Cucumber was wilted.
It was different this time. After her two near-death experiences during which she worked her way into becoming a House Wolf, she thrived on her special status. When her status became threatened because another sick animal required special care and occupied our tiny living room, she learned how to manipulate us through pretend near-death experiences. But now she is older—going on her 14th year—and the wilting felt different. As if she were defeated.
The cause of the problem was two-fold. First Firefly, a tiny little black fox-rescue from a fur farm ousted her because she needed intensive care, but we could at least move her out each day so Cucumber could come and visit and be loved—though she was only too well aware of the enraptured attention that the charming Firefly was receiving. But then came a traumatized little coyote pup. Though Jean could, with great care, pet him and play with him, any attempt at “capture” by picking him up or putting him in a carry cage was out of the question if we ever wanted to have a relationship with him. So, he roamed free in the living room until we could build an outdoor enclosure for him. And that was that. Cucumber was relegated to being outside and she didn’t take it well.
If you casually looked at her, you would be tempted to say she was just very old. But if so, it was a sudden aging. She just drooped. She lost weight. She hobbled. She was listless.
We called the vet, Summer, who knew her well inside and out, having done two previous surgeries and helping shepherd her through to health again. Summer could find nothing wrong. She did blood tests. They looked like those of a healthy young wolf.
We didn’t know what to do. It was as if the fight had gone out of her. All those years of being born a runt and being a half-sized wolf in a world of fierce competition—finding a way to dominate wolves much larger than her; leaping off waterfalls when no other wolf dared; working herself into the house and then, when ousted, getting back in through pretend near-death experiences—had sapped her energy. She just couldn’t do it any more.
This time it felt real. She didn’t have as much fight, There was no (well, little) attempt at manipulation. I thought she was in the process of dying. Jean brought her down to meet a retreat group to give her a last chance to shine and communicate, which she was so good at. They looked at the hanging head and drooping tail with concern and pity. She stood there passively as they tried to help her with healing hands and therapeutic touch.
After a month of this, she looked so bad we called Summer in again, asking her to check if there was anything at all we could do. Perhaps her previous intestinal surgeries were causing her trouble? More tests, examinations, x rays. All looked fine.
So, although it was a poor substitute, I had an idea. I started to bring her into the office cabin early every morning before working hours for special hand-prepared breakfast treats and loving from Jean and myself. It wasn’t the house. The ugly coyote had not been ousted and she wasn’t total queen anymore. But at least she rated special, personal attention and connection.
I am happy to report that she is recovering. It hasn’t been instant like during the “near-death” times when she recovered overnight once she was back in the house. She has not bounced back to her full self. Age and many battles do take their toll and it has been different this time. The wilting was real. She had been devastated. But there is light in her eyes once again, and there is a bit of spring in her step when she walks to the office, or sees her arch enemy, my malamute Talkeetna.
It seems we have no more leeway. Regardless of other distractions and responsibilities to other animals, she needs her special attention for the rest of her life, with no further abandonment or disappointments. We will have to be very, very careful of her feelings now. Fortunately, taking care of her is a privilege and delight, and what she gives back is beyond measure.