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Adventures with Terra, the Alaskan malamute

by For Western NewsDenny Wilcox
| January 19, 2009 11:00 PM

It all started when the boys cried, “wolf.”

Just before the snows came a few long weeks ago, when the early December fall was beautiful, pleasant and green, the first spotting was up near Snowshoe at the top of the hill and around that dangerous corner (on the Libby side near the golf course). Annie was coming back from a casual walk, when all of a sudden, two boys in a small car came flying up the road and yelled out the window, “I think it’s a wolf!”

Annie said, “As the boys came shouting up Snowshoe, ‘I think its a wolf and it’s got blood on it’s nose,’ I saw the wolf that same moment about 200 yards from ‘the corner’ on Snowshoe by the big log at the back entrance to the golf course.

“As we all converged on the desperate animal at the same time, them in the car and me on foot, it elusively dodged us, slipped through the brush and circled back again to ‘it’s kill.’ Wow what an experience, I thought!”

Several drive-throughs and searches for “the wolf” followed the next few days as our first snows of the season and bitter cold weather fell hard upon us. We made the rounds by car around the golf course, and of course frequented her first “supposed kill site” where she was first encountered.

On one occasion just before the snows, Annie got a fleeting view of the wolf again, and scrambled to get a picture of it in the grass along Snowshoe. A quick call to Jerry Brown’s guys followed as a possible wolf sighting near the golf course. It was hot new news.

 It wasn’t long before we met Mike, “the wolf’s” owner.

 In the hopes of spotting the wolf again, Annie went out for a walk about the same time Mike was searching the Cabinet Heights Road area by car, looking for his new 3-year-old lost Alaskan malamute who had darted out of his property and headed straight up for the mountains and woods from the Main Street area by the radio station.

He had just brought back his three-time show dog named Terra from Jefferson City only days earlier. Well, as he slowly drove past Annie, he asked if she had seen his female malamute. I remember her saying that at first glance, Mike “looked just like General Custer.”

“The General” – as we referred to Mike for a few days until we met him later in our first surprise encounter with his wolf-dog – filled her in on the details regarding his beautiful, gentle Terra, and how she came from pure-bred stock. Her grandfather won a Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden a few years back, her mother was a show dog and her dad was a very good-looking and mannered Alaskan malamute.

Compassion increased as the snows fell and the temperatures plummeted. While we huddled around fireplaces, alas, the animals just have to bear the bitter colds. All we could think was, “now we have a lost and lonely pup in a strange country, hungry and alone far away from her huge wilderness area compound and all of her malamute family and such.”

The night of

the ‘Spirit Wolf’

As Annie was taking our little Kody – a pom-poodle mix who looks just like a miniature husky in the right light – outside that first night of cold and snow, through the fog came Terra loping like a wolf, spooky and ghost-like, crossing right in front of her and Kody through our yard. She vanished in the night mist like a dream. Annie came inside screaming, “I just saw her! She came out of nowhere!”

Hastily packing into the car, we quickly sped off to intercept if at all possible. Little did we know that this would be a long and involved saga to retrieve Terra, the Reese Court mascot, and not the quick-catch and go-home story we envisioned. It turned out after finding her that same evening, we even had her owner within feet of her for a fleeting few minutes in the mist that night.

We then began to see just how illusive, quick and smart this gentle beauty would be for the next two to three weeks. She would out-fox many (looking for a reward or as we, who wanted this beautiful speciman to be returned safe and sound to her owner Mike), by avoiding lasso and trap, and capture attempts.

It turns out she would camp right in our same backyard where she discovered little Kody and Annie that first snowy night under cover of darkness and mist. In the days and weeks that followed to this present, she would make our yard her base camp, as many of the neighbors in the park would befriend and feed her through below zero snowy days and nights to follow.

Many times out of the darkness we could hear her low mournful howl. Was she lonely? Was she crying for her “pack” back home? Did she really want us to hug her and touch her secretly but just didn’t dare let anyone or thing come nearer than a shadow?

It often made us sad. Some mornings we look to see if she was still breathing because of the constant below-zero weather. I guess those are reasons why we made her special venison steaks, though I only had limited amounts from two years back, because the hunting count was so low. But that’s another story.

