Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Wolf in Distress

Debbie Dunn is generally both Google's and Yahoo's informant about the Bays Mountain Park in Kingsport, Tennessee. This reaction to a news item might have qualified as news when I wrote the first draft and saved it to a floppy disk; by now it's a general opinion piece about the visitor's reaction to the wolf, and the way we react to sick humans.

On June 13, the Kingsport Times-News printed a letter describing a visit to Bays Mountain Park that wasn’t as much fun as the writer had hoped.

A wolf pack who occupy a large fenced-off patch of woodland are one of the park’s main attractions. They don’t always hang out near the fence; sometimes park visitors have to concede the wolves some privacy. On this warm afternoon, however, “My granddaughter was elated to see them so close...we commented on how they need a good brushing. Then we saw the wolf...lying a few feet from the others...After several minutes, it was able to stand. Even after it stood, it was wobbling and dragging its hind legs, as if paralyzed. It didn’t get far when the pack circled it, growling. We could not watch any longer...Where were the employ­ees that are supposed to keep an eye on and take care of things? This wolf was obviously in distress and not some­thing visitors, especially children, should see...[W]e won’t be going back for a while, if ever.”

Evidently the grandmother doesn’t live with cats and dogs. Otherwise she’d know that:

1. Animals are vulnerable to a variety of infectious diseases. These infections can affect the nerves, especially in the hind legs and tail. It can take only a few hours for an animal to go from “looking a bit tired” to “wobbling and dragging its hind legs.” A former Queen of the Cat Sanctuary called Mogwai woke up like that one morning.

2. Some of these infections can be successfully treated with antibiotics...in adult animals. The antibiotics themselves can kill young animals.

3. Although some paraplegic animals can, as Mogwai did, make a complete recovery and become strong, healthy leaders, recovery may take time. Mogwai showed and evidently felt some improvement after taking the first of ten doses of amoxicillin, but continue to drag her hind legs for two or three days, and moved more stiffly and weakly than other cats for two or three months.

4. Wolves are basically wild dogs. Nature does not provide them with “a good brushing” or even with any instinct to solicit grooming from humans. Although pet dogs and cats benefit from being groomed by humans, each individual has to learn how good a brushing feels. Because part of the value of a nature park is that most of the animals in the park aren’t pets, it would be dangerous to try to groom a wolf.

5. Bays Mountain Park doesn’t pay anybody to spend all day, every day, monitoring one particular animal enclosure. Park rangers spend their days ranging about the park. If you want to be sure of visiting an animal enclosure when a knowledgeable employee is there—which is a good idea for family groups with children, because not only will the employee notice if an animal is ill, but the employee will have fun facts to share about the animal—ask park staff about the feeding schedules, and visit the animals at mealtimes. You’ll learn their individual names and stories as well as scientific information about the species.

6. Animals with any sense of family recognize that their infected relative doesn’t need to have to deal with strangers. Most animals avoid a stranger who seems to be ill; strangers who approach a sick animal are likely to be predators. That might explain why the other wolves circled their disabled relative, growling.

7.  So, moving on was a good idea...but what’s with the panic? The grandmother hasn’t lived long enough to be able to tell a child calmly, “That poor wolf is sick, and the others want us to leave it alone. Let’s go and look for a park ranger who might be able to help the sick wolf”? How sheltered are these city dwellers? Every living thing is vulnerable to diseases. Anybody can be suddenly brought down by a disease or injury.

The child’s grandfather might suddenly lose the use of one or both legs. If that happens, does the grandmother want her grandchildren to learn a reaction like “Panic! Stay away from Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house, or wherever Grandpa had the stroke, and don’t ever go to see Grandpa! Grandpa is not something children should see”? Or would she prefer to have taught them a reaction like “Grandpa is ill. Call the doctor”? 

We go to nature parks to observe nature. Most of the time nature is nice. Sometimes nature is ugly, but the way we learn to react to nature’s ugliness when it doesn’t affect us personally can help us cope when it does.

Update: In July two wolves, Kiva and Whya, were euthanized due to incurable painful illness. They were mature adults and had been thrilling park visitors for a long time. Nevertheless, they’ve been missed and mourned and formally memorialized during special events at the park.