Thursday, December 23, 2010

African Wolf Hounds

The African Wolf Hounds
(originally published, sans Epilogue, in the Rip Van Wrinkler newsletter)

The Basenjis dashed through the forest, exploring every smell, every tree and rock and clump of grass.  They kept us in sight, mostly, or at least knew where they'd left us, as they raced across the meadow and into the trees.

The wind sang through the Ponderosa on the ridges overhead.  I stretched out on a rock by the brook and dozed in the warm sunlight.

We had walked to the end of Griffeth Spring and back again, that narrow ribbon of an ecosystem, sometimes 50 feet wide, but a mile long.  The green along the laughing brooklet  was so intense I half expected to see Snow White come floating by, gracefully plucking wild flowers for a bouquet.   

There were only two Basenjis today, the girls, Taffy and Chaminade.
The girls had never been out together like this, without the boys, Pi and Q.  They were enjoying not being bossed around. The girls had discovered that they could leap back and forth across the brook, cross a log, or even wade in the water.  This was great for their self-confidence.

The rock was warm and flat.  The brooklet  bubbled and slipped over the stones.  The wind sang and the Basenjis danced and leapt through the forest.  I dreamed.

Suddenly a Basenji screamed, and again.  I lept to my feet and turned around.

A large Malamute/German Shepherd- type dog was bearing down on Taffanel, who was running towards me, Chaminade just ahead, to the side.  A split second, I knew it wasn't a dog, but a huge coyote, and I started screaming, waving my arms and running towards him.

He was twice as tall as Taffy, long skinny legs, and a large neck ruff of grey hair with black tips.  His eyes were yellow beams as he focused with intense delight on their fleeing forms.  They were thirty feet from me, he was ten feet behind them. 

He hit the brakes when he saw me running at him, shouting insanely; he turned and ran, more in surprise than fear.  But to my horror, Taffy and Chaminade, excited that he was on the run (or so they thought) also turned and began chasing him back across the meadow and into the trees, with me following, screaming their names, begging them to come back NOW.  Chaminade, less confident, gave up the chase when they got to the trees.  But Miss Taffanel, not yet two years old, had not yet to face something she could not handle. The supremely confident little imp chased the huge beast up and over the hill, out of sight.

Then we were both screaming, she and I.  I heard three yelps, and could only imagine what she had faced as she flew over the brow of the hill.  Was he waiting there, fangs at the ready?  What kind of instant and incredibly agile flip had she done to avoid his pearly whites?  I was still running across the meadow after them when Taffy burst from the forest and raced towards me, as if for her life.  Her pursuer slowed up when he saw me, a crazy woman, waving my arms, making lots of noise, and running towards them.  He hesitated a brief second, just a flicker, then turned and loped back into the trees, over the hill, and disappeared.  

This time the girls were more than willing to let me slip their collars on, and we all walked rather quickly out of the forest.

I was still calling this our Coyote Encounter, when I recounted the tale to my friend, Robert, that evening.  He questioned me carefully about our attacker’s description, then took in his breath.  “That was a wolf you saw,” he concluded.  I couldn’t believe him.  There were no wolves in the forest around Flagstaff, Arizona.  The next day, I tried calling the Forest Service, but no one seemed particularly interested.  I don’t think they believed me.  Then I found the website of the Mexican Grey Wolf Restoration Project.  They have been re-introducing wolves along the Arizona-New Mexican border, but that was 300 miles away. 

Then I saw the photos.  Here was our fellow, peering around a tree, and another, from inside a pen of captivity.  I called the restoration project, and suddenly I was being quizzed, and had the sense that someone was writing down what I said.  I learned that a wolf had been hit on the highway the previous year, so they knew that the wolves, or a lone wolf, was occasionally straying so far from the preserves.  The young man took down a report.  Another incident, and they would try to trap our attacker and remove him to the preserve. 

I went back to reading the website, which carried detailed statistics.  Our wolf, I learned, had been born in the wild.  All released wolves wear tracking collars, and he had none.   He was most likely a young male, far on a hunting trip, looking for new territory.  I could even narrow down which litter he might have been from. 

I also saw the reports of the attacks…livestock killed or wounded…and dogs.  Six dogs had been killed by wolves in the last reporting year.  The more I read, the colder I got, the more I shook.  One of my friends congratulated me for having the right response to the wolf, to chase at him, waving my hands.  But would I have done that if I’d known he was a wolf?   

We still go for walks in the forest, but we haven’t been back to Griffith Spring.   I now take more dogs, two small Basenjis are not enough.  Chaminade has a new habit.  She stops every so often and peers deep into the forest, and I know she is looking for the wolf.


We no longer live in Arizona, so no more walks in the forest, but…recently we were out for a run in our local dog park.  This is a very special dog park, essential a piece of forest surrounded by a chain link fence.  As we were rounding a corner, we came face to face with two huge furry “dogs.”  I felt a shock of recognition, and then saw Taffy.  She seemed to leap straight up in the air, all four legs, and her hair on her back was standing up as straight as I’ve ever seen, all the while staring at the closer “dog,” who was staring at her. 

“That’s a wolf!” I exclaimed.  “And that’s another one!” I continued, as I looked at the other one. 

“No, no, these are Malamutes,” the man walking the “dogs” assured me.  They were on both on leash. 

I looked at Taffy.  She knew.  I knew.  These were domesticated wolves, living in New Jersey.  I called the dogs off, and we went another direction.  When we came around again, the wolves were gone.  Taffy will never forget her close call, but if that wolf were to run, I can’t say that she wouldn’t chase it all over again.

1 comment:

  1. Unbelievable story!!! My guess is that you have never seen that man walking the dom wolves again either correct? An Alaskan Malamute I grew up with and I couldn't mistake the two. Little did this man know he would come across an educated dog breeder who had actually encountered and agressed against a WOLF! Well you were in the right place at the right time you may well have saved many a dog attack and lives OV both accounts! Taffy has nerves of steel! But I can't wait to meet them both.