Will the ‘wolf dog’ ever go home?

On Christmas Day three weeks later, she was making her rounds in the neighborhood for their choice handouts that keep her very content and full, I presume. Still nobody can catch her.

Early this month, she avoided tranquilizers administered through the doc and came out as playful as a month-old puppy, to our dismay and aggravated chagrin. She thinks this is her new life, coming and going as she pleases. Our first attempt at the tranquilized feed put her down for some induced winks but just did not keep her under long enough to catch her.

So, we tried it again two days later with a much stronger dose. We were all getting set for the final catch and home she’d go. But to our surprise, Terra ate all the roundabout morsels and left the dosed pieces of hamburger. She recognized the smell and how it had disabled her on the previous attempt. So smart.

Then I fried a burger with garlic powder and chili pepper, salt and pepper, and olive oil, just like I made the deer meat the very first we lured her into the yard. But she sniffed it, picked up a piece or two and dropped them and coyly frolicked off staying within a stone’s throw all the day. We will try again in a day or so.

Jan. 8:  We are getting weary … she’s got to go home.

Jan. 9:  Happy and home? Not yet. This has got to come to an end.

Terra has gotten pretty used to the situation. She and Annie have grown close and developed a strong bond. Her “real” life could be much more restraining than this free and frolicky time she has come to believe is her new existence, with the northwest Montana Rocky Mountain wilderness only moments away at any given whim.

Terra continues to elude capture

Mike has gotten many people involved in her rescue and capture, including our saintly veterinarian Dr. Griffiths, as well as Terry Crooks, Lincoln County’s dedicated search-and-rescue worker, animal trainer and avalanche canine rescue specialist.

Others involved in the neighborhood that I am aware of were two Animal Control officers who gave it a valiant effort in the freezing cold and snow; Milo and Judy; Glen and his friendly golden lab, Sally; Frog; Sebrina and Rick; Caroline; newcomers Alan and his mom; and many others I am sure, including Mary and Eric who live a mile away first referred to Terra as “the mystery dog” and Mike and his son around the block on Highland – all of whom just wanted to see Terra get home safely.

Sebrina and Rick are still helping Terra out after a whole month now of her new freedom. I have seen Sebrina at hand’s length feeding Terra, as her gentle, animal-loving heart is apparent.

Terra is just very easy to love. She was pretty much harmless to everything except maybe the turkeys that would help themselves to her dog food. However after a whole month she is like any feral dog on the loose and is becoming a nuisance to the little kitties in the neighborhood as well as growling at Kody in his own yard. She’s got to go home.

On Jan. 10 – exactly one month to the day – she went home thanks to the efforts of all and I suppose many others I have not mentioned. As the tranquilizer, administered by Dr. Griffiths, began to take effect (this was our third attempt using the oral drug) and her eyelids began to get very heavy with head bobbing, Annie went out to see how close she could get to our seemingly near immobile “wolf-dog-mascot” all the while talking to her.

Seeing she was at a clear disadvantage and considering the desperation of our ordeal, I said to Mike “it’s now or possibly never.” We could not let her go on another day like before. I handed Mike the rope saying, “slip this around her neck just in case the stuff wears off” like the first time, and we never get close to her again.

As Mike slipped the choker-rope over the big malamute’s head she surprised us and woke struggling temporarily, fighting to gain her equilibrium and get free. I yelled, get aggressive and “do it.” Terra was not able to outwit us this time, thank God, as the powerful drug brought her down for the final count and she went into a deep, slow, rhythmic sleep. We had her roped and under our control at last.

Then we quickly tied her to the big balsam fir in the front yard beneath the snowdrifts and we all gave out audible sighs of relief over this seemingly never-ending ordeal.

We will always see her in our memory cruising up and down snowy Reese Court, tail high and comfortable and thinking she is queen of her new world, dashing here and there, sometimes thru any yard she pleases at any time of the day or night.

One very impressive conclusion about Alaskan malamutes is that they can thrive in the snow, and degrees of bitter cold. We felt for her every day and night as we watched her “battle” through the bitter freezes of December only to see her in the daylight as though no hardships were apparent.

She faired very well through it all, especially as the “warmth” came with the first of the year. We will all miss her.