Friday, May 22, 2009
A Wolf Called Out In Pain
A WOLF CALLED OUT IN PAIN
A Little girl Answered...
"With all her big brothers and sisters off to school,
our ranch became a lonely place for our three-year-old
daughter, Becky. She longed for playmates. Cattle and
horses were too big to cuddle and farm machinery
dangerous for a child so small. We promised to buy her
a puppy, but in the meantime, "Pretend" puppies popped
up nearly every day. I had just finished washing the
lunch dishes when the screen door slammed and Becky
rushed in, cheeks flushed with excitement. "Mama!" she
cried, "Come see my new doggy! I gave him water two
times already. He's so thirsty!" I sighed. Another of
Becky's imaginary dogs. "Please come, Mama." She
tugged at my jeans, her brown eyes pleading. "He's
crying - and he can't walk!" "Can't walk?" Now that
was a twist. All her previous make-believe dogs could
do marvelous things. One balanced a ball on the end
of its nose. Another dug a hole that went all the way
through the earth and fell out on a star on the other
side. Still another danced on a tightrope. Why
suddenly, a dog that couldn't walk? "All right,
honey," I said. By the time I tried to follow her,
Becky had already disappeared into the mesquite.
"Where are you?" I called. "Over here by the oak
stump. Hurry, Mama!" I parted the thorny branches and
raised my hand against the glare of the Arizona sun. A
numbing chill gripped me. There she was, sitting on
her heels, toes dug firmly in the sand, and cradled in
her lap was the unmistakable head of a wolf! Beyond
its head rose massive black shoulders. The rest of the
body lay completely hidden inside the hollow stump of
a fallen oak. "Becky." My mouth felt dry. "Don't
move." I stepped closer. Pale-yellow eyes narrowed.
Black lips tightened, exposing double sets of two-inch
fangs. Suddenly the wolf trembled. Its teeth clacked,
and a piteous whine rose from its throat. "It's all
right, boy," Becky crooned. "Don't be afraid. That's
my mama, and she loves you, too."
Then the unbelievable happened.
As her tiny hands stroked the great shaggy head,
I heard the gentle thump, thump, thumping of
the wolf's tail from deep inside the stump.
What was wrong with the animal? I wondered. Why
couldn't he get up? I couldn't tell. Nor did I dare to
step any closer. I glanced at the empty water bowl. My
memory flashed back to the five skunks that last week
had torn the burlap from a leaking pipe in a frenzied
effort to reach water during the final agonies of
rabies. Of course! Rabies! Warning signs had been
posted all over the county, and hadn't Becky said,
"He's so thirsty?" I had to get Becky away. "Honey,"
my throat tightened, "Put his head down and come to
Mama. We'll go find help." Reluctantly, Becky got up
and kissed the wolf on the nose before she walked
slowly into my outstretched arms. Sad yellow eyes
followed her. The wolf's head sank down to the ground.
What was wrong with the wolf?..
With Becky safe in my arms, I ran to the barns where
Brian, one of our cowhands, was saddling up to check
heifers in the north pasture. "Brian! Come quickly.
Becky found a wolf in the oak stump near the wash! I
think it has rabies!" "I'll be there in a jiffy," he
said as I hurried back to the house, eager to put
Becky down for her nap. I didn't want her to see Brian
come out of the bunkhouse. I knew he'd have a gun.
"But I want to give my doggy his water," she cried. I
kissed her and gave her some stuffed animals to play
with. "Honey, let Mom and Brian take care of him for
now," I said. Moments later, I reached the oak stump.
Brian stood looking down at the beast. "It's a Mexican
lobo, all right," he said, "and a big one! Whew! It's
not rabies," Brian said. "But he's sure hurt real bad.
Don't you think it's best I put him out of his
misery?" The word "yes" was on my lips, when Becky
emerged from the bushes. "Is Brian going to make him
well, Mama?" She hauled the animal's head onto her lap
once more, and buried her face in the coarse, dark
fur. This time I wasn't the only one who heard the
thumping of the lobo's tail.
That afternoon my husband, Bill, and our veterinarian
came to see the wolf. Observing the trust the animal
had in our child, Doc said to me, "Suppose you let
Becky and me tend to this fella together." Minutes
later, as child and vet reassured the stricken beast,
the hypodermic found its mark. The yellow eyes closed.
"He's asleep now," said the vet. "Give me a hand here,
Bill." They hauled the massive body out of the stump.
