It was about 40 years ago, for me.
I was stuck in a terrible Southwest town for a day (no names to protect the guilty!), so I decided to drop in at a small local zoo. The zoo was even worse.
They had one Mexican wolf by itself in a pen no bigger than the size of my house. There was a shelter in the center of it. And one measly tree. The wolf was pacing around and around the shelter. Looking for all the world like a human going crazy with boredom.
I stood there for quite a while as s/he paced. Appalled. Feeling complicit as a human in creating this prison. Trying and failing to think of anything I could do.
The wolf ignored me. Around and around and around it went. For 15-20 minutes. I wanted to make a connection, but I felt guilty. Was the wolf also supposed to entertain me? While in prison?
But… maybe I could entertain the wolf?
The next time the wolf’s pacing took it behind the enclosure — out of my sight — I hid behind a nearby rest room. I wasn’t sure the wolf would even notice. There’d been no eye contact at all.
The wolf came around into view. It didn’t stop its pacing, but its head jerked up to where I had been. I stuck my head out from behind the wall fully so it could see me. We made eye contact. I smiled. Then I jerked behind the wall entirely.
The wolf continued its pacing. The next time it came around I was standing where I’d been standing previously. Like I hadn’t moved. We made eye contact. It continued pacing. The next time it came around, I was hiding again — and poked out my head. The next time — I was standing in my original spot like I’d never moved.
I did this over and over and over. I got the feeling I was amusing the wolf. S/he never stopped pacing, but each time it came around the shelter it looked for where I’d be this time.
I continued the game until it was way past time I had to leave. And, of course, I felt guilty even then — leaving him to such a frustrating existence for a creature designed to traverse miles and miles every day.
In a way, I never left…
The intelligence I saw in the wolf far surpassed anything I’d experienced in a non-human. It was certainly far beyond my pet dogs. The wolf imprinted my soul — and my life was richer from having made its acquaintance.
I took two pictures that day.
- The one above shows the criminally small cage that held an animal built to travel miles and miles every day. And he was alone — for a creature whose life revolves around his/her family.
- The one I’ve kept framed over my desk is below.