Forepaws and Seventeen Years Ago

A Personal Narrative

By Nicholas Bruce

Her eyes shine with dark amber alertness, ears swivelling forward to capture every detail she can.
Her pack mate is the same, and both are momentarily frozen at the moment.
I stop as well, becoming still to every sensory detail. I quiet my mind, the usual hum of ideas paused in their flow, and I allow my senses to merge with the environment.
For them, first nature and a survival mechanism.
For me, a skill I am slowly honing the more time I spend with the wolves and wolfdogs, and one I am ineffably grateful to learn.
My friends and teachers decide the disturbance is nothing too exciting, and resume snuffling my face.
Malakai lowers his gaze, dropping onto his forepaws. He fixes me with that direct, cheeky stare.
Let’s play.
I hold his stare and he gives a grunt of excitement, and I snatch out with my right hand to grab his paw.
He leaps sideways just in time and growls.
Back and forth muzzle-grabbing and play-biting ensue, and I am laughing.
Luna gives a disapproving look, her tail low, and darts off to a quieter space in the enclosure to resume her vigilance.

Leaving the two is never fun.
Luna stares at me through the fence, unhappy that she must remain while I can go as I please. She has been this way since the Big Move, and I have no way of telling her that she will have a better den and enclosure soon.
Malakai’s tongue lolls out. I think he knows there will be more play soon, and I fancy he is smiling for the time.

Unbolting the gate to Sanuk and Savannah’s enclosure, I greet the old wolfdogs in the usual fashion, approaching Sanuk to spare his back legs the getting up. I rub his ear, and he tilts his head into the action.
At 17 years old, he is one of the most venerated members of the Wolf Sanctuary, with a uniquely endearing quality that on one occasion brought a tourist from Frankfurt to tears.
No surprise why, I think, taking in the warmth and wisdom spilling from his hooded eyes.
Savannah falls over onto her back when I greet her, inviting a tummy rub and lots of “It’s good to see you”s from my side.

So many people, scents, stories, howls, fights, feedings and greetings, resting in one place.
I no longer wonder if this sanctuary is one exclusively for canines.