Erin has left us and Chetan at the age of fourteen years and seven months. What a memorable time it was. Together with her brother Tristan and her sister Maya, Erin arrived at Wolf Park from Wolf Hollow in Ipswich, Mass. Her mission was to bring new blood into our pack. But her 2004 litter, of Renki Reudi, Kailani and Ayla was sired by Tristan, who pestered her into mating against her initial inclination. However, she succeeded with her 2005 litter by her preferred mate, Chetan. From this litter we kept Wolfgang and Wotan; their sisters, Nina and Ossa, went back to Wolf Hollow, where they are still living, and the other two boy pups, Fenris and Sirius now live at the Dakota Zoo. When her pups were in the den, Erin insisted on no peeking. Chetan was not allowed to look in, though he was allowed to bring food to the den entrance, and she ran Amanda and Gale off the island when they brought her a calf leg and tried to get a peek inside Erin’s sanctum. The first time we took her pups for hand rearing, Erin searched and howled. The second time she showed little if any agitation and after finding that her pups had been removed, calmly joined the boys in basking in the spring sun, as if she trusted us to take over rearing the pups.
When Chetan was finally retired in 2005, and Erin went with him. She was harassing her daughters, Ayla and Kailani, and we were worried about increasing female to female aggression. Erin and Chetan both seemed quite content to just have each other for company. Chetan continued to be an attentive affectionate mate. Erin, who had a hysterectomy after her 2005 litter, continued to come in season and she and Chetan were seen mating happily and without interruptions for the next several years. Each spring she had a pseudopregancy, usually followed by imaginary pups. Intact female wolves are either pregnant or pseudo-pregnant (usually including lactating) every spring once they reach sexual maturity. The pseudo pregnant females can help nurse any pups the pack may be raising, so it has survival value for the species.
Erin also proved to be an excellent grandma to this year’s pups, and to Dharma and her siblings in 2010. She was very patient with the little grass piranhas and helped them increase their skills and their comfort at meeting an array of new adult wolves.
All her adult life Erin was wary of people in certain situations and did not like being boxed in. Sometimes she tried to dart in from the rear and pinch the backs of humans’ legs; we called this sharking. As she aged, she sharked less but never stopped it entirely. Sometimes the oddest things would set her off. One year we tried giving Chetan his supplements and pain killers (for arthritis) in cream cheese served on a spoon. Sometimes this is just neater, especially in winter, if the person does not want fingers gummed with cream cheese which has to be laboriously wiped, or less comfortably, rinsed off under cold water from one of the hydrants. The problem was that Chetan began collecting spoons, yanking them from benumbed human fingers and pulling them through the fence. Since it takes two animal care staff members to go in with the wolves, we’d have to leave the spoon that Chetan pulled through the fence. He’d carry it off and drop it in the snow. When it thawed enough to find them all we tried to collect the spoons and Erin began “sharking” us as if we were thieves and she an irate home owner defending the family silver.
As she aged, Erin retained much of her coloring, though she did fade some. Both her face and Tristan’s got lighter and grayer, though both retain their “capes.” Erin also maintained a very good range of motion, which our vet, Dr. Becker, remarked on, right up until the end. She also maintained her fence fighting feuds with her daughters, Kailani, and Ayla. The friction between Erin and her daughters began in the winter of 2004-2005. Kailani often sneaked up behind Erin and bit her hard in the rump. Ayla and Kailani were frequent companions and so, even though she was less inclined to grab Erin from behind, Ayla was usually right there when an irate Erin gave up on tolerance and restrained admonishment and tore after Kailani to instill The Fear of Mom. So to Erin it may have seemed that Ayla was connected in some way with Kailani biting Erin’s rump.
This spring fourteen year old Erin needed some dental work. After three teeth were removed she seemed more comfortable and we hoped she would be good to go for a few more years. This fall we were very happy when she sometimes consented to go walking around the Loup Trail with Chetan. I think that in the past she felt less comfortable on leash than Chetan did. It was not that she never wanted to be leashed but sometimes she acted as if she didn’t enjoy it even if the leash was not restraining her if she wanted to move away from something scary. After an experience like that she might be difficult to leash for some time, and then eventually accept the leash again. It is possible that her visits to the pups this summer, which involved being leashed, may have improved her outlook. Whatever the cause of her on-again, off-again attitude to leashes, it was doubly fortunate that she accepted some nice walks with her mate during what proved to be her last autumn.
On November 30 Erin seemed to be less active than usual. She still came to the fence when I called, and took a treat, but we watched her over the weekend and it was apparent that she had little interest in eating. Luckily we have some Tramidol prepared which can be absorbed through the skin, so we rubbed it in Erin’s ears. This meant she could have pain-management treatment even if she would not swallow a pill. We increased her painkillers and started her on an injectable antibiotic, in case the problem was an infection starting up. By Monday evening she was no better and had diarrhea. I called Dr. Becker and asked her to come out the next day. When Dr. Becker arrived we sedated Erin, and the initial exam convinced Dr. Becker that Erin needed to go in to the clinic for a complete workup. At the clinic Dr Becker and two other veterinarians looked at x-rays of Erin’s chest and abdominal cavity. There were some puzzling anomalies and all three vets recommended exploratory surgery. We all admitted to having bad feelings about the way things looked, but there might still be some hope. Unfortunately this hope was unfounded. Her heartbeat became hard to hear. The veterinarians administered atropine and epinephrine and gave her chest compressions, but these efforts to resuscitate her failed. There was nothing further we could do for Erin. She had a tumor on the wall of her heart, which was bleeding into her pericardial sac. As blood filled the sac, her heart had no more room to beat. She died without waking up.
After the shock, sadness set in. Erin had seemed fine up until four days before her death; it is always a wrench to say goodbye to one of our wolves, but to lose one so unexpectedly is always very hard.
We took her body back to the park and carried it into their enclosure for Chetan to sniff and come to whatever understanding of death wolves can come to. He sniffed her carefully and afterwards he walked away; it was as if he knew she was gone. Renki, had remained fond of his mother even after she left the pack. Tris had always liked her (when she wasn’t exasperating him) so we set the stretcher with her body on it down next to the fence outside their respective enclosures. Renki sniffed her body, and whined once. Tristan was wary of approaching at first but then sniffed carefully. Kailani and Ayla, who live with Renki and Tris, sniffed too; we did not carry the stretcher in to those enclosures because I did not trust the girls to be respectful, but they too, were allowed to come to what understanding they could.
Erin has left a legacy of memories and also she is survived by her brother, Tristan and her pups, Renki, Ruedi, Ayla, Kailani, Wolfgang and Wotan live at Wolf Park. Her other daughters, Nina and Ossa, live at Wolf Hollow in Massachusetts, and her other sons Fenris and Sirius are at the Dakota Zoo. This spring her grandchildren, Bicho, Kanti, Bronwyn, Lunis, Mowgli, and Fiona were born to Wolfgang and Dharma. It has been a privilege to know Erin, from the time she was a pup herself, and later a mother and grandmother, as well as a quirky defender of food, den, and spoons. Good bye Erin, we will always keep you in our hearts.