My favorite book in elementary school was Walt Morey's Kavik the Wolf Dog. It revolves around a wolfdog named Kavik who has just won a sled race in Alaska. His success as a lead dog makes Kavik worth thousands of dollars, and he is purchased by Mr. Hunter, a wealthy businessman. Kavik is put on a plane to Colorado but becomes stranded mid-route when the plane crashes. Andy rescues the wolfdog from the wilderness of Alaska, torn up from the fall and trapped inside his cage. Kavik never forgets Andy, even when Mr. Hunter finds out that he survived and claims him from Andy's home. What makes the story inspiring is that Kavik traveled on a boat and through the wilderness from Colorado just to get back to Andy. He showed both the loyalty of a dog and the survivability of a wolf. It was the combination of husky and wolf that brought Kavik home to Andy, not either one on its own. Even though the wolf inside him was considered vicious, it kept him alive. I always cried each time I reached the end.
Every time I read the book, I wished I had been Andy. I didn't have a dog we lived in an apartment and had only hamsters and fish but that wasn't just it. I wanted to live in Alaska like Andy and rescue a dog that was half wolf. I wanted to take him to the local doctor in spite of how beat up he was. A wolfdog didn't seem dangerous. I wanted a dog like Kavik to come back for me against all odds. My friends who had moved away from the apartment complex never came back looking for me. Rebecca my best friend from school - moved to Kansas with her family. Stephanie and her family moved to the city before she remembered to return my Harry Potter book. Each time, I hoped that they would come back..
When my mother sat my twin brother Dom and I down in my room when we were eight years old, something felt familiar and wrong. I remembered when Rebecca walked with me at the baseball field and told me that she'd miss me. I remembered when my mom made me an AOL screen name just so I could send Rebecca an instant message. When she told Dom and I that she was going to Las Vegas for a while, we didn't understand. I don't remember the fights she and my dad had, but I remember that she told us we could visit her on an airplane someday. When she asked me why I was crying, I babbled that airplanes scared me, that we'd never been on an airplane. I had hoped that she, too, would come back home.
When wolves mate, they mate for life. An entire day is spent in courtship during mating season, which takes place most often in February or March. While the alphas of the pack the highest rank in the wolf hierarchy - mate most often, subordinates have been known to mate with each other as well. During her pregnancy, the mother wolf focuses on her expected litter of pups by digging out a den with the pack. She continues to hunt until she physically can't; the rest of the pack then hunts and brings food to her in the den, either whole or regurgitated for her. After nine weeks the pups are born. The mother nurses them and keeps them warm until they start venturing out of the den, eyes and ears open. The mother starts hunting for the pack again, leaving subordinate wolves to watch over the pups until she returns. The wolf mother never forgets about her pups. As a pack, the wolves enjoy the responsibility, playing with the pups and protecting them from the wilderness. The entire pack helps care for them until they grow up into yearlings. The new wolves might decide to leave the pack right away, within a few years, or never leave their family at all. But the mother never leaves.
When I was thirteen or fourteen, we went on a summer vacation to Williamsburg, Virginia. At the Busch Gardens theme park there was a conservation center called Wolf Valley, right next to the endangered birds at Eagle Ridge. In five minutes, a live wolf show was going to start. My stepmother promised to record it on the video camera while we watched. My brothers Dom and Chris fidgeted and complained. They wanted to go on more rides, maybe another roller coaster. But my stepmother and my dad were firm we were going to watch the wolves because I wanted to watch the wolves.
"Your sister should get a chance to do something she wants to do," my stepmom said. My brothers sat on the edge of the bench and pretended to be interested.
At home I had a picture book of wolves. I had Call of the Wild and White Fang. I had used a kiln in art class to make a three-inch high wolf statue. But none of these compared to actually seeing a wolf lounging on the grass behind a chain-link fence. There were a few of them, and they were all white and gray. Their pink tongues lolled out of their mouths. Some walked around and sniffed at each other in greeting. Was this what Kavik was like? The few wolves didn't seem bothered by all the people watching from behind the fence; several times a day, they must do the same show. I knew that dogs descended from wolves, but I didn't expect them to seem so similar. The chain-link fence was the only thing that separated them from being completely tame.
