Tristan’s race is run. His life came to a close when he had lived 14 years and 10 months. He is survived at Wolf Park by his son Renki, his daughters Ayla and Kailani, and his nephews, Wolfgang and Wotan, great-nephews Bicho and Kanti and great-niece Fiona.
Monday, March 11 our intern Zach reported that Tris was lying in a corner unable or unwilling to get up. Monty and I checked and determined that something was wrong and we called Dr. Becker who came out and drew blood. Tris was lethargic and favored his left foreleg, trying not to put weight on it. When we flexed and palpated the leg extensively he showed no sign of defensiveness or pain, but he would not attempt to straighten it himself. We made him a straw nest, brought up a hut within easy reach and fenced him in the corner with the hut and more bales of straw. We also put a comforter over him which did inspire him to stand up. Since he showed no interest in eating and drinking, we gave him subcutaneous. We put him on broad spectrum antibiotics since Dr. Becker suspected infection, and we were also to tempt him to eat and drink. Between that evening and the evening of the 15th, Tris rallied slightly a couple of times, sometimes eagerly lapping water, and occasionally nibbling favorite snack foods. He also seemed to enjoy scratching and massage from his human friends. While the blood work showed that he had an infection, his other blood values did not immediately arouse alarm. Meanwhile, Tristan’s little rallies gave us hope briefly but there still seemed to be an overall downward trend.
Dr. Becker came out again on March 15 and agreed that he looked worse. Now he behaved as if his left foreleg hurt when we tried to palpate and extend it, and he had less energy. Dr. Becker drew blood to see if the infection had responded at all to medication. The blood showed that his kidney values had deteriorated seriously since the 11th. We took Tris to the clinic for a more thorough workup, but by then we were prepared for the probability that we would euthanize him there. Dr. Becker began a series of x-rays that quickly determined that Tristan was suffering from something incurable. We said our goodbyes to Tris, who was sleeping peacefully through all this, and Dr. Becker administered the final mercy we could give him: not letting him wake up.
The initial necropsy showed that Tristan was riddled with cancer, particularly in his liver and lungs. Dr. Becker was amazed at how much his lungs had deteriorated since his breathing all along had been deep, steady, and unlabored. I am particularly glad he was spared difficulty in breathing, and also that he did not appear to feel pain, only lethargy, until his last day.
Tristan’s rapid decline caught us by surprise. He had seemed a bit creakier this winter: a little more defensive of having his hindquarters pushed off balance. He was enthusiastic about the Wolf Park Holiday Party.
He also enjoyed a chance to go walking with Ayla before we put Kailani in with him for the breeding season. We kept up with his Adequan injections, which seemed to help his creakiness.
In February craniosacral therapist Sandy Prantl came out and noted that he was having trouble extending one hind leg when he walked, but, with the breeding season in full swing, Tris did not want to be treated, he only wanted Kailani with him. We do not know whether they mated but both courted enthusiastically.
Tristan was the large puppy in a mixed litter of himself, his litter sisters Erin and Maya, and their foster sister Marion. He was a very handsome pup who was a joy to watch mature. The other adult males still seemed to show some of the tolerance that they would to a big puppy until he was about four years old. He also showed some other puppy like behavior – chasing inanimate objects for simple joie de vie. He liked chasing snowflakes until he was at least six.
When we split the pack of six into two trios, Tristan, Chetan, and Erin in one and Seneca, Miska, and Marion in the other, Tristan’s pack was soon nicknamed The Happy Pack because they got along well and did not have Marion-generated, um, drama. As alpha male of the Happy Pack, Tristan was able to mate with Erin, even though it was against her initial inclination. They had Ruedi, Renki, Kailani, and Ayla, who brought the pack up to seven. The next winter, Erin mated exclusively with Chetan, and of their pups we kept Wolfgang and Wotan. In 2005 Erin and Chetan seemed ready to retire. This left Tristan not only as alpha male, but what we sometimes called the AWIC (the Adult Who Is in Charge). He was alpha male of a pack of puppies and adolescents. He continued to be alpha male in a pack of energetic youngsters for a little over 6 years, the second longest tenure as alpha male in Wolf Park history, retiring due to Wolfgang and Wotan on July 3, 2009. In retirement he was still an alpha, being joined by first his son, Renki, due to some bad political choices Renki made, and later Ayla joined them too. We separated Renki and Tristan before the 2012 breeding season got well underway. Renki was showing expansionist tendencies, and we did not want Tristan harassed in his old age. He and Kailani appeared to enjoy their two breeding seasons together, though we are only sure that they mated in the 2012 season.
According to Monty’s recollection, Tristan had lived longer than other wolves at the facility where he was born. We knew that Tris was to the age where “every day is a gift,” but we were expecting that he would celebrate his 15th birthday with us. Sadly, this was not to be. Rest in peace, Tristan. You were a magnificent fellow. We will not forget you!