“Men must endure their going hence,” Shakespeare wrote (King Lear, Act 5 Scene 2). We who remain must also endure our dear ones going hence. Kiri departed this life on Saturday, September 22, 2012.
Kiri had been here for almost half the time Wolf Park has been in existence. We watched him turn from an inky black pup to a striking black male, bulking even larger than his father Chinook. As the years passed, he silvered out, as black wolves do, if they live long enough. Sometimes visitors referred to him as “that white wolf.” At different times he has been beta male and omega, and then, after being moved to East Lake, alpha of the duo of Kiri and Socrates (aka The Pirate and the Parrot, and in old age, The Grumpy Old Men) and of the off-again on-again house party of Kiri, Socrates, and Vega. For the years he was one of the Grumpy Old Men he did not meet new people, but after Socrates’ death Kiri morphed into a complete social butterfly who delighted in making new friends and holding court among them.
For a captive wolf, he was a mighty hunter. A member of the Dream Team, he was one wolf that researcher Gabrielle Grunnert swore made the bison go on red alert (paraphrasing her) when he showed up in their pasture, and he once almost caught a very surprised white tail doe, who jumped into the field, and almost into Kiri’s jaws, as he and Socrates enjoyed a bisonless ramble there while their enclosure was mowed. Kiri grinned the rest of the day after nearly getting that deer. He was well past his prime when this exploit occurred, but I can still see him bounding through the tall grass, gamely trying to overtake the doe.
This spring (2012) Kiri took every day as it came. He also took things like the medical bag, and other “low hanging fruit” if we assumed that, because he was old, and his eyes and ears lost their sharpness, that he wasn’t aware of treasure within reach of an old pirate.
On some days, once the threatened heat wave arrived, he did seem quite tired, until evening brought cooler temperatures, at which point he still perked up like a plant reviving after a good watering.
His team of human care givers showed up every evening in pairs or sometimes larger groups to help Kiri with his personal hygiene (a job affectionately nicknamed “Roo Booty Duty” from his nickname of Kiri Roo which came from his practice of “rooing” at us when we approached). One day I failed to keep the hose out of his reach. We usually do NOT pass hoses through the fence into an enclosure with a wolf in it, but in the interests of copious water for Kiri’s hygiene, we sometimes made an exception of him. Kiri grabbed the hose and I found myself in a tug-o-hose water fight with a geriatric predator who still knew how to seize an opportunity – and a rubber “yard snake.” The Kiri Fan Club also brought favorite foods, including one volunteer, Blake, who brought out a camp stove and cooked omelets on site for Kiri. Several interns came back for the Walk for Wolves on September 15. They were walking as a Pack, and had named themselves “Pirates of the Kiribbean.” They were all happy to visit Kiri again and he was happy to see them.
Whether it was resignation, or the increasing heat, Kiri put up with having his inguinal region cleaned every day. As the summer fulfilled the threat of a heat wave, cool water down under was a plus. During the worst heat there were few days when Kiri got up and stomped off muttering about “consarned humans” and grumbling the rhetorical question “Why can’t I wear dirty underwear if I want to?” More often he stayed with us, being a good sport and perhaps flopping over, as he did, for a few volunteers like Dee, and Laura, and Dean, and waving for tummy rubs. Two of his puppy parents from 1993, Lara Luke and Mark Woodcock, were able to come out and visit him. Laura continued making Old Man Sushi (OMS) to tempt his appetite. His last act of piracy involved a very tasty but also very sticky batch of OMS. The OMS had temporarily glued Eclipse’s mouth and Chetan’s mouth shut. We let Kiri eat some and it temporarily glued his mouth, so we set the rest aside for Marion. We wanted to move Kiri closer to his hut, newly padded with straw, in case it got cold that night (we had freeze warnings that week). Kiri could not get up without a boost; Dana boosted his rump up and supported his hindquarters. Galvanized, Kiri power walked his front end while Dana carried his rear. Circling rapidly, he snatched up the bowl of OMS, made off with it and lay down to eat it. We were laughing uproariously by then and we let him finish the sushi. Score another successful loot-and-pillage operation for the Pirate King!
It doesn’t do to take things for granted, and we all knew that every day Kiri greeted us was another gift. He was far under one of the narrow ends of the bell-shaped curve when it came to life span. “Big canines don’t live this long. They just…don’t.” Dr. Julia Becker, our veterinarian, occasionally remarked. Dr. Monique Udell, who came on a research visit in March, let Kiri solve one of her puzzle boxes for grins, giggles, and environmental enrichment. He solved it faster than any of the other wolves. Dr. Udell regretfully said she would not include Kiri in the study she hopes to publish because she tries to compare all our wolves tested with tests with of dogs of comparable age and size. She didn’t think she could find a dog his size and age who was also still as sharp. I suggested that maybe he could be an appendix or a footnote to the study.
The week of September 16 – 22 Kiri’s light was still on but dimmer. He had occasionally twitched since last winter, but it seemed to come and go rapidly, without lingering. Then, in his last week, he was twitching much more often, and once I saw a slight whole body twitch, instead of just a leg here or there. For several days, standing up was a real struggle and he had to lie down and rest after only three or four steps. On Friday and Saturday he rallied a bit and enjoyed visits from as many of his human friends as could make the trip to see him. He had lots of treats. Though it was cooler he enjoyed frequent offers of fresh cool water (the sausage was salty). Dr. Becker came out and examined him. She confirmed what we had all been coming to terms with: Kiri was very near the end of his good time. He might not be to the very end of the good times, but it was probably close. We made the choice for him, letting him go out on the evening of that day, a cool one, like a little slice of October. Goodbye Kiri. We will never forget you.