The Weekly Wolf

I spent six years living with the wolves of Mission:Wolf.
Each Monday, this page will feature a new photograph and story of these wolves.

October 25, 2010



Rami was a truly remarkable wolf. She spent her life traveling the country and acting as a gentle ambassador for her species to hundreds of thousands of people. I will always count myself lucky to have known her and to have had the privileged of riding on the wolf bus with her.

Some of my fondest memories from traveling with the Ambassador Wolves are from our exercise runs through the colorful autumn forests of New England. Rami was always so excited to get out into the woods that she’d run anyone over who stood in her way. I don’t think I’ve ever run as fast as when Rami was on the other end of the leash. Whenever we returned to the bus Rami would graciously climb back aboard, but I could always tell she really wanted to just keep running. She loved the attention and spotlight of the school programs, but I think she would have been content to give it all up to keep exploring the countryside (as long as Kent, her beloved human companion, was at her side).

That is why it was a particular blessing when we were able to take a little time out of our hectic schedule to visit other wolf sanctuaries. They always gave us a warm welcome and opened up one of their enclosures for our Ambassador Wolves. Rami loved these adventures… she could explore new territory, meet and show off to new wolves, and run as fast as she wanted, all with Kent right by her side. I took the photo above only a few days before Halloween during such a visit to the Wolf Conservation Center in New York. While we all stood back shivering in the frosty air, Rami raced around the enclosure with a huge smile on her face.

Ever since then, falling leaves, chilly weather and Halloween have reminded me of Rami and the wolf bus. And I’m happy to know that her legacy lives on – Maggie (the current alpha Ambassador Wolf whom Rami raised), her mate Abe, and three new pups are traveling around New England doing public programs right now. In honor of Rami’s memory, this week I'm including a photo of a jack-o-lantern I carved in her likeness.  For more of Rami's life story and for the photograph the pumpkin was based on, please visit the December 2009 Weekly Wolf page.

Rami's Jack-o-Lantern 

October 18, 2010


Polar Bear 

Polar Bear was one of five pups born on April 4th, 1995. His father, Fenris, had received a vasectomy in 1993, so imagine our surprise when the puppies were found. Polar and his sister were an unusual snowy white color that is usually found only in arctic wolves. Even though he was one of the smallest pups, Polar soon grew to be over 100 pounds and one of the tallest wolves at Mission:Wolf. His playful personality and pink nose earned him the nicknames “Po” and “Pinky.”

Polar Bear spent his first year living in a puppy pack that included his sister, Lily, brother Gizmo, and a smaller puppy named Kestrel. Within the first year the pups played and established Lily as the alpha female and Gizmo as the alpha male. In their third year, Kestrel was moved out of the pack, leaving the three siblings together.

Polar was the omega, or lowest ranking member of the pack, for nine years. After being constantly hassled by Lily and Gizmo for so long, Polar decided to stand up for himself. When Lily saw Polar challenge Gizmo, she rushed to Gizmo’s aid. Poor Polar didn’t stand a chance against the two of them, and we were forced to move him a neighboring enclosure. Even though he didn’t win the alpha position from Gizmo, Polar got the last laugh… he now lived in the 12 acre playpen above Gizmo with his very own girlfriend. Polar and Kestrel were ecstatic when they were reunited in the playpen. It was fun to watch tiny, black Kestrel and huge, white Polar running full tilt across the Mission:Wolf ridge together. Running back and forth along the part of his fence that bordered Gizmo’s enclosure, howling, huffing and teasing his old pack mates quickly became Polar’s favorite pastime.

One of the wildest and shyest wolves we’ve known, Polar seemed to enjoy living so far from the hustle and bustle of the lower refuge. He could now look down on all of the human activity and know that he wouldn’t be disturbed too often. To his last days, Polar hid from strangers whenever they came close, but would run down to the fence, squeaking his delight, if an old friend appeared.

Polar remained the “Squeaker” of the refuge up until the very end. He passed away from old age on July 30, 2007, leaving behind a lonely Kestrel and saddened human friends. The refuge will never be the same without Polar bounding and playing at the top of the ridge. We hope that his life served to help teach people that wolves do not belong behind a fence, and that he now gets to enjoy the freedom of which we all dream.

