Ayla was born to Tristan and Erin in 2004. The litter included her brothers, Renki and Ruedi, and sister Kailani. We kept all four pups, and they grew up to be beautiful wolves. Unfortunately, Ayla and Kailani were bratty adolescents who harassed Erin, until Erin lost all patience and chased the girls so ferociously that they ended up hanging out most of the time on the peninsula. Erin was eventually retired from the pack, allowing Ayla and Kailani more social freedom, but their younger brothers, Wolfgang and Wotan, began harassing Ayla.
Eventually Ayla was driven out of the pack. In 2009 her father, Tristan, and later the same year, her brother Renki were also driven out by Wolfgang and Wotan. We still remember Ayla’s excitement as we led Tristan past her enclosure the evening he was deposed by his nephews. Renki, Ayla, and Tristan formed a pack of their own known as the RAT Pack, with that name taken from the first initial of each wolf’s name. The three of them star in footage in our safety presentation which everyone watches prior to their first interaction with the wolves.
Some of Ayla’s personal quirks are immortalized in that video. In one clip we mention Ayla’s penchant for bouncing at people’s faces and, in the friendliest possible way, planting her nose right in someone’s eye socket. She also used to “bowl for humans.” Humans squatting or kneeling in her enclosure had to keep alert for a goofy Ayla zooming in high speed and low altitude circles. Those not properly balanced were liable to be poked in their middles and literally bowled over.
After Tristan’s death, Ayla and Renki continued to live together much of the time. They were separated on feeding days, since Renki’s insistence that all food belonged to him often led to a thin Ayla and a fat Renki. Between her brother and her active lifestyle, keeping Ayla well-fed was a challenge.
Ayla was a frequent participant in wolf-bison demonstrations. She was a good hunter, and also tended to provide comic relief by turning herself green rolling in bison poo. Once, the History Channel came out to film wolves hunting bison for one of their programs. Ray Coppinger was also part of that program. The sun sank low while Ray and the History Channel people talked about what they wanted from the segment. The sun got lower. And lower. Finally, Ayla was sent out to do her thing. While Ayla wandered, our neighbor’s pit bull, Brandy, showed up on the other side the fence. Ayla and Brandy started fence fighting, running back and forth along the fence, teeth clacking as they snapped at each other. Monty tackled Ayla before she and Brandy could grab each other through the wire. Catastrophe was averted. Ray Coppinger was impressed to see Monty tackle an aggressively aroused wolf (a female no less – they play for keeps) and not get bitten.
Ayla unknowingly gained internet fame thanks to the Moon-Moon meme. According to the meme, Moon-Moon was a particularly stupid werewolf. Internet users would seek out pictures of wolves and dogs in ridiculous poses and caption them with jokes. Ayla, ever the goof, frequently had her photos used in the most unflattering ways.
We think she would have laughed if we could have explained the joke.
Despite her image appearing in the Moon-Moon meme, Ayla was quite smart. When we started hosting researchers studying canine cognition, she did well, backing up this reputation as a smart girl with data, even if Monty has immortalized some of her comical, “derpy” facial expressions. Some researchers were interested in comparing how social tame wolves could be with humans compared to how social dogs are. One researcher collected data on how long a dog or a wolf would stay with a person who petted it, without giving it treats. Wolf Park staff did the petting. Pat petted Ayla for the researcher, who wanted us to test a very plain way of petting, which wolves find boring: stroking repeatedly from the head, down the back to the base of the tail. Most wolves will tolerate, or even like, about three such strokes. The researcher was using two minutes as her cut-off point. Ayla stood for a few strokes and then wandered off. After the researcher had her data, Pat asked if she could show her how long Ayla would stay if petted in ways she really liked. The researcher was interested, so Pat entertained Ayla with stroking, scratching, tickling and massaging, keeping her engaged and wanting more and more for over two minutes. Wolves are connoisseurs of petting.
In her last six years or so, Ayla had recurring spots of hemangiosarcoma on her tongue, which Dr. Becker repeatedly removed. This led to Ayla having two notches at the front of her tongue, one on either side. It looked as if someone had made cut-outs for her fangs to rest in, or possibly was starting to shape Ayla’s tongue to resemble an oak leaf.
In January, 2018, Renki passed away leaving Ayla without a companion. Of the 2017 puppies, Aspen had proven very gentle with her and was able to have periodic playdates with his elderly auntie. Later in the summer, Ayla and her half-brother, Wolfgang, began having playdates, which were extremely pleasant for both of them.
Ayla departed this life peacefully at 7:25 p.m. on Monday, August 13. She’d been living with cancer for many months. Given her advanced age and health, our vet had recommended against surgery. We’d done our best to make her final summer pleasurable and comfortable. For three days prior to her death, she had refused food, which is often a sign that the end is near. We gave her a final day to see if she’d turn around, and then decided it was time to say goodbye.
She had a final visit with Wolfgang that afternoon, and visits from her many human friends. They came bearing food, but the only thing to spark her curiosity was a blueberry Slurpie. She took a few licks, and that was all. She welcomed everyone with a smile. She showed no sign of pain, just weariness. Dr. Becker came out that evening. The necropsy results revealed multiple cancerous spots and tumors. It confirmed surgery wouldn’t have significantly extended Ayla’s life. Instead, we’d been able to give her a final good summer. Memories of how much she was enjoying herself and her playdates with Wolfgang, fence fights with her “frenemy” Timber, and visits from human friends are our best comfort now that she is gone.
She was cancer survivor and we hope her documented battle with The Big C may ultimately help other canines. For ourselves, we will always remember her affection, occasional silliness, smartness, her hunting skills, and her beautiful howl with love.
Goodbye Ayla. Rest in peace.