Ruedi (April 12, 2004 - December 28, 2012)

Ruedi did not come to the fence for his morning pills on December 29. This was not a cause for immediate concern; Ruedi has learned that it is often best to keep a low profile in winter as a way of avoiding trouble, and that sometimes means skipping his morning pills. Also he might have been asleep. Ruedi’s “nap attacks” have been part of his lifestyle since puppyhood; he has had the habit of going out of sight to nap, or just rest quietly.

We kept an eye out for him but, it was possible that he was out and we missed seeing him. We thought it was also possible that he had gone into one of the dens on the island for some quiet time. In earlier years, other wolves used the islands’ dens when they wanted private time.

We spent Sunday and Monday, the 30th and 31st searching the enclosure for Ruedi. To explore the dens thoroughly, we used a video camera and a light on a flexible pole, and were able to satisfactorily explore any nooks and crannies that Ruedi could have gotten into. He was not in any of them.

We did several searches along the fence looking for signs of digging or damage to the fence. The snow on the ground made it easy to see that there were no tracks leading away from the enclosure and we also found no damage to the fence. There was no sign whatsoever that he left the enclosure.

With heavy hearts we concluded that he had gone through the ice on the pond. When we later recovered his body from the enclosure our suspicions were confirmed. This is the twentieth winter wolves have lived in this enclosure and we had never had anything like this happen before.

Looking back over Ruedi’s life, the quote from Ecclesiastes, at the top of this letter, came to my mind. Ruedi was never the fastest, or most muscular, or most agile pup in his litter. His strength lay inside his skull; he was a problem solver. Perhaps because he was not as robust as his litter mates Ruedi mastered the skill of being low ranking. Doing this well is most definitely a skill. Ruedi and Chetan both mastered it. I have been in awe of their skills as much as I have been of our most successful alpha wolves. Withdrawing to a sequestered spot for naps was part of this skill; so was, as a very young pup, a knack for wrestling while lying down. On tests of cognition and social learning conducted over the years by visiting researchers, Ruedi often did quite well. He reminded me of the methodical student who gets A’s by reading the test carefully, answering the questions, and then going back and checking his work for errors. Tom O’Dowd, our videographer, is full Ruedi stories in which Ruedi, though low ranking, achieved his goals through a kind of social judo, often by using other wolves against each other. He was also eager to interact with the pups born in 2005, 2010, and 2012. With Dharma’s kids, Ruedi figured out that her obstreperous sons, due to their blindness, did not act quite like the other wolves. I don’t know how much of the ramifications of their blindness he understood, but he certainly figured out enough to use the advantage it gave him, many times keeping his tail unyanked and his butt ungrabbed.

When Dharma was still a pup and her litter mates, Tillie and Gordon, departed in the fall of 2010 for their new homes in Illinois and Montana, Ruedi immediately buddied up with Dharma. The two became very close that first fall when she had no one else her age to play with, and the Drama Club of Kailani, Wolfgang, and Wotan was already rehearsing for breeding season.

Biologists say an animal is a success if it gets its genes into the next generation or, is successful on a smaller scale if it helps close relatives to do so. Because he and Dharma were so bonded, Ruedi was her chosen mate when she precociously came in season in 2011, and he also mated with her 5 times in 2012, in spite of competition from Wolfgang and Wotan. He had the social skills to mate; but, ironically, he and his littermates had been sterilized due to inbreeding. However, he helped socialize his half-brother, Wolfgang’s, pups born to Dharma. Ruedi fit the profile of a helper. And as many humans can attest, he was very adept at winning our hearts. Yes, he was smart, but his greatest strength dwelled in his good heart.

It is very hard to realize he is gone, and not just having a nap attack in one of the dens (or as one volunteer fantasized, down in his Fortress of Solitude, geekishly at work on the Ultimate Robot). We had rosy plans for his retirement, but time and chance happened instead. Goodbye dear Ruedi. We will never forget you.

“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” – Ecclesiastes