October 11, 2010


Guinness: A Memorial

Guinness always led a momentous life. From the very beginning, his litter was never supposed to exist… Mission:Wolf has always worked hard to keep their wolves from breeding. At first they just separated the males from the females during breeding season. Then, in 1993, two male wolves broke in with the girls… and here came Mission:Wolf first two litters of pups, including a little boy named Fenris. That same year the refuge staff brought in a vet to give all of the males vasectomies so there wouldn’t be any more unexpected pregnancies. Imagine our surprise when little Fenris himself fathered two litters in 1995. Apparently his vasectomy had failed… and Guinness was born, so named because he was such a stout little puppy.

A rambunctious handful from the start, Guinness was one of the most outgoing and bold wolves the staff had ever seen. Even though he only spent a year traveling with the Ambassador Wolves, Guinness met over 100,000 people across 20 states, appeared on the Today Show where he flattened Bryant Gumble on live national television, and generally tried to jump into the lap of everyone he came across. Then, while still a gangly yearling, Guinness decided it was high time he became the alpha male of the traveling pack and evens started challenging the human men in his life.

Back at the refuge Guinness continued to pile on the story-worthy moments and show off his monumental personality. He once chased a staff member out of his enclosure and up a ladder for looking at him the wrong way. He’d rub up against his fence and squeak at women, but stalk men from a distance, trying to hide behind even the tiniest branch if they happened to look over. Even Guinness’ mate, Passion, was an unusually remarkable wolf – she once climbed a 20 ft. pine tree in their enclosure and seemed extremely pleased with herself when we couldn’t find her for hours. Even in his old age, Guinness was ready to take on the world… he led the howling brigade and would have been more than happy to lead the charge against a flight-for-life helicopter when it landed in the refuge driveway, if only he could have gotten through his fence.

Then, on October 5th, I received one of the dreaded phone calls from Mission:Wolf. Guinness had suffered a stoke during the night and quietly passed away that morning. I knew this day was coming – Guinness was 15 years old, twice the age of a wild wolf – and yet some small, irrational part of me always believed he would be the one to keep going, to keep leading a remarkable life just because he could. And yet, his death was a momentous occasion in itself. Guinness’ passing marked the end of an era… he was the last of the 23 pups born at Mission:Wolf in 1993 and 1995. Through the sheer power of his personality and will Guinness outlasted them all. Now, I hope he has once again found his beloved Passion, wherever it is that the spirits of our departed friends gather.

Not only do I want this Weekly Wolf to serve as a memorial for Guinness, but as a loving memory for all of the Mission:Wolf pups who have finally found their way to freedom: Asha, Tierra, Whisper, Fenris, Obediah, Aspen, Rasta, Crazy Horse, Rami, Nyati, Kawh, Merlin, Druid, Beorn, Skinny, Gizmo, Lily, Polar Bear, Mowgli, Porini, Kestrel, Ned and Guinness.

October 4, 2010

White-tailed deer 

White-tailed Deer

In keeping with last month’s promise to feature other species that interact with and support wild wolves, I have decided to focus on the white-tailed deer this week.

White-tailed deer are found throughout North America, Central America, and South America as far south as Peru. They are a medium sized deer, weighing 100-200 lbs and standing 32-40 inches tall at the shoulder. White-tailed deer are most easily distinguished by the entirely white underside of their tail (as opposed to mule deer and black-tailed deer who’s tails have black tips). Male deer, called bucks, grow a new set of antlers each summer and then shed them each winter. However, contrary to popular belief, the number of points (or branching spikes) on a buck’s antlers is not an indication of age but of genetics and nutrition. Bucks use their antlers in displays and ritualized fights during breeding season. Much like wolves, white-tailed deer live in herd with strict hierarchies, where the females (or does) are often dominant.

White-tailed deer are relatively rare in the US west of the Rocky Mountains, and our corner of Northeastern Washington is one of the only places they are found in the state. The buck in this photo and the rest of his herd are frequent visitors to our front yard. I took the photo in late August, just before he rubbed the soft velvet off his antlers. You can also see the very beginnings of his winter coat starting to peak through the short, reddish summer coat. Now, in mid-October, all of the deer in our herd have thick, gray winter coats, this year’s fawns (babies) have lost their spots, and they’ve all grown much more skittish as hunting season has set in. While I miss their presence in the yard, I hope that their wariness will serve them well and they will all make it through the winter.