One of the wolf trainers walked out onto the stage from a hidden door and everyone in the stands clapped; the show had started. It was a girl, much older than I was, dressed in beige pants and her wolf conservation center t-shirt. One of the white wolves stood up and ran at her playfully. It got right up in front of her and rolled onto its back, legs in the air. A couple of small children squealed with delight on the benches behind us.
"I know it looks like he just wants a belly rub," she said with a laugh, "but it's also an act of submission."
In other words, it may look like a dog and act like a dog, but it isn't a dog. The girl stressed that the wolves had grown up with the trainers in the park since they were pups. This was the only life they knew, and the trainers were in charge. They were the alphas of the pack, and the wolves respected that. I wondered if the wolves would have accepted the trainers if they had spent most of their lives in the wild. The wolf show didn't seem as exotic anymore. This was not what wolves were like according to my picture book. They fought for their territory, for their food, and for their positions in the pack. Here, in the conservation center, they didn't have to fight for any of that.
In the movie <i?Balto</i>, Balto is half dog and half wolf like Kavik, but he doesn't have an owner. He is an outcast among the stray dogs of the town of Nome, Alaska because of his wolf blood. The humans won't befriend him, either; worried that Balto is feral, they keep their distance. In spite of everything, Balto saves the people of Nome from the diphtheria outbreak by leading a sled team to retrieve the vaccine. I was always happy to see the wolfdog become the town hero by the end of the movie. My favorite part is when Balto decides to run out into the snowstorm to rescue the sled team. Balto and the serum fall down a cliff and he almost gives up. Through the storm, though, he sees a white wolf walk toward him and raise its nose to howl. Balto ignores it, and the wolf turns and disappears into the blizzard. It isn't until Balto accepts the wolf within him, though, that he can keep going. When Balto stands and raises his nose to answer the white wolf's howl, the wolf returns to howl along with him. He is part wolf, and he is finally proud of it. I always sympathized with Balto; because I was shy throughout middle and high school, I felt like an outcast, too.
The movie always said Balto was based on a true story; at the end, it even shows a statue of Balto in Central Park that is dedicated to the sled dog and his heroism. However, it turns out that Balto had only led his team for the final stretch to Nome; when sled teams were put together for the serum run of 1925, a dog named Togo led Leonard Seppela's team over 261 miles of dangerous terrain to reach the serum runner and deliver it to another team. The serum only traveled 25 miles before it reached Gunner Kaasen and his team, led by the real Balto. It only took them 53 miles to reach Nome, but as the sled team delivering the serum into the town, they received the most fame. Balto stole the publicity from Togo and got a statue in his honor. At the end of it all, Balto had never even been part wolf he had been purebred husky.
Balto was an imposter now.
In the Japanese movie Princess Mononoke, a girl named San has been raised by the wolf god of the forest, Moro. When her parents threw her at Moro to save themselves, San was taken in by the wolf god and raised amongst her and her two pups. San doesn't consider herself a human; her mother is Moro, and the two other wolves are her brothers. She has been raised in the wolf family as a trained killer, making constant attempts to kill Lady Eboshi, the leader of Iron Town. Iron Town thrives by burning down the forest to smelt the ironsand underneath. She wears furs, a necklace of teeth, and a ragged dress. San is different from feral children in her intelligence (she had a wolf god as a foster mother, for one thing) but she remains vicious and fierce. Being raised among wolves has made her quick on her feet and a capable killer.
Many cases have been reported in Russia of children abandoned by their parents who learn to survive in the wild. Even in 2007, a "werewolf boy" was found living and hunting with a pack of wolves. He was captured and taken to a Moscow clinic. His toenails were long like claws, he had sharp teeth and displayed wolf-like behavior. He managed to escape from the clinic but not before doctors could run some tests; while he only looked around ten-years-old, doctors believed him to be older. He was announced as on the loose and a danger to other people.
