I first met Tamahawk in the summer of 2010. She was the smallest arctic wolf I had seen, and to this day she remains the most petite arctic wolf that Lois (WWS director) has ever encountered. When I first arrived at the White Wolf Sanctuary, Tamahawk had only been there for three months. She had been paired with a big old guy, Odot, and despite their age difference she really asserted herself. Odot sadly pssed away in 2013, and this left Tamahawk without a mate.
Tamahawk had a very rough start to life. She had been kept as a ‘pet’ by some people in another state, chained up in their backyard. One thing Lois learnt early on is that neighbours can see the end of a place that houses wild animals – Tamahaw’s previous ‘owners’ were also forced to realise this. When their little wolf would howl, as is natural for the species, they would receive complaints from the neighbours. So what did they do? You can probably think of a hundred and one more ethical solutions – but they decided to tape her muzzle shut.
Having a taped muzzle, of course, means normal, imperative things such as eating, drinking and breathing become extremely difficult. This is very likely why Tamahawk is so small; she was physically unable to take in all of her body’s requirements.
Finally, she was shipped off to a captive establishment in Idaho where, unfortunately, she was not given ample introductory time with the resident wolves, and on being thrown in with strangers she was severely injured. This girl only has half a tail – the other torn-up half had to be amputated after this incident. Luckily, Lois was contacted, and four years ago Tamahawk found her way to a far happier life at the White Wolf Sanctuary.
Despite all of this, Tamahawk is by no means a humble creature. She gallops around, bowling over her habitat-mate and smiling mischievously as she does so. When she urinates, she does not do so as a dainty female of her kind might; she lifts her leg high like an alpha. At feeding time it is not uncommon for her to hog all of poor Archidamus’ food, and I have fond memories of her taking the biggest, heaviest bone she could find and parading it around triumphantly for all to see. She is affectionately known by staff as the “Party Girl”; at about 3pm every afternoon, even on the hottest, laziest of days, you can be certain that Tamahawk will attempt to rouse everyone with a long, loud chorus of howls.
Archidamus keeps up with her sprightly nature well. They make a real pair. I was incredibly surprised to find out that Lois had taken a timber wolf on – for years and years she had been adamant that WWS would strictly house arctics only. It is truly due to extremely unique circumstance that Lois took him in – it makes quite a contrast seeing him and arctic Tamahawk together, which in itself has been great for educational purposes in regards to tour groups being given the opportunity to appreciate the diversity between the two.
Archidamus is not like the others when it comes to friendliness towards strangers. He has been at the Sanctuary for about a year, and as with any rescue animal it is hard to ascertain what exactly life was like before his arrival here. Archidamus had, like Tamahawk, been held in someone’s backyard, and he kept breaking his tether to escape to a nearby property. Who knows how he was treated during this first portion of his life, but he certainly does not have the trusting nature of some of the other wolves at WWS.
Unfortunately, I have to be very careful around Archidamus now. On the final night of my first week back, Lois and I were out at dusk to feed the wolves. Feeding must be done just before dark to avoid ravens scavenging the food, but while it is still light enough to see. With the other wolves, Lois can go in to their habitats to place food around while a second person ‘spots’ – basically watches outside for signs of trouble (usually “trouble” means a wolf potentially overpowering Lois with affectionate kisses). Tamahawk, however, can be tricky to deal with at meal times; she is very dominant and food-possessive, which could lead to a potentially dangerous situation.
On this particular evening, Tamahawk and Archidamus were not in the most suitable habitat for feeding. It was a fairly high-stress situation, and having food involved can always make things a bit more tricky. Long story short, Archidamus got spooked when I was opening the gate through to their food, and I had to swiftly move away. He stalked me from his habitat as I walked back to the visitor’s cabin.
Admittedly, I went home in tears. One simple action can change a wolf’s behaviour and personality forever, and I was indescribably mortified that I might have been a part of such a situation for Archidamus. Because the whole purpose of WWS is to give the wolves a burden-free, happy life, I was irrationally considering not coming back. If he was going to be nervous or stressed in my presence, I did not think I should be here.
Archidamus is, however, a “funny guy” (as Lois describes). He is cautious with several people – unfortunately now I just happen to be on that list. We have been taking things carefully with him and me; I gave him a few days where I would not go near his habitat at all, and since then we make sure I am around someone he really trusts if I am going in his direction to fill water bowls etc. I haven’t forced anything, and he is definitely better around me now, which is great. I have learnt that it isn’t unlike him to be wary with people, and Lois kept telling me not to take it personally. “They’re wild animals. It could happen to anyone – it just happened to be you.”
I do know that I let myself fall into an area of trust with the wolves. When I was working with the elephants in Thailand last year, I was somewhat sad to find that they were very different when I compared them to the wolves; while I remembered the wolves as being quite forgiving despite possible past mistreatment, the elephants seemed to harbour more bitterness. After I accepted this, I no longer took it personally if an elephant shoved or charged me. With the wolves, however, I think I was convinced I could befriend them all, and didn’t consider a less-than-positive outcome for too long. It has been a good lesson, though; it brings you back down to earth, in a way. A lot of people want to work with animals for the “cute and cuddly” time – that’s not what it’s about, though. It’s about doing what is best for them. I admire people who do work that doesn’t necessarily generate gratitude or recognition. That truly is selfless.