A December of Goodbyes

Bicho
April 6, 2012 – December 21, 2018

On the morning of December 21, staff members Kimber and Caity found Bicho lying in the Turtle Lake Enclosure during morning rounds. There were no wounds or signs of struggle. Fiona and Kanti sniffed and licked him, as if trying to wake him up. Kimber and Caity went to see if they could give Bicho first aid, but he was gone.

Bicho was born with a heart condition. He was operated upon as a puppy to extend and improve his quality of life. The surgeons told us they could not give him a completely normal heart valve but they were able to give him a greatly improved one. They said he had a “reasonable” chance at a normal life span. They defined that as “about ten years.” Although we were dreadfully shocked, and mourn the loss of our big silly goofball, a quick death is not necessarily a bad one.

Looking back over Bicho’s life, there are so many heart-warming episodes to recall. As a very young pup, he had the heart surgery that bought him years of life. Board member Ed Franklin paid for his heart surgery (and cataract surgery for both him and Kanti). To prepare for surgery he got a lot of training about being in a room with human family but without his litter mates, going for walks on leash, and riding in a car. As a result, when he arrived at Purdue for surgery, he had to be conscious but lightly sedated for a final check before the operation, and the medical team said he behaved better than a lot of dogs. Until his surgery, Bicho had been, compared to his littermates, a quiet, sweet pup. One of his nicknames was “Angel Puppy.” Was his angelic demeanor due to his heart valve problem? Was he just not able to sustain the physical effort of being rambunctious and mischievous? That did indeed seem to be the case. Before Bicho’s surgery, he and Kanti, were been quite close. Possibly Kanti, who entered this world from his mother’s womb fussing and fretting, liked having a sibling who was quiet. After Bicho’s surgery Kanti discovered that “Angel Puppy,” was not Bicho’s permanent default setting, and they had to renegotiate their relationship when Bicho had more energy and stamina. They were still close, but Bicho was less quick to “cry Uncle” and sometimes won their wrestling bouts.

He was smart and learned quickly, despite juvenile cataracts, which left in blind for a few months until he could have corrective surgery. After which, he was very far sighted. Bicho and Kanti stayed very close as their eyesight dimmed. They might squabble, and Kanti was always loud, assertive, and stayed wound up once his temper was roused.  But even after a squabble the two brothers did not like being separated, and they sought each other for contact comfort afterwards. The two of them often stood pressing their hips or their whole sides together.

Touching was extremely important to Bicho and Kanti. Touching could be used to play “Can you feel it when I do….THIS?” Once, Kanti was lying down enjoying a belly rub. Bicho came over and stood on Kanti’s belly. “Bicho, did you have to stand there?” Wolf curator Pat asked, exasperated. Staff member Brian replied on Bicho’s behalf “Yes, yes, I do, because everywhere else is molten lava.” He described the childhood game in which children climb on furniture to avoid touching the floor because it is made of lave. In Bicho and Kanti’s version of the game, the goal seemed to be to elicit a response by standing or sitting on their brother, rather than, as with human kids, specifically avoiding contact with the ground.  Although, in each species it was not uncommon for the game to morph into a wrestling match.

Before surgery, they got to go for an impromptu ride in a row boat. The video of the ride shows that if Bicho or Kanti showed interest in acquiring an oar, all Dana had to do was lift the oar over her head and this effectively made it disappear. After Bicho and Kanti had their eye surgery, this simple trick no longer worked. The world was suddenly full of things that they could see and absolutely had to have. Things like Pat’s purple gloves and her to-do list, the margin of which peeked coyly out of her back pocket. She kept her gloves but one brother engaged her attention in front while the other brother dexterously picked her pocket from behind. They had great fun tearing that list between them.

Bicho took part in canine cognition and social responsiveness studies. In one study a familiar handler had to be in the enclosure with the Threebies, but, after some interaction, switched to ignoring the wolves. The familiar handler was Dana. Bicho and Kanti got increasingly agitated at being ignored, and Bicho finally would have none of it. Dana was wearing a jacket with a belt. Bicho grabbed the belt and began yanking Dana around: “You Will Not Ignore Me!!! It Is NOT Allowed!!!” He also perfected the “Muppet Flail” maneuver, also known as “Vertical Trampling,” incorporating it into greeting people.

