Hope the Wolf Dog
— Susan Eirich, PhD —
We got the phone call on a Wednesday. There was this wolf-like animal hanging around the yard of the caller. Stephanie lived in a rural subdivision and was worried about his future. She suspected he would eventually be shot if he was left free. He was young, perhaps 5-6 months old, and apparently very lonely. When she was in the house looking out she could see him approach her two little dogs, trying to play with them. Over time he bonded with them. He slept in the bushes near the house. He would bring toys into the yard- a ball he had found, sticks, inviting them to play. She quite fell in love with him.
Eventually she could sit on the porch and he would still hang around, but catching him was another matter. The sheriff came and tried with no success. He was extremely wary. They were also worried that even if they could catch him, where could he go? As skittish as he was, who would adopt him? Someone suggested Earthfire. Often we get calls about wolves or wolf dogs who turn out to be clearly 100% dogs (once we got a call about a dog that resembled a dachshund). We were skeptical, but said we’d come look at him and suggest ways to help trap him.
We met her in town and drove to her place together. It didn’t take long to see him – this was as close to home and family that he had, and he was not leaving the area. As we caught our first glimpse of him Jean and I had the same immediate reaction, and understood Stephanie’s refusal to leave him at risk. We experienced an instant, powerful, urge to protect. He was very wolf-like in body, movement and behavior. But his face! It was the face of an especially sweet German Shepherd. His eyes had the haunted look of an animal who was deeply torn between fear and need; hope and terror, wanting companionship intensely but afraid to approach. There stood in front of us a being caught between two worlds, wild and human. A being who through no fault of his own had inherited two dispositions: wolf and dog. A being driven to fear humans but driven to approach and love them.
The common thread between all these, that spoke clearly, powerfully, unforgettably, across the species barrier was the desperate need for connection and belonging. It was heart wrenching and poignant, watching him invite the dogs to play and succeeding to some degree; a sort of half family. As he stood there, stock still, looking at us, we could feel it. . . he so wanted to connect to humans, but his wild side wouldn’t let him. Confused, conflicted, not just pulled but pulled strongly, in two different directions. Jean and I looked at one another and came to an immediate unspoken consensus. We could not let this sweet and tormented animal be shot.
After much consultation we figured out a way to trap him with as little trauma as possible. After the sheriff debacle Stephanie had the foresight to feed him in a large open Have-a-Heart trap. He went in easily. With his little dog friend next to him in the van, he took the whole thing with surprising calm.
He now resides at Earthfire next to Nightstar, a rambunctious, vibrant, outgoing wolf puppy completely comfortable with humans (positively enjoying them, as a matter of fact). His first reaction to her was fear. After a few days, tentative curiosity. Smaller and younger than he, she overwhelmed him with her joyous fearless vitality and he growled and cowered. But when wolf pups set out to win over a pack member, they don’t give up. She intensely demanded; submitted; cajoled; adored, charmed and invited, absolutely irresistibly. After a few encounters he succumbed completely.
She is now his connection to the world. When we take her out for play time he howls desperately, an emotional mess, as if she is lost forever. Rejoices over the top when she comes back. He watches intently as we play with her and sees she is not afraid. When we let them in together, Jean will enter the enclosure and using Nightstar as an intermediary, play with her as she plays with him, licking and pawing his muzzle, leaping and twirling. Jean cannot touch him directly but indirectly, through the medium of a joyous wolf, he is making inroads. A wolf is helping a “dog” connect with humans.
The story has yet to be written. We named him Hope. He is still very afraid of us. But the other day I came home and found Jean lying in the grass next to his enclosure, just lying there, asking nothing, just being. The wolf pup didn’t give up on him. Neither will we.