At a broken time in my life when no 2-legged therapist was available I got the therapy I needed from a 4-legged therapist: a wolf.
To be precise, 5 young wolves who were 75% wolf, 25% German Shepherd. Their litter resulted from a wolf-dog mating a generation back. One of the offspring was then mated with another full wolf, whose pups ended up in my care. The person who bred them took the parents and deserted the new litter of five pups before they were 8 weeks old. We took them on; they’d been left at the property we moved into. They had no parents anymore. They were very much afraid of everything, huddled in a little heap in an indentation beside the house.
In the days following I learned from neighbors about the lineage of the pups. I became their mother and the Alpha member. Nice combo.
I was somewhat familiar with pure bred wolves, as I knew a few owner/breeders, had mingled with them and a few of the wolves. I’d observed them in isolated compounds. I had read about the differences between domestic dogs and wolves. I already was in awe of them.
For many years I also worked with several animal rescue groups and always had a household of rescued animals to manage and care for. I had been breeding, training and selling various exotic birds like Macaws, Cockatoos, and smaller parrots for years. I had contacts in the world of exotic animal breeders that opened a whole new world of adventure and knowledge to me. I became very good at caring for animals. I simply escalated into more exotic breeds, and wolves were the newest.
Eventually, on the same 80 acre property where we inherited the wolf pups, we built habitats and enclosures for a number of large exotic cats, including tigers, lions, jaguars, and various smaller ones. It was very much like a small zoo. I was licensed by several government bodies who visited at various times. Complying with government regulations ensured I was up to my ears in daily chores. But I learned a lot.
Besides all the animals to care for and train, I also had a large household to manage, with a husband and 2 sons still living at home. My days were long with little time to myself. I was cut off from contact with family and former friends and had little opportunity to forge any new friendships. The people I could talk with were chosen FOR me. The truth of my life was that I was emotionally abused, often afraid of living, surviving on massive doses of Prozac. What kept me from giving up life entirely was concern for my sons and the comfort of the animals in my charge. Lots of them.
The large cats were dangerous but beautiful. Being a long-time cat person I easily bonded with cats. A look, a posture, and I could understand what was going on. To say I bonded with them is actually too simplistic. I felt as one with them. They transferred courage to me to help me survive each day. But I rarely got to spend extended periods of quiet alone time with any of them.
Their preferred diet was fresh meat. I was walking meat.
They cut me a degree of slack, but alone time was not feasible for reasons of safety. I worked more closely with them when my teenage son was home and alongside me. I could safely manage to be alone with one of the Cougars, and with the Servals, but during those times the big cats normally wanted to exercise or play – nothing serious.
As I concentrated on properly raising the wolf pups, I learned even more about them. Very significant was that they behaved as wolves without any hints of domestic dog in them. I firmly mimicked the behavior of a pack leader and others who would have naturally tended them in the wild. I was always mindful of the power they would grow into. I needed to be able to control them as well as socialize them or I’d never be able to find suitable permanent homes for them.
They accepted me as part of their pack – even more, as the leader of the pack. They played with a few of the full-blooded Shepherds that were already in our household, they were gentle with my youngest son, and they were a bit fearful of men in general. But they were coming around. They required lots of attention and heaps of love. I gave them what they needed to the best of my ability.
There was only one female in the litter. I named her Cristal, for her eyes.
This is what she looked like, although the photo is not mine.
Part of how I escaped life as I knew it then was to take long walks after dinner, often late when it was dark. It was a time I used to gather my thoughts, to sort through my hurt and find positives to focus on. I would walk for several miles if I knew I was allowed the time away. Always I walked with my dogs from inside the house. They made me feel safe and on occasion they appeared to listen to my spoken words. That was a comfort of sorts.
Then came the day I allowed the wolf pups – entering young adulthood by then – to accompany us. The long drive leading from the house to the access road was not lit, and the adjoining country roads had no street lighting either. Traffic at that hour was non-existent. Sometimes I had a flashlight beamed directly in front of me, but often the only thing resembling a light on dark moon nights was the eyes of the wolf dogs. Unlike my dogs on leads, the wolf dogs walked alongside without leashes; they were simply following me, their leader. They did not walk close to my side, as the Shepherds did; they walked along the perimeter on either side. They patrolled. I could not always see the outlines of their bodies but knew they were there. If I turned my head in their direction they turned their luminous gaze directly on me. They paid attention. Otherwise they seemed to scan the area. We were always alone out there, but I felt very safe.
Because of the long hours I spent with the wolf dogs, I developed what felt like mental telepathy with them. I felt as if they could communicate back to me as well. I began talking out loud to them in addition to relying on mental transmission. I shared my anguish with them. It seemed they sensed my despair and overwhelming sadness. They began to help me – by listening and by steadfast comfort. I felt no judgement or criticism from them. They knew the real me that was hidden from most people and seemed to accept me. I did not feel so lost and alone when talking with them.
One night one of the wolf dogs, Cristal, left the pack walking along the perimeter and began walking close to my right side. The 2 Shepherds were always on my left side. Cristal kept pace on my right while looking at my face frequently as we communicated. I felt her probing questions that nudged me into further thought. I sensed she approved of the direction she was guiding me into. I felt understood. She got me reflecting instead of just reacting. So yes, I found a few answers or solutions. I could then manage another da
Daily the pack followed me around the compound as I tended to my tasks with all the other animals. But Cristal would often be the one closest to my leg. When I would sit with her and her siblings, we would all nuzzle, accept licks, roll around, and bond with carefree play. Always Cristal would take the time to sit before me and gaze into my eyes. She would communicate that she was there for me in ways the others did not with such directness. In later years I felt sure that Cristal and her siblings saved my life. At the time though, I was just grateful they were there with me and for me.
Years later, many moves later and life changes later, I no longer had my wolf therapists physically with me but never lost the feeling of our connection. I finally managed to save my own life by my own actions. But I wonder if I would have gotten to that point if I’d not had such great therapists when I was in such need.
And then I think, perhaps I would not have.
I wrote this after reading Sandra Sallin’s article, “I was Kissed by Wolves” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sandra-sallin/i-was-kissed-by-wolves_b_4542632.html, which was picked up by the Huffington Post.
The wolves she visited were on a compound in Idaho run by Jim Dutcher and his wife Jamie. The Dutchers were among the wolf experts whose words I read all those years ago. If I recall correctly, Jim even answered a few letters of extra questions I sent him via snail mail. I was just curious at the time. It is likely I would not have known enough to so successfully take over the raising of the pups if it hadn’t been for Jim Dutcher. It then follows I would not have been saved by “wolf therapy”, and who knows how I would have ended?