Howling next door? Don’t worry, it’s just a San Fernando Valley wolf pack


Taylor Lautner of “Twilight” isn’t the only wolf in Hollywood.

A pack of 10 of them live behind a white picket fence in Valley Village, where a couple of animal lovers are crusading to help what they call nature’s most misunderstood creature.

Seven of the animals are pups, born in late May to a 6-year-old Alaskan timber wolf and her brawny mate.

“We want to educate people, especially children, so they can coexist with wildlife,” said Paul Pondella, a tree surgeon who rescued his first wolf 21 years ago from the mountains above Glendale. “Wolves are the closest thing to man in terms of community.”

But the animals have historically gotten a bad rap, said Colette Duvall, an actress and writer who was introduced to wolves by Pondella. “Some people associate wolves with evil. A lot of misconceptions have been passed down to people over the ages.”

Those who glimpse the three adult wolves cavorting in the couple’s Colfax Avenue front yard sometimes mistake them for huskies. But a closer look reveals the distinctive yellow eyes, massive paws and enormous teeth that distinguish wolves from dogs.

The adults, Shadow, Takoda and Alaska, have been whistle-trained by a professional trainer, and their two-layer coats are regularly cared for by an expert groomer.

Pondella and Duvall say the animals have been allowed off-leash at the beach in Ventura County and in Yosemite Valley — where park rangers posed for pictures with them. The wolves come running when called, they say.

The wolves, obtained from a Native American-run sanctuary in the Sierra foothills, are microchipped for identification and have licenses and paperwork for when they travel. Pondella has a federal exhibitor’s permit issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a breeder’s license from the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services. Each of the adults is licensed by the city as an F2 wolf hybrid, which means their lineage supposedly includes some dog DNA.

That doesn’t mean they’re lap dogs, though.

At 110 pounds, Takoda is strong enough to knock a person down if he jumps up on them. The wolves have gnawed chunks out of Pondella’s bedroom dresser, shredded pillows and chewed holes in an $800 seat on his motorcycle — whose gas tank is decorated with a painting of a Lautner-like werewolf.

Pondella said he has lined his backyard fence with a 2-foot-deep reinforcement of root barriers from his tree surgeon business to keep them from digging their way out. A steel gate inside the house controls access to most living areas.

It costs about $1,200 a month to maintain the three adult wolves, Pondella said. The seven pups are still nursing so their eating habits have yet to be gauged, but he suspects the newly enlarged pack will cost about $150,000 a year.

The wolves eat kibble and canned pet food in the morning and meat in the evening.

“Right now we buy 18 pounds of chicken, tri-tip and salmon at a time for them. We have $1 million liability insurance for them that costs me $6,000 a year. That’s going to go up. Thank goodness for my tree company,” said Pondella, 50.

Their experiences with the animals have prompted Duvall and Pondella to consider creating a reality show. Producer Pat Hines has begun shopping “Wolves in the House” to various TV networks.

The couple’s self-designed Shadowland Foundation has completed its paperwork to qualify as a nonprofit, meaning it can accept tax-deductible donations, said Duvall, 54. This summer they hope to turn a guest house behind their leased home into a classroom where they will teach children about wolves.

They say youngsters are eager to approach and pet the wolves.

But “adults stand 20 feet away” when they first encounter them, Duvall said. “That’s because of their fear of wolves.”

Pondella said the adult wolves raise their heads into the air and howl at sunrise and sunset. They do not bark.

But many in the immediate neighborhood were unaware of the wolves in their midst.

“I’ve heard them howling, but I thought they were dogs,” said Rashmi Desai, who lives a few doors away. “They’re wolves? They should be in a zoo, not here.”

Another neighbor, Betty Velasco, said she has heard them howling at sirens. “I’m not bothered. The neighborhood is not impacted by them. I’m an animal lover — I have no problem with anything that doesn’t attack,” Velasco said.

Nearby resident Eva Cohen brought her two children to Pondella’s house to see the wolves.

“My friends didn’t believe me when I told them I’d seen” the wolves, said Abigail Cohen, 9.

Caleb Cohen, 7, said he was wary at first. “I’ve heard bad stories about wolves. But these are friendly,” he said.

The first-grader said he wrote a paper about his encounter.

“My report was about where wolves live,” Caleb said.