The Weekly Wolf
I spent six years living with the wolves of
Each Monday, this page will feature a new photograph and story of these wolves.
November 29, 2010
Named for the infamous founder of the Luddites, Ned Ludd was a handsome, gentle male wolf with a tawny coat and kind amber eyes. He was what people envision a wolf to look like - with his big head, huge paws, long legs, and thick coat. Usually shy around visitors, Ned was always devoted and affectionate with the few people he trusted.
As a youngster, Ned was raised by an adult female wolf named Granny Raven along with his brother Mowgli and another male pup named Druid. As the boys matured, confident Mowgli took over the alpha male position in the pack, while meek Ned became the beta and gregarious Druid became the omega. The four wolves lived in relative harmony for years, impressing visitors with their close-knit family structure. However, when Granny Raven passed away in 2000, the boys were thrown into turmoil. Mowgli managed to keep his alpha status, but Ned and Druid weren’t quite as content with their roles. During the winter of 2003, Ned and Druid ganged up against Mowgli and challenged him for leadership. Had they been in the wild, Ned and Druid would have dispersed from the pack and avoided any conflict with Mowgli. But because they were in a fence, Ned and Druid were forced to confront Mowgli head-on. They came out victorious, forcing Mowgli to move into a neighboring enclosure by himself.
With Mowgli out of the way, Ned came into his own. He established himself as the alpha male of his small pack – ruling Druid and a new female named Katimik with a light touch. We had introduced Katimik to the pack in hopes that she would become Ned’s mate, but Katimik had other ideas. She ignored Ned from the start, choosing instead to flirt with Druid. Thankfully Ned didn’t seem to mind too much, as he only had eyes for Maggie, one of his neighbors and Mission:Wolf’s Ambassador. Since Maggie spent part of each year traveling and we knew Ned would never be happy on the wolf bus he was left to watch her from afar. In place of a lupine mate Ned turned to the refuge’s female staff. Whenever I walked up the path to his enclosure Ned would run over and start squeaking at me. We spent many mornings sitting together, on opposite sides of the fence, watching the sun rise and the rest of the refuge wake. When I finally had to get up to check on the other wolves, Ned would puff his chest out, strut over to Mowgli’s fence and show off to his former rival.
As the years passed and Ned turned ten, he seemed to slow down. In 2005 he was diagnosed with sinus cancer. After minor surgery and many x-rays, most of our veterinarians said there was nothing else to be done and that Ned wouldn’t last the year. We started adding homeopathic treatments and specific vitamins to his food to help battle the cancer and correct nutritional deficiencies. Within a year Ned’s cancer went into remission and the spark in his eye returned.
During Ned’s bout with cancer, Druid picked up on his weakness and began challenging Ned for the alpha spot. After spending nearly 12 years as a close team, Ned and Druid had to be separated. Druid was ecstatic to finally be the alpha male of his own enclosure, but it was apparent to all of us that the two boys missed each other. They could often be found sleeping close together, with only the fence gate between them. I had always hoped to see Ned reunited with Druid, but his advancing age got in the way. We knew that, if put back together, they would have to work out who was in charge for themselves. While minor arguments and skirmishes are relatively common between captive wolves, we worried that an injury to Ned might prove too much for his geriatric body.
I left Mission:Wolf for two years, following opportunities of my own, but Neddy Bear was never far from my mind. I dreaded the days when I’d get a phone call from the refuge to tell me that another of the wolves had passed away from old age. Thankfully I returned to Mission:Wolf in the summer of 2008 to find my dear friend Ned still stalking Mowgli through the fence. His face was grayer, his legs were stiffer, and his howl came out as more of a whistle, but Ned’s spirit was as strong as ever. When I’d walk up the hill to say good morning I’d have to call to him and wait for Ned to wake up and slowly climb up to me, but he’d still always come with a smile on his face.
At the end of the summer, when it was time for me to return to my other life, I knew I would probably never see my Ned again. Fighting off the cancer years before had sapped his reserves… Ned’s body was fading, even if his spirit wasn’t. That last morning we spent together will always stay with me. As I sat there he slowly walked up and pressed his forehead into the fence, asking for a massage. We spent fifteen minutes together before Ned spotted Mowgli through the trees and he stalked over to show off. While Ned was distracted I slipped away, walking down to my car with tears in my eyes. Two months later I got the call – Neddy Bear had passed away. I will always miss him, but I hope that wherever he is now, he has found freedom and a girl to call his own.
