April 20, 1998 – April 22, 2015
Marion was peacefully euthanized on the evening of April 22nd, after what looked like an “ouchie walk” turned, over the course of a few days, into increasing loss of control and then paralysis in her hindquarters. Dr. Julia assured us she was not in pain. She enjoyed special treats on her last two days and visits from human friends. A necropsy showed that her chest cavity was riddled with tumors. Given her presenting symptoms she may have had a tumor also affecting her spinal nerves. It was plain that she had had all the good time we could give her.
Marion was born to Karin and Seneca in 1998 and was the last of her age-mates left alive. As a puppy she was outgoing, volatile, and mercurial, with a forceful personality who had to be involved in whatever was happening, and she kept these traits her entire life. As she grew up she eventually acquired the nickname “Marion the Barbarian” because she ruled most of her packmates with an iron paw. Her mate, Seneca, was not intimidated but he was extremely tolerant of her. Visitors used to ask how such a tiny wolf could dominate and intimidate wolves who were much larger. “She’s only little on the outside” was my stock answer.
Fortunately for us, Marion seemed to like most humans better than wolves (except Seneca). Monty was her favorite person in the whole world. This came in very handy given Marion’s mercurial mood shifts. Even for a wolf, Marion was fast. Her mood could change so quickly that the wolves themselves seemed to want as much advance notice as they could get of when a change was coming. Monty could handle Marion even when she was angry, and he often pushed her limits, winding her up and then rewarding her for calming back down. Learning to calm down was a skill we were grateful she could master. We could work on training her to remain calm, but in inevitably there were times when she cast calm to the winds and we had to deal with a highly aroused Marion in full Barbarian mode. With this in mind, Monty working with Marion’s arousal levels, revving her up and having her calm down from this state, was extremely useful.
Marion’s social interest in humans sometimes got us all, including Monty, into trouble with Seneca during the annual breeding season. During those 7 to 9 days when Seneca was attending and guarding Marion, he became aggressive towards anyone who took Marion’s attention off him. This put the staff in an awkward position of having to tactfully discourage Marion’s desire for interaction with us. Seneca used to approach us with her, looking on with disapproval as she greeted, twittered, and kissed. He might take us by the wrist and gradually increase pressure while giving us meaningful looks. Realizing that Seneca was down to one frayed nerve during those days, we opted to go in with the pack very little, usually just to deliver food and leave.
Marion and shovel and tong diplomacy: Marion went through a period when she guarded food against us – even though it was food we wanted to give her – and the rest of the wolves. It started with her meeting us at the gate and putting her front paws in the wheelbarrow as we pushed a carcass into the enclosure for the pack to feed on. She clearly decided the carcass was hers and threatened us. We dealt with this by bringing in several people carrying shovels to accompany the wheelbarrow. In the beginning we swung or twirled the shovels. We didn’t wave them at Marion or threaten her. We made a point of talking conversationally with the wolves while doing this. From past experience of having their enclosures shoveled the wolves know to stay out of the way of snow shovels and they generalized this to the garden shovels. The shovels made a barrier between Marion and the food she tried to claim and guard. It gave us a window of opportunity to train her to “ask nicely” for the carcass.
Like her mother, Karin, Marion was good at climbing trees. Once, to avoid Seneca’s amorous overtures, she went 12 feet up a willow tree and stood, looking down at her frustrated mate. Usually her tree climbing had to do with posing for Monty’s photography seminars. Monty used whipped cream to entice Marion onto photogenic branches. Tristan enjoyed whipped cream too, and he could also climb, but once, instead of climbing the tree, he reared up, and put his paws on the end of a springy pine branch. Marion was already mincing her way along the branch to the whipped cream, but Tristan’s “short cut” allowed him to lick the cream off the branch before Marion got there. With his treat down the hatch, Tristan dropped back to all fours, and the branch bounced up and down, giving Marion a ride and a balancing challenge. She rode the branch to a standstill, but was too late for that serving of whipped cream. Some of her most contented moments in life did involve whipped cream. She had learned to push the nozzle of the whipped cream can to the side and dispense the cream into her mouth. Monty let her cuddle in his lap while she “nursed” from the can of whipped cream. Her eyes were half shut and she was completely relaxed, looking utterly blissful, a state she rarely achieved while awake!
