"In the early stages I would get stitched up, come back down again, and come in with the guys," Ellis said. "But very quickly they could smell something in the wound, so the wolves would just pluck out the stitches, very gently with their front incisors. And [I] just sat there and let them do it because it's their world. They would open up the wound and thoroughly lick inside. Every few hours they would come over and inspect the wound and clean it thoroughly, so much so that it would heal in a fraction of the time."
Montana wolf biologist Dr. Kyran Kunkel said those healing powers wouldn't be unusual. "They would have, within themselves, opportunities to heal in a way that's evolved over time and that works for them. So it would make sense, too, that it might also work for humans."
Dr. Kunkel said that Ellis was not taking the type of risk involved in a famous incident in 2003, when a naturalist and his girlfriend were killed by a grizzly bear.
"In terms of inflicting real harm," Kunkel said, "I don't think that was as big a concern with captive animals, and certainly not the concern you would have with a larger carnivore with claws like a grizzly bear."
Ellis has four children from a long-term relationship that failed. He said the work he does with wolves put a strain on his human family.
"You have to drive yourself away from human emotion," Ellis said. "When you leave here and try and join your family's society, your emotion doesn't come out with you. You're into a role that you provide with the wolves, and it takes a long time in the early stages to get out of that character and go into another one."
Ellis said that in his dreams, he is sometimes a wolf instead of a human being. "It's almost like the wolf brings out the subconscious in you, a way of dealing with the world. If I had a dream that caused me a problem or an anxiety, I would often find in that dream that I would appear as the wolf to deal with that problem. If there was no anxiety, then normally [I] would be in human form."
One way of dealing with the world and maintaining the pack structure while Ellis lived with the wolves was to keep a set of unwashed clothes that carried the odors of the pack -- the scents they knew him by. He described it as a kind of wolf newspaper. "This clothing actually contains all the information that surrounds their territory: where I've been, how have I fed, have I made a kill?"
Ellis did grow nostalgic for human contact. In a visit to a pub near the wildlife park, he met and struck up a friendship with Helen Jeffs. She said that the smell of Ellis' work didn't deter her. "When I met Shaun, that was his life, that was his world. I knew that. I could put up with that, no problem."
Ellis couldn't telephone her when he returned to the wolves, but Jeffs, who lived on the other side of a valley, was game for different types of communication.
"Shaun would howl with the pups, and then I would respond and howl back to him. So we communicated by howling across the valley."
Jeffs now lives and works with Ellis at the park.