The animal must have been over five feet long and well
over one hundred pounds. The hip and leg had been
mutilated by bullets. Doc did what he had to in order
to clean the wound and then gave the patient a dose of
penicillin. Next day he returned and inserted a metal
rod to replace the missing bone. "Well, looks like
you've got yourselves a Mexican lobo," Doc said. "He
looks to be about three years old, and even as pups,
they don't tame real easy. I'm amazed at the way this
big fella took to your little gal. But often there's
something that goes on between children and animals
that we grownups don't understand."
Becky named the wolf Ralph and carried food and water
to the stump every day. Ralph's recovery was not easy.
For three months he dragged his injured hindquarters
by clawing the earth with his front paws. From the way
he lowered his eyelids when we massaged the atrophied
limbs, we knew he endured excruciating pain, but not
once did he ever try to bite the hands of those who
cared for him. Four months to the day, Ralph finally
stood unaided. His huge frame shook as long unused
muscles were activated. Bill and I patted and praised
him. But it was Becky to whom he turned for a gentle
word, a kiss or a smile. He responded to these
gestures of love by swinging his bushy tail like a
pendulum. I was fascinated and felt comfortable with
this incredible bond and yet..
As his strength grew, Ralph followed Becky all over
the ranch. Together they roamed the desert pastures,
the golden-haired child often stooping low, sharing
with the great lame wolf whispered secrets of nature's
wonders. When evening came, he returned like a silent
shadow to his hollow stump that had surely become his
special place. As time went on, although he lived
primarily in the brush, the habits of this timid
creature endeared him more and more to all of us. His
reaction to people other than our family was yet
another story. Strangers terrified him, yet his
affection for and protectiveness of Becky brought him
out of the desert and fields at the sight of every
unknown pickup or car. Occasionally he'd approach,
lips taut, exposing a nervous smile full of chattering
teeth. More often he'd simply pace and finally skulk
off to his tree stump, perhaps to worry alone. Becky's
first day of school was sad for Ralph. After the bus
left, he refused to return to the yard. Instead, he
lay by the side of the road and waited. When Becky
returned, he limped and tottered in wild, joyous
circles around her. This welcoming ritual persisted
throughout her school years.
Although Ralph seemed happy on the ranch, he
disappeared into the surrounding deserts and mountains
for several weeks during the spring mating season,
leaving us to worry about his safety. This was calving
season, and fellow ranchers watched for coyotes,
cougars, wild dogs and, of course, the lone wolf. But
Ralph was lucky. During Ralph's twelve years on our
ranch, his habits remained unchanged. Always keeping
his distance, he tolerated other pets and endured the
activities of our busy family, but his love for Becky
never wavered. Then the spring came when our neighbour
told us he'd shot and killed a she-wolf and grazed her
mate, who had been running with her.
Sure enough, Ralph returned home with another bullet
wound. Becky, nearly fifteen years old now, sat with
Ralph's head resting on her lap. He, too, must have
been about fifteen and was gray with age. As Bill
removed the bullet, my memory raced back through the
years. Once again I saw a chubby three-year-old girl
stroking the head of a huge black wolf and heard a
small voice murmuring, "It's all right, boy. Don't be
afraid. That's my mama, and she loves you, too."
Although the wound wasn't serious, this time Ralph
didn't get well. Precious pounds fell away. The once
luxurious fur, turned dull and dry and his trips to
the yard in search of Becky's companionship ceased.
All day long he rested quietly. But when night fell,
old and stiff as he was, he disappeared into the
desert and surrounding hills. By dawn his food was
gone. The morning came when we found him dead.
The yellow eyes were closed. Stretched out in front of
the oak stump, he appeared but a shadow of the proud
beast he once had been.
A lump in my throat choked me as I watched
Becky stroke his shaggy neck, tears streaming
down her face. "I'll miss him so," she cried. Then, as
I covered him with a blanket, we were startled by a
strange rustling sound from inside the stump. Becky
Two eyes peeked out from inside the brush with
puppy fangs glinting in the semi-darkness. Ralph's pup!
Had a dying instinct told him his motherless offspring
would be safe here, as he had been, with those who
Hot tears spilled on baby fur as Becky
gathered the trembling bundle in her arms. "It's all
right little ... Ralphie," she murmured. "Don't be
afraid. That's my mom, and she loves you, too."