Get comfortable, grab your favorite drink of snack and read on about my 16 ½ year adventure with Nasha, my wolf-mix girl.
Nasha was my wolf-mix girl who lived with me from the day I found her, abandoned to the street at 9 weeks of age, until she died at home with me at the age of 16 years, 7 months, still gorgeous, whip-smart and content. She was a unique being and it was a privilege to have her in my life for so long. Nasha was show-stoppingly beautiful and was photographed thousands of times during her life by strangers who would approach and ask, with wonder in their voices, “Is that a wolf???” Nasha would strike her pose, a crowd would arrange themselves around her and the photo session was on!
How Much do you Want for that Puppy?
This public fascination with Nasha all started the day I found her, a scrappy, dirty brown ball playing in the gutter. By the time we got home she had figured out how to perch on the passenger seat head rest and then work her way from the back seat into the trunk and back. I promptly bathed her and she turned into a snow-white picture perfect wolf cub. On her first outing to Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale the next day, as we stopped to eat lunch, a total stranger at the table behind us offered me $5,000 for her and, when I refused, increased his offer to $10,000 and then $15,000. I told him I don’t support the sale of animals and left in a bit of a huff. At our next stop, the Bal Harbor Shops (very FANCY) one of the art gallery owners asked me to leave Nasha with him and take anything I wanted from the gallery in return. I could have made off with a six figure piece of artwork but at this point I was growing increasingly suspicious that I had no idea what I had on my hands. As I politely declined the swap offer, the gallery owner wistfully said “that puppy will change your life.” And so she did. I only found out that Nasha was a wolf-mix when I took her to the vet the next week for her initial exam and puppy shots. Apparently everyone else recognized what I had not but who would think that I would find a wolf-mix on the streets of Miami?
Wolves Love Family
Wolves are very family oriented and protective of their young and Nasha, even as a wolf-mix, was no exception. After she died neighbors fondly recalled how Nasha had taken their puppies under her wing and taught them how to stay on the side of the road, play nicely and socialize. Nasha also took charge of every rescued puppy I ever brought into the house and taught them the rules of the house. One of them, Thatcher, is now 9 years old and he went through a deep grieving period after his Nasha mama died. Nasha also loved human babies and many an intrepid parent placed their baby on or next to Nasha to let her lavish attention on the child, including a nice face cleaning.
Nasha was in her element and impeccably well behaved when she was at the vet, at the groomer, with me at work or at a conference or at a school with me as part of my occasional animal welfare presentations. Two days after my Rila died at almost 18 years of age I was scheduled to speak at a conference. I told the conference organizer that unless I could bring Nasha with me for emotional support, I would not be able to attend the conference. The hotel accommodated her 80 pound self and even gave us a large 2-bedroom suite for the duration of the conference. Nasha stayed by my side 24/7, even going up with me while I was speaking and many of the conference attendees ended up on the floor with her for their own personal emotional support sessions.
I once took Nasha to an elementary school for a presentation and, to my surprise, was directed to the auditorium. As we waited, the whole place filled with third and fourth graders, teachers and staff. Word had apparently spread that Nasha would be in attendance. As I gave my presentation, Nasha followed my commands to the “t” and then, after I cautioned the children not to run around Nasha, she allowed the mass of children to swarm around her, touching, stroking and generally loving on her. She was a born star and gave everyone she came in contact with the experience of a lifetime.
Hierarchy is Important
Because Nasha was part wolf, she was a very instinctual being and she taught me a lot about canine behavior. She was very conscious of the hierarchy in the house and had tremendous respect and love for her Rila who was 3 years older and the undisputed queen not only in my house but in the neighborhood. Because Nasha was food aggressive from the first moment I found her, I fed her off the back of my hand for the first week and then spent another week putting my hand in her plate every time I fed her. She literally learned not to bite the hand that fed her. I was able to do this because she was only 9 weeks old at the time but I may not have been able to engage in this training had I found her when she was larger with her permanent teeth already in.
Nasha never did get over her food guarding behavior with other animals – except for Rila. Because of her respect for Rila, I fed Rila in the middle of the room with Nasha on one side of her and everyone else on Rila’s other side. For Nasha, there was an invisible line across the room and through Rila which she would not cross until Rila moved so everyone was able to eat in peace without fear of attack from Nasha. Rila would quietly reinforce her position as Queen Bee by quickly looking up at Nasha as she ate and forcing Nasha to look away. Once she’d quietly exerted her power, Rila would look back down at her food to resume eating. Nasha would patiently wait until Rila was finished – and Rila was a VERY slow eater, perhaps in part to teach Nasha her lesson – and then creep over to see if Rila had left her anything. Had I not watched this routine time after time, I would not have believed it.
Intelligent Beings Require Stimulation and Challenge
Nasha was highly intelligent and active and therefore required lifelong physical and intellectual stimulation. For the first couple years of her life I sent her to day camp 2 – 3 days/week on a yellow school bus. The camp named her its “Social Director” because Nasha would routinely take each new camper under her wing, show them the ropes, introduce them to the wonders of the bone-shaped pool and integrate them with the rest of the gang. Nasha was also a bit of a Houdini: Each camper had to wear a safety harness on the bus and the dogs were seated two to a bench. Nasha always wanted to be at the very front, just behind the driver but that seat was not always available when she boarded so, according to the driver, she would wait until the bus was underway, slither out of her harness and then tiptoe up the aisle to the next available seat closer to the front. Before the bus stopped again she would sit still in her new seat, wait for the bus to start again and repeat the trick. On the way home, as campers were offloaded, Nasha would eventually work her way up to her favorite seat just behind the driver. After she had done this a number of times the driver gave up and just saved her seat for her, both coming and going.
