LONG BEACH - Cheryl Talkington received the perfect gift from her two daughters for Mother's Day eight years ago. No she didn't get chocolates or flowers or even a gift certificate.
They called her at work and told her they got her a four-year-old timber wolf named Thunder.
Talkington, who had fallen in love with wolves when she was 5 years old and living in Juneau, Alaska, was more than excited. She had collected wolf knick knacks, figurines, pictures, and puzzles throughout her life. Even her doorbell sounds like a wolf howl.
"When I got home I saw Thunder from the back. He hadn't been groomed and was dirty and his hair stood out making him look twice his normal size. I started to say, 'Take him back.'" But when Thunder turned and Talkington saw his face all she could say was, "Oh!" and she fell in love with him instantly.
Talkington, who has lived on the Peninsula for 13 years and has worked for the Ocean Park branch of The Bank of the Pacific the past seven, was so smitten with Thunder that she eventually purchased a mate for him named Ecco.
"Ecco is also a mixture of timber wolf and malamute," she explains. Soon the pair had a litter of eight puppies.
Talkington, who now lives on two and a half acres a few miles north of Long Beach with her husband Lanny and 14-year-old daughter Jessica, decided to sell the puppies except for a male they named Sage. After Ecco had a second litter, she was spayed.
"Even though we sold the pups for $200 each, I didn't want to run a puppy mill," Talkington relates. "I did want to let Ecco experience being a mother, and she was a great one. She would regurgitate her food and let the pups eat in order, which doesn't sound very appetizing, but shows how loving a wolf can be. Sage is almost two years old and already is five and a half feet long and weighs 140 pounds."
The Talkingtons recently purchased an Arctic wolf named Sequoia. Sage and Sequoia produced eight puppies their first litter, and two were pure white, which is very rare. Thunder and Ecco's second litter of seven also contained two pure white wolf hybrids.
The Talkingtons have a 40-by-30-foot pen and have a converted green house for shelter for the wolves. Talkington loves to walk and almost daily takes the wolves to the beach.
"They are mellow, inquisitive animals. They have never chased or bitten another dog or a person," she says.
"Sometimes they will frighten someone with their fixed stare and the color of their eyes, but they are just checking to see if they can trust that person," according to Talkington. "They have a happy howl to greet me, but when they bark you know there is something outside we need to check on."
The wolf hybrids are extremely intelligent animals. "I taught Sage to speak, shake a paw, and lay down in just three days."
The present litter of wolf hybrids will be ready to be sold August 7, with all eight of the puppies already spoken for. Talkington has chosen to keep only the four adult wolves.
"I feed them each four cans of Purina dog food every day, and I also get them 40 pounds of uncooked turkey necks from Costco. Their digestive system is different from a dog's and they need the bone marrow for healthy coats."
"We often have family reunions when people who have purchased the wolf hybrids come to visit. We'll say things like 'his face looks like his dad' or 'her coloration is like that of her mother'. It's really great to see how the pups have grown and developed, Their little teeth are already sharp so I'm giving Sequoia a break by feeding them," Talkington says as she dilutes dog food with water for the soon-to-be weaned pups.
"I love them all - they are my babies."