By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Shortly after, Copeland issued the first ticket for failing to comply with county regulations. Three weeks later, she issued another. Three weeks later, another. And three weeks after that, another.
"What I did was, when I saw that she was not doing anything with the first citation, I said, 'I'm giving what I consider to be a good amount of time to have accomplished something and you haven't, so I'm going to keep on it,' " says Copeland.
During a spring 2002 visit, Copeland was encouraged that Ott had begun working on a perimeter fence, although this barrier did not appear to be properly anchored and braced to prevent wolves from sneaking under it. Other problems were obvious. Waste was being disposed of in giant "scat pond" pits -- gangrenous holes of feces and water, ten feet wide and six feet deep. They were patching up the primary enclosures with shoddy cement blocks and even a pail. And the bottoms of the pens had not been properly reinforced. Wolves could easily dig their way to freedom, she concluded.
While the problems may sound like the benign stuff of government bureaucracy, they were based instead on practical fears being raised by the surrounding community of Montgomery County.
Ott said she needed more time. Some neighbors felt that she'd already run out of time.
Dena Lewis, a neighbor to the west, recalls waking up on a weekend morning to find a wolf large enough to tower over her Labrador dogs in the yard. "My kids stay outside playing -- that's what's so horrible," says Lewis. She's the mother of two boys, now 12 and seven.
Another nearby resident, Jeff Smith, told of an incident two years ago, when he pulled into his driveway just in time to see a wolf sink its fangs into the back of his dog, pick it up and begin toting it away. He raced after the furry intruder and got it to drop his mutt.
Queenie, one family's toy poodle, was not as fortunate. Two wolves tore Queenie in half several years back. And Tina Irwin says wolf visits to her property were so frequent that her daughter was too scared to go outside alone to play on their jungle gym and swing set. "She had a fear that them wolves were going to come through the window," says Irwin. The neighbors insist that, prior to NAWA's moving into the area, there had been no sightings of wolves in years.
While the complaints from local government and neighbors were piling up about the wolves she already had, Ott was working to establish a reputation nationally as one who could swoop in and save neglected wolves on faraway fronts. In May 2002, she headed out to rescue stranded wolves in Sholo, Arizona.
And yet the NAWA leader seemed to have little regard for governmental requirements for that mission as well. Michael Foley, who runs the Los Angeles-based Global Animal Transport, had met Ott in Sholo and says he helped load 16 emaciated wolves into a refrigerated trailer. However, he learned that she did not have the health certificates required for transporting the wolves across state lines. So he backed out of the project, as it would likely entail snaking through back roads to avoid truck inspection points. Foley says Ott still owes him almost $5,000 for assisting in the Arizona rescue, transporting other animals out of New Mexico and helping to capture two of three escaped wolves at the Conroe reservation.
"There is nothing she has stated or could state at this stage of the game that we would ever believe," says Foley. He's heard several times that the check is on its way, he adds.
Regardless of how the Arizona wolves were transported, the arrival of more than a dozen of them at the Conroe reservation led to a naming ceremony on July 4, 2002.
Tammy Moore, a volunteer at NAWA for two and a half years, cleaned out the poop from the Arizona pack's enclosure, then knelt to pet one of the animals. Another wolf, Akayla, suddenly clamped down on her right arm. Moore buckled to the ground and Akayla tore into her hand, dragging her along the floor. "He basically ripped my hand open," she says. "I'm lucky that I have use of my right hand, apparently."
After pulling Moore from the pen, Ott dunked the bloody, injured hand -- it would swell up to the size of a grapefruit and take four months to heal -- into a bucket of ice. A volunteer asked if someone should call 911. Ott said no. Moore asked for her cell phone to call her husband and Ott continued trying to soothe the frantic Moore, telling her that she didn't need to call him just yet. Six months later, Moore would detail her recollection of the exchange in an affidavit to Montgomery County authorities:
Moore says Ott grew frantic when she asked if Ott needed to call her lawyer to meet them at the hospital for liability reasons.
"No, I can't go with you! They know me there, they'll know I am the wolf lady and see that it was one of my wolves that bit you; they'll call Animal Control, who will come out and kill all these guys.