She was a stunning white wolf of unusual athletic ability—all lightness, grace, and agility. We named her Mariah because she could run like the wind. One day, when she was two years old, Jean and I turned our heads away for a moment. When we turned back, she was lying on the ground with utter panic in her eyes. Her back legs were paralyzed. Paralysis is a horrible death sentence for a wild animal.
We rushed her to the Don, the vet. I drove, and Jean lay in the back of the truck with Mariah, comforting her. Her sides were swelling as we drove, symptoms of colic that kills so many animals. Don immediately inserted a needle in her side to relieve the pressure from the gas causing the colic. Miraculously, it worked. He then conducted numerous tests, but could not determine what had happened.
He had nothing encouraging to say. He could find no reflexes. Mariah would not be able to walk and would have no bowel control. There would be other health problems as well. He suggested we end her life. At best, she could drag herself around, and we would have to diaper her and provide intensive care for the rest of her life. There was no hope of recovery.
But Mariah was so young and had such a zest for life. I couldn’t face her vibrant young life being unlived. Don gave her a large shot of steroids and sent us home with bottles of cortisone and antibiotics. We brought her into our cabin with us. She went into a deep depression, lying still, her eyes dull. It looked like she had given up and was waiting to die.
Jean had to leave for a trip. Mariah and I were left together. I laid her on the bed with me so the mattress could cushion her motionless limbs. I just wanted to be with her, hoping my presence and caring would help her in some way. She wouldn’t eat.
For nine days she lay there, getting thinner and thinner, a white wraith fading away into nothingness. I begged her not to give up. I tempted her with morsel after morsel. I promised her that if she hung in there and lived, I would never give up until she could run with the wind again. I promised to make a special place where she could run free. I pictured it in my mind over and over, trying to get the message across to her: if you live, you will run in green pastures like the wind.
Jean came back after nine days with a baby bear and a German shepherd puppy. Mariah heard the ruckus and perked up. To this day, I have no idea if it was Jean coming back, the excitement of a bear and a puppy in the house, jealousy, or coincidence, but almost immediately, the light returned to her eyes. She was extremely interested in what was going on. We brought her out to the living room and laid her on the floor where she could be part of things. Her first reaction to the shepherd, whom we named Boychuk, was jealousy. Jean watched carefully as she threatened him. She may have been paralyzed, but there was nothing wrong with the reflexes and power of her jaws. Then, in a split second, Jean recognized the signs that she had decided to accept Boychuk. From that moment on, they became lifelong friends. He played so very sweetly with her as she lay on the floor and she responded in kind. It was beautiful to watch.
Two weeks later, I thought I saw a tiny twitch in one of her hind legs, but dismissed it as wishful thinking. Then it happened again. And again! I was beside myself—there was hope! Gradually, some movement came back into her legs. We began holding her back end up while encouraging her to walk. She struggled, but she was courageous and determined and eventually became strong enough to pull herself around with her front legs. Her hips and hind legs dragged behind her.
She developed deep wounds from scraping along the ground, down to glistening white bone on one hip. Nothing we tried to protect that hip would stay on. We bandaged her feet each day to protect them. Every morning, Mariah patiently let me cut off the night’s bandage, now scraped and soiled. I’d let her paws breathe a bit before medicating and re-bandaging them. I chose bright colored bandages—pink, blue, green, and purple. They looked cheerful against her white fur. But the open wound on Mariah’s hip would not heal. She was on prednisone, which suppresses the immune system. I had to irrigate the wound twice a day to try to prevent infection. It was horrible at first, seeing such a wound on an animal I loved and trying to keep it clean, but we both got used to it and settled in to a routine.
We made a special pen for her outside. First we tried grass and then smooth tile for her to drag along without hurting herself. But Mariah didn’t want to stay in her pen. She wanted to run with Boychuk. They played together for hours. Sometimes it got too lively, and we had to slow it down so Mariah wouldn’t injure herself further. It was heartbreaking to have to curb her zest for life, but her wounds and medication made her fragile.
In time, we noticed she was pulling herself forward while trying to get her back legs under her. Then she would flop over until she was ready to try again. Eventually, she taught herself to walk in a kind of lopsided camel walk, moving the legs on her left, lurching forward, and then bringing up both her legs on the right. We kept our promise and gave Mariah “a special place made for her” in the Wildlife Garden. We took her there daily to walk, explore, and grow strong. Eventually she was able to run again. Not like the wind, but run she did.
Because her wounds were slow to heal, Mariah lived in the cabin with us, going out during the day for walks and a stint in her pen outside. Any time we approached her—whether to pet her or to bring her in or out—she would roll over and wave her long white wolf legs in the air and pee all over herself in excitement. Who could resist such a greeting?
Over time, she came back to full wolf life, stealing, shredding, peeing, exploring, high energy. But with the vitality she brought, and the vibrant gleam in those intelligent brown eyes once she got a good reaction from us (not the curtains again!), it was impossible to be mad at her.
She became one of the family, in her opinion and ours. Wolves need family and we became hers. One night, Jean and I returned late after an evening out, a rare occasion. We’d left Mariah outside in her pen. She was beside herself. We had never left her out so late alone. When we pulled up, she was already racing back and forth in her pen, sliding and crashing about. Jean rushed to let her out before she hurt herself. She catapulted out of that pen, did a few astounding fast twirls in the snow, and skidded her way across the porch, crashing into logs, the door jam, tables. She didn’t know what to do with her energy. The legs she had less control over simply went everywhere. She bit Boychuk’s lips in wolf greeting, and for a good twenty minutes went from me to Jean to Boychuk, back and forth. Her pack was back! The intensity lasted all evening until she collapsed in exhaustion on her pillow.
One of the things that stands out for me in Mariah’s story are her grit and determination to heal and the astounding way she drew on all the resources of her athletic body. But the thing that struck me most and reverberates with me to this day, was the intensity of her emotions. How little we think about the interior lives of wild animals! Having Mariah in the cabin with us made an awareness of the intensity of her emotional life unavoidable. She had such a passion to live—exuberant, determined, huge ups and downs, easily devastated, profoundly loving, indomitable.
Here is a video showing how Mariah, aka Piddle Paddle, recovered from paralysis: