By Jeanne Sager
CALLICOON May 28, 2002 Residents on Route 17B in Callicoon have a new neighbor.
The new priest at St. James Episcopal Church in the hamlet has set up shop in the church rectory with her cat, dogs . . . and a wolf cross.
And for all the ferocious rumors that surround a wolf owner, the Rev. Joan LaLiberte has heard nothing but compliments.
The people at the church have been positive, she said. And the neighbors havent complained.
Theyve even said its kind of neat when he howls.
Which is rare, she adds. Contrary to myths, wolves dont howl at the moon they let out a mournful sound when theyre feeling alone, to let the other members of their pack know where they are.
LaLiberte transferred to the Callicoon parish in September from Idaho, where wolf crosses are almost as common as a labrador retriever in peoples homes.
She brought two of her pets with her in September, then headed back cross-country last month to bring home Singer, a 7-year-old wolf cross, and Ptchee, a 9 1/2-year-old Australian shepherd/Husky cross the buddies who cuddle up on LaLibertes bed at night.
Shed kept Singer out in the open back in Idaho, allowing him to run around her home and interact with children during lectures at grade schools, all with the permission of the states fish and game commission. When she interviewed for the job in Callicoon, LaLiberte made it clear to the church that Singer would be making the trip too.
And when she came to New York, she approached the federal government for a permit, and later the state, for permission to keep Singer.
She had to jump through a lot of hoops, LaLiberte said, but its worth it.
Im just as concerned about public safety as anyone else, she explained. And Im concerned about his safety.
The state requires her to keep Singer muzzled if hes out in public, and shes subject to unannounced visits by officials. She keeps the pup behind two locked gates, where he spends the day romping with Ptchee.
It just seems like overkill for this little guy, she said. If he were an aggressive dog, I wouldnt have him in the first place. I wouldnt want a wild animal.
Singer is a domestic-bred dog, even hand-fed as a baby by a breeder. His parents, LaLiberte said, were also domestic-bred despite their wolfish background. Singer even has a few drops of German Shepherd in him, classifying him as a wolf cross rather than a full-blooded wolf.
Being captive-bred, hes more like a dog than a wolf, LaLiberte explained.
And that means he spends his days tagging along after his master when hes in the house. The alpha male defers to the wishes of his mate, Ptchee, who gets the head of the bed next to Mom at night and the best dog biscuits at snack time.
And Singers favorite thing to do is pick a Kleenex out of LaLibertes pocket and spend the next hour wandering the house with the handkerchief sticking out of his mouth.
Hes a ham, LaLiberte explained. Hes really saying, Hi everybody, Im the big bad wolf, come pet me.
Singer likes to grab ahold of LaLibertes braid and play with her, but shes learned to discourage moves like that in case someone walking by on the street notices and misconstrues the circumstances.
Shes concerned for Singers safety as much as anyone else in Callicoon, because though hes a sweet animal, she realizes the misperceptions are there.
But shes never had to muzzle her pet, and taking him into classrooms to teach ecology was always a successful venture.
And after keeping the canine for six years, LaLiberte wouldnt want to have to give up her pet.
Ptchee, she noted, helps keep Singer in line.
Shes my lieutenant, LaLiberte noted with a laugh. And he has to have companionship.
Thats why I left her with him in Idaho hed have pined to death without her.
LaLiberte invites anyone from the community to stop by her Callicoon home and meet Singer. Though she keeps him inside two gates, visitors can see him through the chain link fence and enjoy his antics.