The majestic white wolf with the big, almost leonine head and compelling eyes was a familiar sight on walking tours of Wolf Park. From the way he moved, it was obvious he had a story. We are still finding people whose lives Orca touched by his example. But now his story has come to a close. With no warning, except for having celebrated his 15th birthday (by eagerly engulfing a frittata), Orca passed away between the evening of June 19 and the morning of June 20. His death took us completely by surprise. No symptoms, no premonitions, no signs or portents. Right up to the end, he kept true to his lifelong pattern of surprising us.
Orca and his litter sister Karin were born at the Wildlife Science Center in Minnesota. We acquired them as very young pups together with their foster brother Alyeska. Adding them to our main pack meant we had a chance for litters of pups that were not inbred. When he had a chance to breed, Orca mated with both his sister Karin, and Altair. While circumstances did not allow us to keep any of the pups he had with Altair, we do have Eclipse a daughter of Karin and Orca. Orca is also survived by his nephew Chetan, his niece Marion, and his great-nephews, Wotan and Wolfgang.
Though rather fearful of his older foster brothers, Kiri and Socrates, Orca eventually worked his way up to the rank of beta male. When the pack lost its alpha male, Chinook, Orca became the new alpha. He was a harsh alpha, frequently suppressing subordinates (particularly Kiri and Socrates) and often threatening Monty. Monty kept his cool, continued to work with Orca and eventually it seemed to dawn on Orca that Monty was his favorite person in the world.
Then on the day after Thanksgiving, 1997, we discovered that Orca had injured his spine and was paralyzed from the waist down. At that point it seemed there was very little chance that Orca could adapt to his injury or recover. At the age of three and a half it certainly looked as if his life was over. But Orca surprised us. He kept doing all he could, and tried to do more.
During the months of his rehabilitation, and his subsequent years as a functioning quadruped, we got letter after letter from people whose lives Orca touched. Whether it was a physical disability, or some other sort of rock or hard place in peoples’ lives, Orca’s story inspired people to keep on trying to overcome obstacles. When Dr. Klinghammer broke his hip, he said that Orca, whom we walked down to the Klinghammer house to look in the window at Dr. Klinghammer, was his inspiration to keep plugging away at physical therapy.
Then in January 2006 Orca suffered a relapse. We rehabilitated him in four months and then he relapsed. Then he injured a right hind leg after tearing up some dig out wire – probably because he wanted to visit the coyote pups, Twister and Willow. It took months to heal his leg, and after that, though he could stand, walking was beyond him though he often tried. He didn’t let the set back get him down. He bipedaled around vigorously for the next three years and kept working at therapy, sometimes surprising us by standing up on his own while we looked on from outside his enclosure. As our friend and behaviorist, Ken McCort said of Orca’s attitude “Sometimes you can walk and some times you can’t but either way you get on with life.” We could not give up on Orca when Orca himself had not given up on living.
Throughout our lives the actions of others affect us, and we, in turn have our own effects on others. Often we do not know, or have only partial knowledge, of the influence we have on lives besides our own. Over the past twelve years we have received many stories from people whose lives Orca enriched. We won’t ever know all the stories, but I think that like a big stone, flung energetically into water, the ripples of Orca’s life will spread far indeed.