Many years ago, my family spent part of each summer at a cabin in Lake Arrowhead, California. This became one of my favorite places to visit. The temperature was always about 10 to 20 degrees cooler up there, the air was clear and heavily scented with pine, and being in the mountains was an entirely different world from the hustle-and-bustle of a city. It was like time stopped and the opportunity to experience the “wild” of the wilderness. Of course, wildlife in Lake Arrowhead consisted mostly of squirrels (a lot of squirrels), blue jays and crazy-big spiders. There was also a wolf.
Whitey was actually a wolf-dog hybrid. He belonged to the people who owned the cabin next door and spent most of his time outside. He was a fairly big animal, as I recall; his long white fur was coarse and his head and face seemed larger than most dogs I had ever seen. I can’t remember if Whitey’s eyes were amber like his lupine relatives, or if his teeth were larger than a typical dog’s. But the moment I found out that this canine was part wolf, I couldn’t spend enough time with him. I wasn’t afraid of him. He was always gentle and affectionate, although I probably should have been a little more cautious around him. (His daughter, Tia, was another story and I was much more wary and aware around her.) But my first experience with a wolf—or part-wolf—was definitely positive. As I write this blog I can only wonder if those interactions with Whitey created a subconscious known/subconscious mental script that formed my lifelong interest in and passion for these animals.
Last summer I had an opportunity to attend a presentation about wolves at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center. Despite the heat, at least 100 people came out to see the animals, Damu and Cael, from Project Wildsong. You could hear the collected intake of breath as the organization’s executive director, Kimmi Kraus, and one of her colleagues brought the wolves out. She explained that they were actually wolf-dog hybrids, with 90 percent wolf DNA and 10 percent domestic dog. That was initially disappointing—I expected to see true wolves—but I agreed with her explanation that it would be counterintuitive and counterproductive to remove a wolf from the wild to teach people about these endangered animals. Damu and Cael certainly looked like true wolves with their long, long legs, large feet and sharp facial features. (In fact, one of Cael’s cousins reportedly had a starring role as a Dire Wolf in Game of Thrones on HBO.) They certainly had many lupine behaviors, Kraus reassured, which Damu promptly demonstrated when he easily jumped onto a picnic table and looked back at—watched—everyone staring, awe-struck, at him.
Ms. Kraus described the history of wolves as being alternately reviled and beloved animals, explaining their role as a keystone species like bears and mountain lions that help to maintain a healthy balance between predator and prey species. She pointed out the wolves’ physical features and showed Damu’s paws. At one point, she had him open his mouth so we could look at his teeth: FYI, they are much bigger than the average domestic dog’s.
For me, the highlight of the event happened at the very end, after the presentation had concluded and audience members were starting to leave. Damu was sitting on the picnic table again—he switched spots with Cael earlier—and I found myself in front of him waiting to ask Ms. Kraus a question. For a moment, we were face to face, and Damu leaned forward and licked me a few times. Many people were petting him or scratching his back, but until that moment I hadn’t tried to touch him. Of course, once he licked me I inferred the gesture was an invitation for contact (emotional suggestibility); I only barely restrained my urge to give him a hug and settled for stroking his left shoulder and back.
When I finally stepped back and started to make my way back to my car, I checked over my shoulder and saw that the wolf still looking for me. It was like a blast from the past, reminding me how I used to cuddle and play with Whitey, the first wolf I ever met. All I can say about both experiences is that nothing compares to the way a wolf looks at you, through you. I still have goose-bumps.
Sara R. Fogan, C.Ht. is a certified hypnotherapist based in Southern California. She graduated with honors from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in 2005. For more information about Calminsense Hypnotherapy® and to set up an appointment, please visit http://www.calminsensehypnotherapy.com/.