The Loop comes full circle
By Susan Chesnut
It has taken literally weeks to write this “Loop,” and it is truly, my last. My last wolf is gone and with him ends “The Loop.” In my very first column I explained the titles’ connection to the Native American Medicine Wheel; the loop; the symbol for the wheel of life which is forever evolving. My column would cover the happenings “in the loop” of my particular wheel of life. I’ve long studied Native American customs and ideology. And like so many other things, it all began because of my wolves.
I acquired my first wolf hybrid, Selene, or “Wolfy” as everyone called her, in 1993, just before Nick and I married. Something about this incredibly intelligent half German Shepherd, half Silvertip wolf drew me into the world of these animals at a time when they had become popular as “pets” and I use that term loosely. I’ve studied everything I could get my hands on regarding wolves and man’s history with them. Living on a cattle ranch was a bit contrary to my cause, but I continued to raise, rehabilitate and rescue those already in need of a home when I could. That’s how I got Jake.
Little Jake was the last cub in the litter to find a home. I think it was because he was like a “crop out paint” in that he didn’t color out as expected. Instead of looking like the Canadian Grey Timber Wolf that he was, Jakey was solid black, with a fawn mask and fawn legs. He would be my 13th wolf. He grew up beautifully, tutored by Wolfy for a little over a year before I lost her to spine cancer. He went everywhere with me when we lived in Texas, and it wasn’t unusual for him to spend the day with me when I worked in the Texan’s office. By the time Jake came along, I had learned so much about wolves that I could read their every expression, and action. Any animal will talk to you or tell you things if you simply pay attention to them, especially a dog. Multiply that times 10,000 for a wolf.
Jake quickly made up to Susan Clay, which was unusual for him. He was a very typical wolf - timid.Once he was with me and Susan in the Texan office when a gentleman stopped by on business. Jake, who had been sleeping, suddenly raised his head and began to study the man. As Susan spoke to the man, Jake became more agitated, and I began to study him. He didn’t like the fact that the man stood over Susan while she sat lower in a chair. From time to time he would lean over toward her and so did Jake. Those golden eyes of his were very intent, and I could hear a low and constant rumble in his chest. These are the normal and systematic warning signals. There was something about the man that Jake did not trust or like. When he asked, I told him about Jake and he reached out to pet him. Jake pulled back and began popping his jaws. Huge red light! The only step left would be a warning roar before, well, something else. Luckily it was enough for the gentleman too, and he left. Jake repeated this protective behavior toward Susan Clay, and I know she looked upon him as her wolf too.
Jake only acted out his inherent aggression twice. The first time was when our granddaughter, Luca Bella was about three. Nick had an Australian Shepherd pup and it kept jumping up on Luca’s leg, scratching her. She was standing in our living room with Jake beside her and the pup in front. I was about 10 feet away at the kitchen sink. I heard her say, “No, No, puppy!” loud and then whine as he scratched her again. I put down the towel intending to put the pup outside when suddenly I heard the puppy scream. I whipped around and started toward them. Luca still stood there with Jake next to her. But Jake wore an expression that said, “Hey, she said, ‘NO!’” The puppy had a hole through the top of its head and the bottom of its jaw where Jake had clamped his jaws onto it. Like all wolves, Jake loved children and considered them part of his pack. The puppy recovered, but never jumped up on the kids again.
Jake turned nine last August. That’s pretty old for a wolf. But he still had some steam left. We rarely let Jake off lead unless I was with him on our property; otherwise, he would raise his nose to the wind and quickly disappear. About three months ago he was loose as I did the morning chores. Nick has another Aussie now, and it suddenly took off into the pasture across from us to chase birds. In the blink of an eye, Jake was gone too. Did I mention it was 18 degrees? I have written about this already, so I will just report that the outcome was one three-legged coyote and one very tired old wolf. But once he recovered, if anything, this seemed to invigorate Jake, and he was more playful than he had been in years. I thought he’d live forever.
Jake went downhill very quickly. He developed severe kidney disease, and it progressed so quickly that we couldn’t catch up to it. He wasted away in front of me. I kept him in the house those last few days, trying to force him to eat something and longing to hear him howl again. That howling was beautiful. Of course he did it on his own, like clockwork in the early evenings, but you could also coax it out of him. I once gave Susan a photograph I had taken of Jake and Selene howling together, jaws touching. Howling was their way of singing. It obviously made them happy. I swear they smiled afterwards.
Jake did howl for me one last time when I had stayed outside too long one morning. When I came inside he pawed the floor weakly and howled low, as if to scold me, but it quickly became a song. I know he tried to smile too.
In the space of two weeks Jake lost over 25 pounds and ceased to be that overstuffed, imposing animal I knew. I decided to put him down before he lost his nobility, and that’s what I did. It was horrible, even though I thought I had prepared myself for it. I had stayed up all night previous to that, talking to him about it, stroking his skeleton of a body and cradling his bony skull, his amber eyes now sunken and weak. It brought to mind a science fiction short story that I read as a teenager and will never forget: The Automatic Tiger by Kit Reed. I heartily recommend it.
When it was over, I insisted on carrying him back to my truck, his head against my shoulder just like when he was a cubby. He weighed nothing. Later, I placed his body in the grave out in front of our home. I am still saying “goodbye.” We will plant a tree there soon.
So my last wolf is gone. I will not get another. He was never a pet – none of mine were. I was simply lucky enough to share their lives. This “Loop” of my life is over. Now another one will form and start to circle. As sad as it is, and I cannot express the depth of grief Jake’s death has brought, I learned as much about myself as I did these wolves. I have always found it interesting, and even fitting, that in Native American Medicine, the wolf is the teacher.
Thus endeth the lesson.