Among wolves in the world there was Ariel. Ariel was a rescue in San Diego. When I first saw her she was depressed, emaciated and appeared to be a skinny short-haired dog. She had one blue eye and one golden and blue eye, like a marble. She had recently had puppies. I didn’t know her story but she came home with me. She grew into a very furry Siberian husky but she wasn’t a husky. After I’d had her for almost a decade, one of my vets was checking her teeth and saw that she was part wolf, clearly a very small part wolf, but part wolf. He was the vet who worked with the wolf rescue up in the Cuyamaca Mountains outside San Diego.
Ariel — being husky and low content wolf and very likely having lived life on the streets as a stray — was a very strange “dog.”
Ariel was never like the other dogs and the other dogs didn’t like her. Over time she bonded to me with a ridiculous fervor that surpassed “loyal dog.” She was intelligent, independent and fierce. If she got out of my yard in the hood she would not let anyone come down our street. It was her absolute duty to protect me and our “den” from anything that could hurt us, particularly when I was gone to school. After a while she understood she only needed to protect the house, and she would climb the six foot back fence and spend the day on the front porch waiting for me. I got a few notes from the Post Office telling me, “Your dog has blocked the street again. Confine her or we will send animal control.” A friend came over one weekend and we Ariel-proofed the fence.
Then, I came home one evening from school to find she’d killed one of my cats and was guarding it to give it to me when I got home. My other dogs were avoiding a whole side of my house. When she heard me, she howled. I went to the side yard to find her with my dead cat, Ariel’s tail wagging proudly
Hiking with her was incredible. She loved snow even MORE than I do or even Bear does and we would hike, ski, and run for hours in the Friendly Mountains. We had so much fun together. Once we were resting and I was having lunch at a natural spring that lay on a small fault line between the Laguna and Cuyamaca Mountains. It was a popular mountain biking spot. I had my back to a hillside and Ariel was in the spring cooling off. A guy on a mountain bike came to the top of that hill (behind me) saw Ariel and crashed. I stood up so he could see me. He said, “My God, is that a wolf?” By then Ariel had gone up to say “Hi!” to the guy. Among other differences, wolves are likely to be larger than Ariel was. She was 65 pounds.
She died from a rattlesnake bite to the eye. I was eviscerated.
Wolves are canids, but not exactly dogs as we humans experience dogs. A book I had long ago Animal People had a chapter about a man who rescued wolf-dogs and wolves people had “domesticated”. He said, “People look at wolf communities and are impressed at how peaceful and cooperative wolves are with each other. But it’s because every wolf knows that every other wolf carries the equivalent of a 48 magnum between its jaws.” When I read that — long before the evil days of “good guys with guns” — I thought, “That’s true.” When my dogs decided that Ariel was not to be borne, it took two of them to take her down, and even then, they failed. From then on, they just stayed away from her. Living with Ariel was complicated.
When the film Never Cry Wolf came out people wanted wolves which was really insane. Farley Mowat was looking at wolves from the OUTSIDE to find out what they DID, how they lived, how they hunted, what their communities were like. He wasn’t making pets of them or romanticizing them — much. A little? Humans do that.
I kind of get that. As a species we humans “appropriate” things. For years I dreamed of mountain lions and then for more years I tried to see one. In fact, in my life, I’ve seen (outside of zoos) two. One was in a tiny cage in a store in Tijuana. That was when the dreams started. My REAL mountain lion was almost twenty years later hiking with Ariel in the Friendly Mountains. In my mind, mountain lions belong to me. That’s being human. In truth, mountain lions belong to themselves and can be dangerous to be around. That I don’t find them so is irresponsible, naive and romantic. Coyotes as well. I have hiked around and with (??) coyotes so often and for so many years that I became habituated to them as, to some extent, they did with me and my dogs. But that doesn’t make them friendly.
For me the question isn’t whether wolves belong in the landscape, but whether I do. I don’t, which is why I live in town.
So, wolves. Someone yesterday asked about the effect of reintroduced wolves to the west, and I said I’d look for stuff. The best story, of course, is the return of wolves to Yellowstone Park where no one is trying to raise cattle or sheep and nature tourism is the big draw. In reality, no one knew what effect wolves would have on the environment, and it’s been amazing. You can see the story here, an upbeat five minute video I love, from National Geographic:
The story illustrates the complexity of natural systems, something we don’t think about enough, maybe. For a while I was a volunteer at the California Wolf Center in Julian, California. Mostly I wrote articles and press releases and visited the wolves. After Ariel died, I was curious about these animals. They are huge. You think Bear is big? Wolves are bigger. These wolves were habituated to people, most rescued from people who thought they could have a “pet” wolf. Uh, no…
Most important to remember is that yes, there is wolf DNA in most domestic dogs, but the dog breed that’s been found to have the MOST wolf DNA is this one. Apparently, if you find you want a wolf, get a Yorkshire Terrier.
In other news, I was going to post a video of wolves howling. I opened Youtube, found the video, the wolves started howling, I joined because I like to howl, it brings back my huskies and suddenly to my immense surprise, Teddy joined in. I recorded it, but unfortunately I can’t share it. If I figure out how, I will.
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