Friday, September 8, 2017

Review: The devastating attraction of the wolf

Review of: Part Wild: One Woman’s Journey with a Creature Caught Between the Worlds of Wolves and Dogs
Author: Ceiridwen Terrill
Publisher: Scribner
Source: Dallas Public Library
Grade: A

Ceiridwen Terrill wanted a wolfdog to protect her from an abusive boyfriend. Instead, long after the man who terrorized her vanished from her life, she would become the protector of the young animal too much of a wolf to live among humans, too much of a dog to survive without them. The looming tragedy of the young wolfdog Terrill named Inyo is evident to the reader, heartbreakingly hidden from Terrill until the bitter end of Part Wild, a chilling journey through the shadowy, legally-murky world of wolfdog owners and breeders.

“. . . I’d been living with Eddie in a small Texas town. He’d brought me a couple of mixed-breed puppies after the first bruises had shown,” Terrill writes. But when she finally fled, leaving the dogs behind, “Eddie” left a message on a friend’s voice mail: “. . . her dogs are dead.” 

“Leaving my dogs meant failing them, and there was nothing I could do to make it right.” The closest she could come to atoning for what seemed her own failing would be to rescue a dog and keep it safe. She made that promise to herself.

And then she met her first wolfdog. “While the other shelter dogs pawed the chain link, desperate for human touch, (he) lurked at the back of his cage, keeping as much distance from me as he could. . . I saw the wolf in him, a certain wildness in his yellow eyes, his body hunched and ready to run.”

She had fallen in love again, with another unattainable being. And began the quest for a wolfdog of her own.

It began with an online search at a sanctuary for rescued animals, whose operator accepted Terrill’s down payment for an animal from its shelter, only to renege and refuse to refund her money. “That’s considered a donation to our sanctuary here, and we really appreciate it.”

(She would later learn such havens are perpetually cash-strapped, as many owners of wolfdogs abandon them once the animals morph from cute puppies into large and often emotionally-unstable predators. And those are perhaps the lucky animals, the ones who aren’t simply dumped into a wild their human upbringing hasn’t prepared them to survive in.)

Like the myriads who write to advice columnists asking how they can adapt to an unsuitable relationship, Terrill ignored the warning signs of aggressive and destructive behavior and habitual lack of interest in humans she witnessed in the pair of wolfdogs whose breeder assured her, “Both of them are so good-natured I know the pups will come out gorgeous and sweet-tempered.”

When Terrill described the creatures as wolf hybrids, the breeder corrected her. "'Dogs and wolves are the same species,' she said. 'A dog is just the dumbed-down version.'" Terrill wondered but didn't ask: "Why, if wolves and dogs were the same species, did they behave so differently?"

image: pixabay
The puppy Terrill received, who she named Inyo, was as gorgeous as promised. But sweet-tempered? Yes, Inyo bonded with her, howling miserably all day while Terrill was away. (A behavior that garnered repeated nuisance citations from her Reno, Nevada, neighbors, drained money from Terrill’s slender bank account as a student to bail Inyo out of the pound, and led to evictions by irritated landlords.)

If only they had more room and fewer neighbors, Terrill reasoned desperately, things would be all right. But even a move to rural acreage wasn’t big enough to satisfy Inyo’s innate urge to roam. With incredible tenacity, Inyo dug, chewed, and climbed out of every enclosure Terrill could devise, even disabling an electric fence. When she began attacking neighbors’ livestock and pets, the pawprints were on the wall.

It was Terrill’s turn to look for a sanctuary, or face the ultimate solution. To her credit, she turned her heartbreak into a cause, shining a light onto the fates of wild creatures imprisoned for the pet trade – or worse. Plentiful notes and an extensive bibliography at the back of Part Wild fill in readers on much of Terrill’s research without interrupting the flow of her beautifully-written personal story. I highly recommend her book for anyone with an interest in dogs, wolves, or the way in which we humans interact with the other creatures whose world we share.

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