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Friday, December 9, 2011

One of the Pack

In looking back on this year, I want to share something that happened last summer. I got to spend a weekend at the home of the woman who founded and operates Wanagi Wolf Fund and Rescue while she took a rare weekend off. I was not, however, just house-sitting. I was responsible for a dog, eight wolf-dogs and three wolves (plus five birds). 

As a volunteer with this group, I have met all of the canines several times. Pulling up to the gate, I was greeted by four barking sentries: Silver Bear, an old wolf/malamute; Hozho, an Australian shepherd; Milagro, a mixed breed dog with a bit of wolf in his background, and Bindi, a wolf/coyote/husky. After I spoke to them for a couple of minutes, they remembered me and I entered the gate.

Then the barks and howls from the back of the property started. As I walked around the corner of the house, Hokshila, HHthe big timber wolf, howled his greeting. He was joined by his partner Prema, who while new to the rescue, has greeted me warmly the last two times I saw her. After setting my belongings on the porch, I visited each animal in turn. Next was my old friend Liberty, who greeted me with sniffs and kisses. Then I entered the pen of brother and sister wolf/malamutes Kola and Wihopa. Gray wolf Dadyoe, previously rather nervous, barked his delight at seeing me again and kissed my fingers through the fence.

Shunka and Shadow, the newest pack members, hadn’t completely accepted me, so I didn’t enter their pen. Instead, I talked quietly to them, frequently using their names. Eventually, I won Shunka’s favor by having him sit, and then giving him small pieces of chicken jerky. Shadow sat and took the jerky, but she continued to bark at me the rest of the day.

Having greeted the whole pack, I started taking pictures. I was once again struck by the beauty of these magnificent animals. Kola and Wihopa have gorgeous golden eyes and love attention and tummy rubs. Hokshila is a gentle giant. Liberty, a cancer survivor who lives with lupus, has always been one of my favorites. He possesses such a quiet dignity. And despite his previous life of beatings and starvation, he holds no ill will toward humans.

Again it hit me that these were not dogs I was visiting, giving ear scratches and photographing. These were wolves and wolf-dogs, terribly misunderstood and in many quarters, hated, feared and despised. As ancestors of dogs, wolves certainly have many characteristics in common with dogs, physically and psychologically. The Wanagi wolves go for walks on leash, and they know how to sit on command. They will gently take a treat or dog cookie when offered. They have been socialized. A select few sleep in the house at night.

It was so peaceful sitting outside, listening to the gentle rain falling, watching the wolves and getting to know their personalities. Later, as I typed on my laptop, Milagro slept soundly on the couch a couple of feet away. If he awakened and I spoke to him, his tail thumped rapidly.

During the night, I heard the animals howl several times. What a wonderful sound that was. Sometimes the entire pack howled; at other times, only one or two animals could be heard. They undoubtedly sensed something in the area, a pack of coyotes, perhaps. As soon as it started getting light outside, I began to get their breakfast ready. The knowledge that breakfast was on the way really set off a clamor.

The term ‘wolfing down their food’ couldn’t be less accurate. My two domestic dogs inhale their food, while the wolves eat their meals slowly. There was no squabbling over food, either, although I kept a watchful eye to make sure nobody got greedy. The wolves eat a combination of dry and canned dog food, various powders and additives depending on their particular dietary needs, and a variety of other foods, including cheese, steamed vegetables and yogurt. Those animals that need medication take their pills in globs of cream cheese.

I love being in the presence of these magnificent, forgiving creatures. All of them were rescued from lives of starvation, brutality or abandonment. Yet they love people and warmly greet those they have met before. They especially love children. Spending time with these animals is such a treat. I know how very fortunate I am to be able to interact with them and to be welcomed so enthusiastically whenever we meet. Their human mom refers to me and other special friends of the wolves as their 'aunties.' I am honored to have that appellation.

I pray that some day, people will understand the important role wolves play in maintaining a healthy environment. Most of all, I pray that the persecution of their wild brethren will cease, and the wolves will once again be allowed to exist as they did for thousands of years.