself as “frantic,” she called her husband and he began heading back immediately but slid his vehicle off the road in his haste.

She’d answered the first cell phone call at 4:33 p.m. just before seeing the wolves.

“That caused me to stop or I might have been farther up the driveway before I ran into them,” she said.

She called her husband at 4:37 as she was backing away from the advancing wolves.

“Then I started crying, saying to myself, ‘I don’t know what … I’m supposed to do.’

She walked backwards as fast as she could. “They kept coming towards me, but they didn’t appear to be running. It was getting dark fast.”

She called a neighbor at 4:39 and got no answer.

Her husband called her at 4:40 and said he was stuck, but that she should stay calm; he’d be there as fast as he could.

That’s when the wolves disappeared into the brush, she said.

“I couldn’t see them anymore and I couldn’t tell where they went or what they were doing.”

At 4:41, her husband called to check in. “I stayed on the phone with him for 30 seconds. My phone was nearly dead,” she said, so they ended the call.

“Your mind goes crazy,” she said. “I was wearing a long wool coat and remember thinking, ‘I wonder if that would protect me from their sharp teeth.’

“I prayed and I cried.”

At 4:43, still backing down the lane, she contacted another neighbor who said she’d be there as fast as she could.

“She came quickly, and I could see her lights coming but it seemed like an eternity,” Calisterio said, noting that she then began running toward the oncoming vehicle.

At 4:53, she called to tell her husband she was safe in the neighbor’s four-wheel drive.

“My husband and the neighbors later checked the tracks and could see where the wolves had come down to where I’d first seen them and turned around. Then their tracks took off down toward a pond,” she said, describing them as “huge.”

When she reached the house, Calisterio said, she had to coax her dogs out from where they were hiding under the building.

The next day, she said, the encounter was still stirring in her head.

“I want to get the word out, because there are kids who go sledding around here,” she said.

She said they’ve lived on the Tensed place 10 years. Last summer they saw wolves for the first time low on Moses Mountain. They were chasing deer, she said.

“It’s not unusual to see elk around here in the winter,” she said, noting that area residents have been reporting wolf sightings for more than a year. “That might be attracting the wolves.”

“We contacted Benewah County sheriff and they said there was nothing they could do and to call Fish and Game on Monday.

“Suddenly I feel like a prisoner in my own home,” she said. “I can’t feel safe in my own driveway.”

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