Shota the German Shepherd
— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —
I learned something: Wolves are not convenient. Dogs are.
So I finally decided to be practical, at least in this one instance. After having wolves, wolf-hybrids, and a malamute (nearest dog to wolf hybrids, who also didn’t listen and ran away every chance she got), I broke down and got a dog-dog, a German Shepherd. People had been telling me for years to get one, but I loved my wild ones. Then, partly for Jean, who was in need of an excellent canine assistant trainer, and partly because I wanted something that might listen and not run away at the first opportunity into a blizzard in the middle of the night and risk being shot (wolf hybrid). Or run away with a leash attached through thigh-deep snow into the deep woods at midnight and get caught on a tree, stuck in some unknown corner of the woods and made available as cougar dinner, while I tracked her by flashlight through drifts and finally found her when I heard a little whimper (malamute)… As I said, in need of something that might not run away at the slightest opportunity, and hoping to ease my ulcers, I broke down.
Suddenly, I had a clue as to what 10,0000 years or so of selective breeding could do. Our ancestors were practical! Our ancestors were geniuses! I now have an animal who not only listens but tunes in, so I barely have to ask for anything. It is magical. I barely have to train him – he seems to intuit what I wanted (the wolves may have intuited, too, but didn’t care), and more to the point, he is willing to do what I want. The wolves, were not. They had lives to live. They loved me. They were responsive. But on their terms, not mine.
I had an enlightened moment – there were reasons we domesticated animals! They are accommodating! They are shaped to human needs!
What all this means, shaping animals to suit ourselves, is another discussion. At the moment I am just in awe of the new ease in my life.
Touched in the deepest part of ourselves
We received a call the other day – might we offer a visit to a lovely elderly woman who was suffering from advanced dementia? She had visited us years before when she was well, and according to her caretaker, she has mentioned numerous times that she wants to go to Earthfire again. Her dementia has really progressed so it is priceless that she can remember that.
The connection with animals is so powerful. It goes so deep, beneath all the everyday worry and busyness, to what is real. To what is important. Beneath all the complex thinking and capacities of our modern brains, back to the essentials of what gives meaning in life. It is one of the gifts animals give us. We need to repay it. Not just to the animals in our immediate lives, which is the easy part, but to all animals, all of whom have that capacity to touch us deeply and thus give us healing, if we are able to attend. We get so easily distracted, so we have to help one another remember what is important, and live our lives and make our decisions from that place. We instinctively know this – it is one of the reasons we are so drawn to them. It is important that we give it the real weight and importance it deserves.
Rooster Duets: To pass peacefully or engage with life to the bitter end?
So we got the new rooster, and put him in with the infirmary hens. They took one look at the rather handsome but small and cocky young male, made themselves skinny, and ran for the hills. We will see if they all adjust or not. Meanwhile, the impact on The Old Rooster was immediate and electric. He stood tall on his aged, gnarled, arthritic feet and crowed. And pretty much has not stopped. His is the deeper crow; the little new rooster has a high, thin call. We are being treated to a nonstop duet, like dueling banjos but a bit less melodic. Neither are paying much attention to the hens. Their attention is riveted by each other.
I don’t know what we will do–for our sanity, for the rooster, and for the hens. Perhaps it was a mistake to get a new rooster before the old one passed away. Would it have been better to leave him to his peaceful existence lying quietly in the sun with his hens? Or re-engage him in life with this new competition? It has certainly woken him up and gotten his blood flowing.
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.