One morning during sophomore year of college, I dreamed about a wolf. The wolf was still my favorite animal, which was why the dream startled me. All I could remember was being pinned down on the ground with a large gray wolf standing over me. I was somewhere in the woods, but I couldn't move. All I could see was its face and teeth as it snapped its jaws at me. The wolf growled and snarled and pulled back its lips. An inch closer and I would have been dinner. In my dream I tried to fight, but I gave up. I woke up, relieved that you weren't supposed to die in your dreams. I was still nervous, though; it was the first nightmare I could remember having in a while. More importantly, I had spent years admiring the wolf, reading books about it, watching movies about it and even toying with the idea that the wolf might be my animal totem. I wasn't supposed to have dreams about wolves wanting to kill me. I decided that, in my dream, I must have been a wolf, too.
Later that night, when my roommate and I were doing homework on our beds, she told me I had been tossing and turning in my sleep. She stayed up until three or four in the morning most nights, long after I went to sleep to the sound of the television playing one of her reality shows. She told me that it had looked like I was fighting with something and she hadn't wanted to wake me. I told her about my dream and she just laughed. Had she woken up moments before being eaten by an angry wolf, I don't think she would have been laughing. I have always taken my dreams seriously. Wolves in dreams are said to symbolize our greatest fears, but that didn't make much more sense; all I had been afraid of was the wolf itself.
Popular culture tells us that to be a werewolf is to be cursed, at least most of the time. Unfortunately, this suggests that combining the wolf with humanity is what makes the change vicious. On the television show "Being Human," Josh is a werewolf. Every four weeks, he painfully transforms on the night of the full moon. Previously he would let himself loose in the woods, and wake up beside a dead woodland animal. Because of this, he resorts to locking himself up in the basement so that he can hurt no one unintentionally. Josh is convinced that, as a werewolf, he has no control over himself.
In one of the final episodes of the season, Josh's pregnant girlfriend finds her way into his basement while Josh is transforming. Until then, Josh had been hiding his identity from her, afraid that she wouldn't be able to accept him for what he was. She watched his entire transformation through a window. Instead of running away like Josh feared, she stayed. To her, seeing Josh's wolf form was like seeing the real him.
In one episode, another werewolf encouraged Josh to embrace his inner werewolf and run free with him in the woods. This werewolf didn't mind killing vampires, even though Josh's best friend is a vampire. In the end, Josh fought him and drove him out of his house, going back to locking himself in the basement.
It was the night before my twenty-first birthday and I had worked past ten o'clock at my job at PetSmart. Exhausted, I decided to just go to sleep. I thought about how I was going to Applebee's for my birthday and how awkward it would be drinking with my parents. I was a little ashamed that I'd have to use my learner's permit for identification because I still hadn't gotten my driver's license. I jolted awake at midnight to a howling coming from outside the window. As soon as I woke up, I had rolled over and checked my cell phone for the time. I was positive I wasn't dreaming, and I remain positive. It wasn't windy outside at all, so it had to be an animal. For a moment I considered coyotes; they had been seen in the area, and most of the houses around had at least some woods in their backyard. The howling continued for another minute, with some yips mixed in between. I decided it didn't sound like someone's dog happy that their owner was home. I had been around many dogs between my family and friend's houses, and I knew what a dog sounded like. No, I decided, it sounded more like wolves. It had to be wolves.
The next morning, I stumbled down the stairs for breakfast, the first birthday meal without my twin brother Dom. He was in the Navy now. I asked my stepmother if she had heard howling last night. She had no idea what I was talking about. She had been awake past midnight, she said, and all she had heard was some party down the street. She told me I must have been dreaming. I joked about it, saying the werewolves were announcing me into their clan. Soon I'd start changing at the full moon! I'd set myself loose in the woods and wake up next to a deer. Someone would mistake my howls for coyotes. Someone would mistake me for something dangerous. But while Josh was afraid of himself, he was still a reliable friend. Kavik was a wolfdog, but he was loyal. Balto had wolf blood inside of him, but he ran with the sled dogs to save Nome. I am who I am, and it was time to accept it.