Marion was peacefully euthanized on the evening of April 22nd, having just turned 17. What looked like an “ouchy walk” (just a little hitch in the gitalong) turned, over the course of a few days, into increasing loss of control and then paralysis in her hindquarters. Pending the outcome of a necropsy, we think that there was something unfixably wrong in Marion’s central nervous system.
Marion was born to Karin and Seneca in 1998 and was the longest-lived of her age-mates. She grew up and entered the pack with three foster siblings: Tristan, Erin, and Maya. (Her biological littermates, Ingo, Ojeesta, and Skennen, were donated to other facilities when they were around three months old.) As a puppy she was outgoing, a forceful personality who had to be involved in whatever was happening. As she grew up she eventually acquired the nickname “Marion the Barbarian” because she ruled most of the other wolves, both males and females, with an iron paw. Seneca was the only wolf that was not intimidated by her. Visitors used to ask how such a tiny wolf could dominate wolves who were much larger. “She’s only little on the outside” was our stock answer.
She chewed the rear ends of a succession of wolves: her foster sisters Maya and Erin; her mother Karin; the big males Apollo, Chetan and Miska. She would get up from a sound sleep, stretch, shake herself, and then trot off in search for someone to poke. Anyone being inattentive risked having Marion suddenly pop up from behind a bush, displaying a big grin full of pointy teeth. A number of wolves spent time with their rear ends hidden in huts or submerged in the lake to protect themselves from her teeth. We (jokingly!) contemplated giving Marion a baboon of her very own to play with, so she could be on the receiving end of one of those toothy grins.
She had an ongoing brotherly feud with Tristan. Once Tris got bigger than Marion, he found that he could interrupt her tantrums by bowling her over with his mass and almost literally sitting on her. Once he realized he could flatten her, he began enjoying doing so. He (possibly intentionally, possibly not) rescued a lot of wolves from her in his enjoyment of standing on her head. When he saw Marion “putting on her barbarian hat”, Tris would slowly walk between Marion and her target, standing side-on to her, showing off his impressive bulk. Marion grew to respect his “throwing his weight around”, but later found a way around it — she found that she could use the presence of Seneca, the alpha male, to inhibit Tris’ willingness to fight back. When Tris tried to sit on her, Marion would attract Seneca’s attention, and then Tristan would be forced to explain his behavior to Seneca while Marion went on her merry way.
We eventually split the main pack, leaving Marion with the big, sturdy brothers Miska and Seneca. She still tried to poke Miska, but he was twice her size and, partially backed up by his brother Seneca, he learned to, well, if not actually like her, to coexist with her peacefully. Marion enjoyed living with them, but got somewhat lonely; the brothers did not have a lot of humans in their social circle and Marion’s “human time” was somewhat curtailed while they lived together. Marion enjoyed visiting with humans, sometimes a little too much, and was particularly fond of face licking. This could lead to Moments of Excitement(tm) when a human-starved Marion, temporarily separated from Miska and Seneca, got to meet her first new humans in weeks. She would get so excited while greeting face to face she would lose control and try to stuff herself up her human visitor’s nose, feet first.
Marion taught Wolf Park staff a lot about high-intensity, easily aroused animals. As a highly-strung young lady, she could get overstimulated by situations (such as greeting new humans) and go from “zero to 100” in under a second, suddenly running out of patience and brain cells and exploding in a cloud of high-pitched squeaking noises, a grabby little mouth, and flailing feet. It wasn’t necessarily aggressive behavior, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience for the humans. We learned a lot of ways to “defuse” these moments before they occurred. Monty, especially, used to like winding Marion up and then winding her down, using her squeaking to let him know how excited or relaxed she was. It gave us (and Marion) a lot of practice controlling situations which could potentially be exciting.
Marion was one of the fastest canine learners we have ever seen. She was a nimble explorer who helped us to improve not only our handling techniques, but our containment methods. She was always the first to open the loosely-latched gate, climb the low-hanging tree branch, or wiggle under the one loose spot in the fence. Bold and inquisitive, she was the first to open (or at least pee on) the Halloween pumpkin and the first to climb into the Christmas tree. She stole Pat’s hat and Monty’s sunglasses, and everyone learned a lot trying to trade to get them back.
She helped prove that wolves can be at least as good as dogs at reading human social cues. In this last year she was participating in “smart collar” calibration as part of a project to study the energy budgets of large predators. We have footage of Marion on the treadmill – she was the first of our wolves to walk on it while it was moving. Researcher Caleb Bryce can be heard saying “Marion, you rock!” on the video. Marion certainly did “rock”. She was a brilliant, active and athletic wolf. Wolves like Marion are not always easy to live with but they are some of our best and most memorable teachers.
Marion, we will never forget you!