We first heard about Cree from an animal control officer in Arizona in early March 2013. She was roaming near a Native American reservation in New Mexico. Captured and transported to a veterinary clinic in Arizona, she was held until DNA tests requested by the Arizona Fish and Wildlife Department were completed. For three weeks, we waited anxiously to hear about the analysis. We finally received a call, and she was classified as a Northwestern wolf cross. If Cree had been classified as a part Mexican Gray Wolf, she would have been euthanized. Her test results meant Cree could be released to W.O.L.F.
Cree was not comfortable around humans, and it was a long, anxious drive back to W.O.L.F. Based on this, our original plan of bringing her to the Sanctuary for a few days before getting her spayed was changed. Instead, she was taken to a veterinary clinic for surgery and an oral check-up. It was then that we learned that our two-year-old girl was actually closer to eight and had lived a very rough life.
Cree’s teeth were worn, with many dead or broken. She had an umbilical hematoma and the beginnings of ocular sclerosis. When we brought her to the Sanctuary, we placed her in the catch-up area of her new permanent home with Matoskah. Cree, despite her initial protest about being at the Sanctuary, turned out to be the perfect girl. She took one look at Matoskah’s grumpy old man persona and saw through to the wonderful animal underneath. She became his constant companion, and in some ways, his protector as Matoskah grew older and more arthritic. When Matoskah passed away in December 2014, we needed to find a new companion for Cree since most wolves and wolf dogs are pack animals that thrive in the companionship of other animals. In January 2015, we rescued Denali, who came to W.O.L.F. from Lockwood Animal Rescue Center (LARC) in California. Denali was one of the animals LARC rescued from a deplorable tourist attraction in Alaska where the animals were kept on chains.
We released Denali into Cree’s catch area so he could stretch his legs and meet her through the fence. Denali was anxious to get away from us, and Cree felt the need to defend her territory from the humans. We decided to back off for a bit to let them calm down before we opened the gate. After a half hour, we went back and put them in together.
At first, Denali was extremely interested in exploring the amount of space he had in his new home. Cree seemed uncertain about him, preferring that he respect her ten-foot personal space bubble. However, they soon became an inseparable duo. They enjoyed following humans around their habitat at a safe distance, and they were often seen sleeping together. Caretakers could always count on them racing to the bottom of the habitat to explore what was for dinner, and they were a devoted couple.
However, on February 4, 2020, Denali experienced some sort of episode. Staff noticed that his face appeared asymmetrical, he was falling to one side, and he seemed to be having trouble moving about his habitat. Denali was caught and transported for emergency diagnostics at CSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The next day, an MRI revealed five lesions in Denali’s brain that ultimately proved to be strokes. The veterinary team felt that we would be unable to manage Denali’s condition and provide him with a good quality of life, so staff made the devastating decision to euthanize him. The transported his body back up to Cree, but she would not go near him. Instead, she remained at the top of her habitat, howling a solo song of grief.
Without Denali’s presence, Cree became more anxious, and staff knew that they needed to find a new companion for her rapidly to comfort her and decrease her anxiety. Later the same month, they found just that animal in Kovu, a young male wolf dog in Rifle, Colorado who was in need of sanctuary placement. Like Cree, he was not social with humans but did get along very well with his family’s canines. Staff carefully monitored the introduction, which was undramatic. Kovu seemed far more interested in exploring his beautiful new home than he was in investigating Cree herself. Before long, however, the two began spending time in close proximity to one another. It seems that their bond continues to deepen, which has helped Cree become more comfortable after losing her beloved Denali.