A year later Lynch left his job to manage McCleery's sanctuary. "When I arrived, McCleery had $380 left to sustain the place for a year," he says. "The fences were all falling down, and everything was deteriorating so badly it was debatable whether we could make a go of it." A trickle of tourists, who paid 35 cents apiece to see the wolves, helped cover only minimal expenses. Lynch spent most of his waking hours searching for meat to feed the animals. Sometimes local farmers or ranchers would donate cows and horses that had been injured and put to sleep. Other times Lynch scrounged for scraps around slaughterhouses or roamed country byways looking for deer and other animals killed by cars.
And he began learning about wolves. "They just didn't seem at all aggressive to me," he says. "But it wasn't long before I discovered otherwise." Three weeks after his arrival in Kane, Lynch entered a pen to fix a fence hole and was confronted by a 200-lb. male wolf named Saber. "I just walked right in with some pliers and a piece of wire, and suddenly this great big old monster had his jaws around my thigh and was dragging me around the pen," Lynch says. "I didn't try to fight. Instead I kept telling him he was a good wolf. I guess I blacked out, because the next thing I knew I was outside the pen on my hands and knees, all covered with mud, and didn't know how I got there." The attack didn't put him off wolves. "I wasn't seriously injured or dead, so the next day I went back in," he says. "Saber walked around me, with his tail straight out and erect, and he rubbed up against me and pushed me with his shoulder. He didn't make a sound, but with the carriage of his body and his tail, he was letting all the other wolves know he was the boss. Later, when I told McCleery what had happened, he didn't seem surprised. He just put his hand on my arm and said, 'By golly, I've found my man. I've found my man.' "
Lynch says that on May 23, 1962, all the wolves began howling in unison. "If they are disturbed by something, they might howl for about 20 seconds," Lynch says. "But this time they kept at it for 10 minutes. Later that afternoon I learned Dr. McCleery had died from colon cancer around the same time the wolves started howling. I have no explanation for it, especially since he was in a hospital 36 miles away. I just know what I saw and heard."
Left to manage alone, he became a slave to the wolves. "The only thing that saved me was my young body," he says. "Everything had to be done with little or no money, but somehow I always managed to get by." In 1970, with an inheritance he received after his adoptive mother's death two years earlier, he purchased 34 acres on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State and moved the wolves, which by then numbered 56. Twenty wolves were tranquilized and sent airfreight, while Lynch and a friend trucked the rest out in a nonstop drive. "After all the harsh winters in Pennsylvania, the wolves acted like they were in heaven," he says. "They rolled on their backs in the grass. But a few months later the rains came, and it seemed like we'd never see the sun."
As the months and years passed, Lynch found conditions in Washington even more difficult than in Pennsylvania. Constant rain made the older wolves listless and seemed to stunt the growth of the pups, and chronic money problems and the need to travel great distances to find meat gradually took their toll on Lynch. Enter, just in time, Mary Wheeler, who had just ended a bad marriage to a Los Angeles cop. In 1976 Wheeler moved into a cottage down the road from Lynch's property and immediately volunteered to help with the wolves. "All my life I had always been a sucker for animals," she says. "In L.A. they used to call me the cat lady because I was always taking in strays." At first Lynch was anything but cordial, and Mary kept her distance. But a few months later she heard from local gossips that the wolf man was very sick. Angered that no one seemed inclined to help, she drove to Lynch's cabin. "When I got there, he was sitting in a daze in the bathroom and looked half dead," Mary says. "But he said he didn't believe in doctors and wouldn't go to a hospital."
Mary nursed Lynch, who was suffering from exhaustion, back to health with a few good meals and large helpings of TLC. She stayed on to help with the wolves, proving particularly adept at hand-raising pups. "Pretty soon it was no longer a one-man operation," Lynch says. "It was Mary and Jack."
In 1980 the couple fled Washington's wet climate and trucked the wolves to Montana. "This is the natural habitat of the buffalo wolf," Lynch says, "as well as an absolutely beautiful spot where I could spend the rest of my lifetime and never be bored." Married by a justice of the peace soon after their arrival, they have grown used to an isolated life focused on the needs of the wolves. They have never taken a vacation. While Jack busies himself with fence mending, veterinary care and the logistics of gathering and distributing the weekly 2,500-lb. ration of meat, Mary corresponds with wolf lovers around the country. The generosity of a growing number of small donors to the E.H. McCleery Lobo Wolf Foundation has freed Lynch from the unwelcome task of scavenging for road kill. In addition to the wolves, the couple also care for nine dogs, nine cats, eight goats, four horses, one coyote and the Siberian tiger a friend in Washington had given up trying to raise as a pet. "We find critters make better neighbors than people," Mary says. "They take you for what you are and don't ask for much in return."
Lynch hopes that conditions will someday be right for his wolves to be returned to the wild. But he is highly critical of most wildlife reintroduction plans. "Without adequate prey, wolves will start killing cows and sheep right away," he says. "As soon as that happens, hunters will be sent to shoot them." As for his own buffalo wolves, Lynch is hoping for nothing short of a miracle. Before he will consider letting the wolves loose, he insists that at least 2 million acres of wilderness would have to be fenced off for a variety of wildlife and closed to humans for 20 years. He knows it's a pipe dream. On the other hand, he says bluntly, "Anything less is just nostalgic bull——."