Once Nasha hit puberty (2 – 3 years of age) she began to exhibit some territoriality so I withdrew her from the camp. I took her through obedience training, she earned her AKC Canine Good Citizen certificate, we did search and rescue training with the Miami-Dade County Search and Rescue team and engaged in agility training. I also provided Nasha with challenging brain games in the form of puzzles to keep her mind sharp and boredom at bay. Nasha remained a highly intelligent, engaged and uniformly happy girl until her death.
Wolves will be Wolves and that Means Hunting
Nasha also had a strong hunting instinct and was very motion oriented so she would automatically go after anything moving by her too quickly. This included bicyclists, runners and small animals. I live in a bit of a jungle and possums love my yard. They would run along the top of the wood fence at the back of my yard and Nasha would rush the fence, slam her 80 pounds into it and knock the hapless possum right into her mouth. Most of the time her prey would end up either in the pool or in what I dubbed her “kill zones” which she guarded fiercely from the rest of the dogs. I would routinely “sweep” the yard for any dead animals to avoid confrontations between Nasha and anyone intrepid or curious enough to investigate.
Nasha also ripped the shorts right off a jogger who happened to be running by the car as Nasha was getting out for a walk. She also took down a large jogger who had wisely stopped to walk by us when he saw Nasha. Unfortunately, Nasha took exception to him and grabbed his leg in the wink of an eye. She was so incredibly quick that even in our hyper-vigilant state, she was still able to attack before we were able to react. Luckily, Nasha was all about the take down so once she’d accomplished her goal, she lost interest in the object of her ‘affection’. Even more luckily the people she paid her special attention to were very understanding, including the jogger turned walker who ended up in the hospital and whose wife blamed him for the attack, saying that her husband must have done something to provoke it. I quickly paid the hospital bill and didn’t disabuse her of her interpretation of the situation.
Why Wolves and Other Wild Animals Should NOT be Kept as Pets
If you’ve made it this far in Nasha’s story, you will have realized that she was not your run-of-the-mill pet. There are hundreds more stories about her but that would fill a book. The sample here is by way of illustrating the fact that while dogs have been fully domesticated as suitable companions, wild and semi-wild animals like Nasha, along with lions, bears, jaguars, alligators, tigers, monkeys, large snakes and other animals, are NOT domesticated pets and should not be kept as such. These sentient beings belong in their natural environments, in the wild, leading their lives as Mother Nature intended.
I took Nasha and my other fur babies on many vacations, including a month-long trek to visit national parks in the western US. While driving on the Beartooth Highway, along the border between Wyoming and Montana, we decided to take a break, parked on the side of the road and pilled out of the car: 2 humans, 3 dogs and a wolf-mix. After a few minutes of exploring and running around, Nasha abruptly ran to the edge of the hill we were on and disappeared over the crest. We ran to look for her but she was nowhere in sight. While the instinct was to try to run after her, we knew we’d never find her and resigned ourselves to the fact that we had either just unintentionally repatriated a wolf to the wild or that she would come back to us of her own volition. After a tense hour of waiting, she reappeared where she had disappeared over the crest of the hill and rejoined us. Needless to say, we quickly loaded back up and hit the road. Not 100 yards down the road we passed a large sign that read: “CAUTION: Grizzly County. Do NOT get out of your vehicle.”
Nasha was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I am grateful that I found her when she was a puppy and was able to learn and adapt to her ways as she grew and then train her accordingly, but I would never recommend that anyone intentionally acquire a wolf, wolf-mix or other wild animal as a companion animal. While I support the efforts of wolf-dog rescues and sanctuaries, it is a rare person who will be found to be suitable and knowledgeable enough to provide a good home to a wolf or wolf-dog, even if the wolf-dog is a relatively low content wolf.
Many German Shepherd Dog owners, in particular, requested that I allow their dog to mate with Nasha but I firmly turned all requests down after explaining that unless you have a license to do so (a) breeding wolves is illegal in Florida as is buying and selling them; and (b) this type of ‘back-yard’ breeding contributes to and exacerbates the already overwhelming problem of dog and cat overpopulation which results in horrifyingly high euthanasia rates at most of our nation’s animal shelters. As soon as she was old enough, I had Nasha spayed and that was the end of that issue.
I was lucky enough to fall into a life with my gorgeous wolf-mix girl and she gave me untold joy and taught me many valuable lessons along the way. I was also lucky enough to be able to provide Nasha with the environment she needed to thrive. However, having said that, I strongly caution against keeping a wild or semi-wild animal as a pet. I rescued Nasha on the streets of Miami and, unlike most of my other rescues, I decided that I could not responsibly adopt her out so I kept her. That, however, is the ONLY situation under which one should even contemplate having anything other than a fully domesticated animal as a fur baby.
Keep your eyes out for our upcoming roundup of wolf sanctuaries in honor of Nasha girl.