Shota the German Shepherd's version of a beautiful trackPhoto by Susan Eirich

— By Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —

In my personal opinion, it is entirely unnecessary extra exercise to have to cross country ski in deep snow with an 81.4 pound white German shepherd attaching himself to the tip of my left ski with great enthusiasm with each stride I take. (For some reason, he prefers the left.)

He, apparently, thinks it is entirely necessary—and that it’s tremendous fun, growling and barking as he attacks the constantly moving target. When he is not attaching himself he pulls out large branches of sagebrush and drops them directly in my path (the only place he drops them). Or racing from behind with one so big that it hits me in the back of my knee.

White German Shepherd Dog biting the tip of a cross-country ski

Shota and the Left Ski | Susan Eirich

However, as I sit in the office, writing, he slams open the door (a trick he taught himself, pushing down the latch and shoving hard at the same time) and stands there, staring me down with such intensity that there is no choice. I give in and go—again… His major focus in life is joy and play, and it is impossible to resist. This joy is one of the many gifts animals bring us in an often too-serious life…

The beautiful single track I artistically make across the new snow is immediately trashed by leaping dog. Ah well.

Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.

The Trust of Tanaka the Wolf

— By Dawn Harrison —

As ranch manager, I do a walk-about every morning to check on and greet all the animals. They are used to it and have their own reactions to my morning visits. The foxes, for the most part, poke their noses out of the warm curl of their tail to see if I have food. When they realize that I don’t have any tasty morsels, they re-tuck their noses, keeping one eye on me to ensure that I haven’t hidden a snack that will be given to someone else. The coyotes eye me warily, just waiting for me to move along. They definitely prefer their own company to mine. Teddy, the porcupine, peeks to see who is there and goes back to sleep when he realizes I’m not his Ann. Better, the bobcat, runs up to the fence to swat out at me, asking for his breakfast, and Tahi, the cougar, crouches down with the little stalking shimmy that only cats can perfect. The wolves’ reactions range from complete indifference (since they know it’s not feeding time) to, well, Tanaka’s response.

No one has favorites here at Earthfire because every creature is so unique in their own way and we all love each and every one of them (and because Susan won’t allow it). That being said, there is always one face waiting excitedly for me to come say good morning. As I approach, he cocks his head down, prances in place, and rubs up against the fence, awaiting my presence. He is Tanaka, a handsome black Timber Wolf, and he is very picky about who he allows into his family. I am blessed and honored to be one of his selections.

Woman petting a timber wolf

Dawn and Tanaka | Earthfire

I enter his kennel while he runs and jumps onto his favorite perch, paw up (waiting to rest it on my shoulder) so that I can scratch under his leg while he gives me kisses. But until yesterday, I had never been offered the belly. Instead of the normal paw up, Tanaka was laying on his back, wiggling with all four feet in the air, hind legs splayed, giving full access to any vulnerable place I could want—belly, throat, ears, paws. When I reached to scratch between his front legs, he hugged my arm, bringing it down and helping me scratch all the right spots. I now feel 100% accepted. I have been trusted with the most vulnerable parts of Tanaka. Sharing that level of trust with such an incredible creature is inspiring and amazing.

Tahi, the Cougar, Plays Ball—She Does NOT Chase Lights

People who know me probably assume I will end up being one of those crazy cat ladies when I’m older. I would argue that I’m already well on my way. So it should be no surprise that I come to work with things like laser lights in my pocket. My Tommy cat at home loves his laser light and crouches to pounce every time my hand goes towards the table where the laser lives. Seeing him play with it made me want to offer the same excitement for Tahi, the cougar. Everyone says that even big cats are still cats, so they MUST like the same things as house cats, right?

Cougar laying on her side

Tahi | Dawn Harrison

When I first flashed the laser in front of Tahi, she was most interested. I moved it around, trying to mimic a small animal that she might like to hunt. For about 30 seconds, she thought this was great fun. That is until she ‘caught’ the light and there was nothing there. At that moment she looked at me like I was evil or stupid—or perhaps both. But either way, she wanted nothing more to do with the laser light, or me for that matter. I guess that’s what I deserve since I had the audacity to assume that a mighty cougar would play with the toy of a mere tabby cat (sorry Tommy).

Tahi is still a cat and she has great fun chasing balls on the ground, swatting at balls on wires, jumping around her platforms, and stalking anything that comes near her enclosure. Yes, she is a playful cat. But never forget that she is a brilliant cougar and she does NOT chase lights!

Dawn Harrison is the Office and Ranch Manager at Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. With a diverse background ranging from accounting and customer service to animal caretaking, her true passion is to help enrich the lives of animals, one being at a time.

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