This November the Threebies got a giant cupcake piñata in celebration of Wolfenoot. Videographer Tom O’Dowd suspended a video camera above the cupcake piñata. From this vantage, the viewer sees Bicho leaping repeatedly for the “cupcake”. Fiona and Kanti lost interest quickly, but Bicho was determined to get it. Kanti moved in close to watch his brother, and in the course of his repeated leaps Bicho once nearly landed on Kanti. Instead of responding aggressively, Kanti calmly moved back and gave Bicho space to continue with his leaps. After several unsuccessful grabs, Bicho sank his teeth into the piñata and bore it to ground. Kanti decided the show was over and let Bicho carry his booty off.

Bicho was the grandson of Chetan, the Zen Master of Obnoxious Submission. Bicho mastered obnoxious submission too, but used a different style. He still got his way, but it often involved lighting Kanti’s fuse and watching him go off like a firework! Bicho was smart, goofy, affectionate, mischievous, and like his great grandfather, Socrates, and Frank Sinatra, it could be truly said of him, that when it came to how he lived his life, “I did it my waaaay.”

Wolfgang
April 15, 2005 – December 28, 2018

Wolfgang was born in 2005 as part of a litter of six. He and his brother, Wotan, were chosen to stay at Wolf Park. The two were very close. They worked together to gain rank in the pack, guard their prospective mates, and eventually drive Tristan, the dominant male out of the pack. Wolfgang emerged as the new dominant male, a position he held for the rest of his life.

In his prime, Wolfgang was one of our fastest wolves.  He helped calibrate smart collars that have since been used to help determine “energy budgets” for wolves in Denali National Park.  As part of the calibration we enticed him to run at or near his top speed along the straight away of our main enclosure.  To do this photographer Monty Sloan egged Wolfgang on to chase his car, starting out near the bleachers and heading toward the dam. As he cleared the dam, Monty stepped on the gas and Wolfgang’s afterburners kicked in.  Researcher Caleb Bryce, clutching the side of the of the Subaru with one hand, and holding a video camera in the other hand, captured a lovely side view of Wolfgang running flat out.  We’ve replayed that footage in slow motion and so have a record of Wolfgang’s poetry in motion.

He was extremely agile and known for his ‘leaping lizards’ dance move. He’d taught himself to make flying leaps backwards in return for treats. One staff member worked this out into an elaborate dance routine in which she and he would bow, pace back and forth, and end with a tremendous vertical jump, while she hummed a waltz.

For years Wolfgang closed his friendship circle, keeping out new humans, but late in life, he started to mellow and his circle of friends widened. In his old age he was helping give interns lessons in walking wolves on leash.

Wolfgang was very attached to two of his mates, first Kailani, who tolerated him, and second, Dharma, who returned his attentions enthusiastically.  He tolerated Timber, mated with her, but told her emphatically that she was not to bounce on him and it would be good if she rested across the enclosure from him. During her last year of life, he bonded with his half-sister, Ayla. They were able to have frequent playdates together, which seemed beneficial to her during her decline.

One of our sweetest memories of Wolfgang occurred in August of 2018, on Ayla’s last day of life. On their last visit together we took him in to her enclosure.  She was delighted and capered around him, rubbing against him, her ears pulled well back, wiggling, greeting, and grinning.  He puffed up, strutted, and struck some muscle poses for her admiration. They strolled around the enclosure together, sniffing and marking things.  After he was returned to his own enclosure next door she lay where she could watch him, and for the rest of the afternoon she smiled and smiled and smiled.

Another poignant memory is of our late intern, Alex Black, having a lovely last visit with the W Brothers before leaving Wolf Park.  She was teaching Wolfgang to do a little dance with her their own “Dances With Wolves.”

Wolfgang was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 2018. He did not appear to feel ill. He had a good appetite, but we noticed he tired more easily. As fall progressed we could see that it was time to separate Wolfgang and Wotan while Wolfgang was still dominant.  It turned out we were sadder about this than the brothers were.  Wolfgang seemed quite content to retire from living with Wotan (and Wotan was happy to have lots of playdates with Timber).  Wolfgang also decided he wanted to live in the coyote enclosure where he could easily monitor activity in the main enclosure. Since Willow the coyote had decided she preferred a wolf enclosure, it worked out for everyone.

The morning of Friday, December 28, Wolfgang was scheduled for blood work, to monitor the progress of chemotherapy, and we noticed he seemed a little under the weather.  By evening he was noticeably lethargic and cold.  We brought him to the indoor kennel in The Alison Franklin Animal Care Center, the better to care for him.  He got weaker and passed away on his own a bit after 10 pm.  People who had known and loved him for years were with him when he passed.

 

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