November 24, 2010
Gandalf: A Memorial
To most of the world, Gandalf was a shy, fearful, odd-looking dog. To those of us whom he trusted, Gandy was a loving, goofy, happy-go-lucky friend. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him… he and his sister, Nali, were tangled together on chains in a trailer park in Denver. Their owner had called Mission:Wolf looking for help, and I went to investigate. From the very beginning, I could tell that they wouldn’t exactly fit in with the wolves back at the refuge (they were obviously shepherd / collie crosses, not wolves), but I couldn’t leave them there to be euthanized by the city. So, I loaded them into my truck and headed down the road.
The first night we spent together was quite the ordeal. They were way to big for the puppy carriers I’d brought for them (they were probably 6-7 months old), so they kept climbing all over the truck cab and howling their heads off while I was driving. We made such slow progress that I decided to spend the night in a campground and return to the refuge the next day. The real challenge here was that both Gandy and Nali were terrified of me, and everything else in the world. Through much coaxing I managed to get collars and leashes on them, convinced them to crawl out of the truck, and go for a long walk around the empty campground. Once it got dark and they started to relax a little, it was time to get them into the back of the truck for the night… it turned out that this was much easier said than done. After half an hour of frantic howling, barking, and scrambling around, we were all safely ensconced in the back of the truck with the topper door locked tight. I crawled into my sleeping bag and hoped that the pups would calm down. Two hours later they were both still pacing back and forth over my legs, looking for an escape. Just when I thought the case was hopeless and that I’d go crazy from the pacing, Gandy laid down on my feet. Soon after, Nali curled up in a ball in the far corner, staying as far away from me as possible.
I woke in the morning to a cold nose pressed into my neck and realized I couldn’t move. Nali had moved over to sleep on my legs, and Gandy was sprawled across my stomach and chest with his head snuggled up against mine. Sometime during the night they had opened their hearts and decided to trust me. From that moment on, I had a special bond with those two. Years later, when they were ready to leave Mission:Wolf and start their lives as pets, it killed me that I wasn’t in a position to give them a home. Thankfully Nali was adopted by a family in Aspen, CO. Dave, a wonderful friend of Mission:Wolf, took Gandy home with him, to live and play with his two other dogs, Cold Bear and Abbey.
Over the years Dave kept in touch and let us know what Gandy was up to. I loved hearing about his exploits and it sounded like he was having fun with his family. I’ve always missed him – his infectious smile, soulful eyes, and boundless energy – but I have also always been grateful that he found a happy home. Then, a couple of months ago, Gandy was diagnosed with bone cancer. We all knew it was only a matter of time before he slipped away. So, Dave moved to Mission:Wolf, to help bring Gandy full circle and give him access to the best available care. Gandy’s last weeks were spent happily soaking up attention in the staff kitchen and playing with Kona, the refuge’s resident husky. Sadly, despite everyone’s best efforts, the cancer kept spreading and Gandy was put to sleep on November 23. This week’s Weekly Wolf is late because I couldn’t figure out where or how to start writing about what he meant to me. I know he will live on in my heart, where he hollowed out a little place for himself on our first morning spent snuggled up together in the back of my truck.
November 15, 2010
Raven was born on a Wisconsin dairy farm in 1987. Her breeder sold pure wolf pups and wolf-dog crosses known as “wolf-a-weilers” (half wolf and half Rottweiler dog) as pets. Thankfully, Raven’s litter was raised by a caring neighbor who didn’t want to see these wild pups become house pets. She ultimately helped place Raven, her sister Jordan, and her brother Lucus at Mission:Wolf.
When only 7 weeks old, Raven and her siblings were adopted by the refuge’s largest pack – nicknamed the “Action Pack” – and raised by the alpha female named Cyndar. Raven spent her first year at Mission:Wolf as the pack’s omega female. However, as she and Jordan matured, the two worked together to climb the social ladder. At the age of three, Raven and Jordan successfully challenged Cyndar for leadership and ousted her from the pack. Here the sisters’ partnership dissolved and they spend the next six months arguing over who would be the next alpha female. In the end the physical wounds were minor, but the emotional toll the rivalry took on Jordan ultimately places her at the bottom of the pack while Raven became the uncontested alpha.
Instead of choosing the pack’s alpha male as her mate, Raven spent years flirting and courting with the beta male, Nikkolah. In the early years at Mission:Wolf, the males were always separated from the females during breeding season to prevent more pups from being born into captivity. However, after a few years of this, Nikkolah took matters into his own hands. He managed to open a hole in the division fence and climbed in with the females while no one was looking. Later that spring, Raven became the proud mother of six puppies: Rami, Nyati, Rasta, Aspen, Obediah and Crazy Horse.
Three years later, Raven’s smallest and shyest daughter, Nyati, grew tired of being the omega and challenged her mother. Nyati won the contest and became the new alpha female, and Raven had to find a new enclosure to call home. Raven’s separation from Nikkolah and the rest of her pack-mates was very difficult for her. At first, she seemed unhappy, perhaps depressed or psychologically wounded after being cast out of the pack. We worried that even if Raven recovered from her physical wounds, she may succumb to despair.
