CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Recently, we buried our beloved wolf on a bluff at our cabin overlooking the Potomac. We trust he is running free on the tundra, a noble creature that never should have been confined.
I abhor the hatred, vitriol and "ad hominem,, pejorative derision that accompany the polarization, chaos and intolerance plaguing contemporary U.S. society. Living over a decade with Nietzsche, our wolf, offers insight.
He never wanted us, nor, did we want him. Abandoned as a young pup at an animal shelter by a dolt who thought a wolf would make a good watchdog, he was to be euthanized. He could not be offered for adoption since rabies vaccine efficacy had not been adequately studied in wolves.
Bred by humans in captivity, environmentally, he never ran free or enjoyed the social order of a pack. Yet, he was intensely and innately distrustful and fearful of humans, seeking the most distant corner in which to cower. He was physically beautiful and the vet estimated genetically he was 95 percent wolf. We did not believe he deserved to die and took him home where we planned to construct a large fenced run.
Socially, home consisted of my wife and me, my wife's daughter who often visited and an aging cocker spaniel. As his run was being constructed, it was obvious he did not want to be "trapped" in a house or garage, hiding behind an old couch in the basement. My wife was the only family member who could get near him and coax him to eat.
With time we believed we could build trust and have the big dog we always wanted to sit beside us in my truck and lay on the floor or deck at our feet as we watched the sunset or TV. It never happened. It became clear that if the wolf was going to survive, it would have to occur with mutual respect and accommodation for his social order, not ours. We were never going to train him. Survival demanded he adopt us within the paradigm of the social order of a wolf pack.
He never strayed from that social order until his death a dozen years later. He would tolerate and even enjoy a few of the practices and foibles of humans and domesticated pets, but never compromised on core wolf social values. Never a part of a wolf pack socially, we wondered how these behaviors became "hard wired," since Lamarckian genetics had been scientifically disproved years ago.
I was designated the "alpha-male" of the pack. He would move away and drop his head when I approached and not eat when I fed him until I was out of eyesight. He would also spend several minutes checking around his food dish to assure there were no traps and he was not going to get swatted by the alpha male. He would accept food out of hand from his mother (my wife) and sister (her daughter). My wife enjoyed frequent hugs and kisses.
If he was allowed into the house, he would not move from the same spot where he could view all commerce if I were present. If only his mother was present, he would follow her around and observe what she was doing. If his sister babysat him, he felt he had the run of the house, including jumping on beds.
His run was his domain and no animal, wild or domestic, survived if they somehow managed to slip or burrow into it. The exceptions were the "pack member" cocker spaniel and a young pup we took care of for a short time. In the domain of the vet's office he was completely docile and hospitable, personally greeting each cat and dog waiting to be seen.
One of our favorite stories of "missed" wolf-human communication involves a hunt episode. He had escaped from his run and headed for a pasture nearby where a horse, mule and pony were present. As we ran to retrieve him he decided the pack was on a hunt and began nipping at the back legs of the mule and horse in order to turn them aside and turn the pony (dinner) toward us. The scenario was repeated many times as we tried to get near him to grab his collar. Finally, as if to say you two are the worst hunters I have ever seen, he just sat down exasperated and let my wife put on his leash and head home.
In his run or the truck, we observed him exchange "whine" words with other large canines and a black bear. His talk enraged them but he paid no heed to a group of deer that bedded down near his run. We never figured out why. He was headstrong, and when my wife walked him it was usually a struggle as to pace and direction.