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Living with Wolves


Wolves Always Choose The Path Of Least Resistance...


LivingWithWolves
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This apparent savagery is a normal part of the gray wolf's vocabulary; pack mates snarl and tussle frequently, but no blood is drawn. Len McDougall photos

April 01, 2011
Luminous numbers on my bedside clock told me that it was just four a.m. when I awoke to the frantic barking of sled dogs from their chain-link kennels next to the house. Like any parent, I could differentiate between the voices of my huskies, and it was clear that Cuda, our largest and strongest "wheel" dog, was sounding most urgent. His was the only one of our ten 10'x10' kennels that opened to the outside, and because obedient Cuda never wandered beyond the boundaries we'd taught him, or got into mischief, his gate was sometimes left open at night.

Rubbing my scratchy eyes and feeling around in the darkness for slippers with my feet, I grabbed one of the several bright LED flashlights we keep at strategic points between cabin and barn. Cuda's bark was shrill, almost panicked, as I threw on a jacket and headed out into the snowy night.

When I reached his kennel, Cuda was inside, backed against the rear fence panel, a look of authentic terror in his rolled-back eyes. I swept the flashlight's beam through the woods in the direction the dog was trying to back away from, and stopped it on an adult gray wolf, standing atop the hardpack about twenty-five yards distant. The wolf was a young adult, judging from the contrasts of its mask and saddle markings, probably three or four years old, wandering alone while the Alphas - its father and mother - were off establishing a den site for their newest litter of offspring. From December through March, it wasn't uncommon to see lone wolves wandering the pack ice of Whitefish Bay, hunting squirrels, especially, that could be maneuvered onto the open ice, where a wolf has the advantage.

The young, apparently male, wolf was fixated on poor Cuda, its head lowered, hackles raised, and lips curled back from impressive canines. It seemed not to notice me or my light in the heat of this testosterone-filled challenge for territory. Fortunately, eighty-five pound Cuda was nearly the size of his challenger, which probably explained why there hadn't been bloodshed yet.

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Still, the dog seemed to recognize that this wouldn't be a contest merely for social status, and he appeared to realize that a physical conflict here would be equivalent to pitting a street brawler against a professional killer. Cuda had never brought down anything larger than a red squirrel, while the fact that this wolf stood before me was confirmation enough that it was proficient at taking lives to feed itself.

I stepped between wolf and dog, and shined my light directly into the lobo's eyes. That got its attention, finally. But the wolf didn't regard a confrontation with me in the same way it had my dog; it held its position for a brief moment, but when I began walking heavily in its direction, it fled into the woods before I took three steps. I spent a few minutes comforting my scared dog, then latched his gate, and it has been latched every night since; at least until this wolf's pack regroups in early May and moves on.

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