Soon thereafter, Raven was given three male wolf pups (Mowgli, Ned and Druid) to raise, in the hopes that they would lift her spirits. Thankfully, Raven was so preoccupied by her new family that her mourning disappeared and was replaced with headstrong domination of her new pack mates. For the next five years, Raven went from being an affectionate mom, to a grumpy granny as the boys went through puberty. Finally, she once again became a dignified alpha with three hansom males to boss around.
I didn’t meet Raven until 1999, when she had turned silver with age and had earned the nickname Granny Raven. Even in her twilight years Raven was an imposing wolf, keeping Mowgli, Ned and Druid in line with ease. This is the only picture I ever got of her – pausing by the fence for a moment to listen to Nikkolah howl from the other side of the refuge. She passed away in August 2000, leaving a hole in the hearts of everyone who knew her. I will always be thankful that I got to spend some time with her, even if it was only a couple of months.
November 8, 2010
Mera was a female gray wolf who was born in 1986, in the back yard of a private home near Denver, CO. Her story begins with that of her parents... Mera's parents were born at a roadside zoo in a circus cage and sold as "family pets" to people living in a high-rise apartment in downtown Denver. There they lived for a few months before the owners decided they were too destructive, after the stressed wolves chewed through an entire wall. Four years and four owners later, they were two very neurotic wolves trapped in a cage, trusting no one. And then came the pups. Thankfully Mission:Wolf was able to rescue Mera when she was only 13 days old, but the rest of her litter was sold as pets from a classified ad.
Even though Mera grew up at the refuge and was never abused or neglected, she remained shy and withdrawn from humans. For the first seven years of her life, Mera lived in a large, private enclosure with limited exposure to people. Over time we offered her several canine companions. She played with some, beat others up, and basically seemed discontent with our choices. However, in 1994, Mera met Ballazar, a large movie star gray wolf, for the first time and her life changed forever.
When they first met, Ballazar was extremely depressed at loosing his old pack and showed a lot of aggression toward Mera. However, when mating season started that winter, Ballazar started happily wagging his tail at Mera. They soon became the flirts of the refuge. For the rest of their lives Mera and Ballazar were inseparable. And with Ballazar by her side, the extremely shy Mera started to come out of her shell and would occasionally walk up to the fence to sniff a visitor or receive attention from the staff.
Then, after seven years of contentment, Mera woke up one morning to find herself alone. During the morning walk-around, where staff members check on all of the wolves, we had found Ballazar paralyzed and unable to stand. He was rushed to the vet in Colorado Springs, but he passed away on the operating table of heart failure. We will never really know what happened to poor Ballazar, but we suspect that he was accidentally fed a piece of meat that contained euthanasia drugs (Mission:Wolf accepts donations of dead local livestock to feed to the wolves, but does not knowingly accept animals that have been drugged for this reason).
After the death of her beloved mate, Mera slowly went downhill and seemed to lose the spark in her eyes. She started losing her hearing and slept so soundly that I had to search the whole enclosure and clap my hands as loudly as I could just to find her on the walk-around each morning. Then, five months after losing Ballazar, Mera closed her eyes for the last time and quietly passed away on the evening of August 26, 2001. I will never forget her kind face, sweet disposition, and devotion to Ballazar.
November 1, 2010
Arctic foxes live along side gray wolves in the extreme northern reaches of their range – including the open tundra of Greenland, Russia, Canada, Alaska, Svalbard, Iceland and Scandinavia. Well adapted to the harsh temperatures of the arctic (up to -58 F), the foxes have short muzzles, small ears, furry feet and the warmest coat of any mammal. These compact foxes rely primarily on lemmings, arctic hares and bird eggs for sustenance, so very rarely compete with wolves for food. In fact, the presence of wolves can often benefit arctic fox populations by providing carrion and by keeping the larger red fox in check.
Despite their small stature, the arctic fox is one of the hardiest, most resourceful and fierce creatures found anywhere. They have been known to follow polar bears across the pack ice to scavenge leftovers from the bears’ kills, and workers on Alaska’s North Slope are just as wary around arctic foxes as they are around the bears. When pressed for food, Arctic foxes have even been known to take on and kill ringed seal pups and raid vegetable gardens.
I took this particular picture at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, WA last February. He stuck his head out from under the raised boardwalk to peer curiously at me for a minute before he ducked back into the dark. I’ve been trying to get a decent picture of him for years, but he is always so busy and quick and this is the first time I’ve ever gotten a good shot. When I went back a couple of weeks later, his snowy-white coat was already changing to the light brown color all arctic foxes wear for camouflage in the summer.