Socially Marion was an iron lady, and she was also a formidable huntress. Marion, Seneca and Miska were a dependable team with which to do wolf – bison demonstrations. They were likely to go in and give dramatic but non-damaging demonstrations of how wolves will “work” bison to see if they are vulnerable to predation. On one occasion a bison cow was many yards away from the herd, busily licking a salt and mineral block. Marion, Seneca, and Miska all tried to move the cow away from the block. Not that they objected to her being there but they wanted to assess her. Probably her refusal to budge stood out as unusual or possibly abnormal. Did this change in behavior mean vulnerability? The three fanned out behind the cow, but in vain they tried feints, bows, even invitations to the cow to chase them. She stood four square against the wolves’ efforts and continued licking the salt block, kicking in their general direction when they became too pesky. Finally Marion could stand it no more. She darted around in front of the cow and took a quick lick at the salt block herself, as if she just had to see what was so wonderful about its taste.
Marion’s relationship with Seneca’s brother, Miska, changed in interesting ways through the years. From her youth she looked for opportunities to dominate the male wolves, except Seneca, and she often used Seneca’s proximity to assert herself over Miska. This was especially effective during the breeding season when Seneca got grumpy with anyone who took Marion’s attention off him and off the business of mating! With Seneca not letting Marion get much more than a body length away from him, Marion could go around threatening other wolves and Seneca would act as an “enforcer,” not necessarily because he wanted to help Marion “run for higher office,” but because he was defending his prospects of mating with her and this defense included discouraging interruptions of any sort. But when Seneca eventually passed away, Marion and Miska would court and mate during the breeding season. For at least that slice of time they seemed to see each other, not through rose-colored glasses, but through a rosy haze of hormones that made each other’s company not just tolerable, but enjoyable. Outside of breeding season they usually tolerated each other and sometimes even played together nicely. But Miska did tend to tense up when Marion was excited. He knew from years of experience that she could go from happy excitement to aggression in about 0.0001 seconds. His response was heightened vigilance and some subtle warning signals to Marion that he was ready to defend himself if necessary.
Marion helped blow the mistaken notion that wolves can’t or won’t pay attention to human social signaling out of the water. Years ago Dr. Clive Wynne, Monique Udell, and Nicole Dorey (both of whom now have Ph.D.’s) came to revisit the question of whether wolves can be as adept as dogs at using human social signaling. Specifically, could and would wolves follow a human’s pointing finger to locate a treat? Marion made one error in her repeated trials of following points to get treats. Her one mistake was, I think, almost necessary to check what the “rules of engagement” were for this game. After the one mistake, she proceeded to rack up a perfect score. Not only that, she learned very quickly that after getting her treat she needed to return to her human handler and wait for the next trial to be set up. Marion stopped waiting for us to call her. She’d dart down, collect her treat for correctly following a point, then about face and return to her handler. The handler’s presence seemed little more than a formality to Marion. After her spectacular performance the researchers got to meet Marion, who was happy to hold court, but wanted to know if she could still go on earning treats!
After outliving both Seneca and Miska, Marion lived in an enclosure alone, but within sight of other wolves at East Lake. She was particularly interested in Dharma, probably because Dharma was willing to posture and fence fight with Marion. Marion kept very busy watching other wolves. As she got into her mid teens, her howls became less powerful — a lot of our wolves who live past 14 show some degree of paralysis in their vocal cords, gradually losing the power to vocalize. Marion’s howls became softer and more breathy, but her ability to growl did not diminish! She was active and tough right up to the end. In January 2014, she stared down the polar-vortex-driven storm that shut down west central Indiana for a while. She did not sleep in her warm, insulated hut; instead, she slept in the lee of one little flake of straw, while the wind howled around her. Later she was up and busily trotting around, looking for something to “snoopervise”. This past fall she served as the “pace wolf” for our Walk for Wolves fundraiser.
Marion – brilliant, tough, athletic – was one of the most memorable wolves we’ve raised. Given her personality, it seems strange to wish her to “rest in peace,” but maybe spirits like hers get to hunt shooting stars. Marion, we will never forget you!