Raven, Howling Reporter (Summer 2009), image reprinted with permission from Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, photo © 2009 by Jan Ravenwolf. All rights reserved.
There on the cover of the new issue of the Howling Reporter was a giant close-up of Raven, his muzzle tinged with silver, eyes piercing, posture regal. My eyes drifted down to the right-hand corner, RAVEN 04-04-95 – 04-12-09, and I called to Jim. “Oh no! Raven died.”
We have Ms. Kimball to thank for the fact that we got to known Raven. Dee’s 4th grade teacher assigned her students and their families to take a field trip somewhere they’d never been in New Mexico. We picked the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, west of Albuquerque, through the Navajo village of Ramah and down a long gravel road, in the isolated mountain community of Candy Kitchen.
It was a Friday in January, 2006. We stopped for breakfast at a mission-turned-art-gallery in Grants, then hit the Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave in the Zuni Mountains. We marvelled over Inscription Rock—at the El Morro National Monument—where travelers have been leaving writings in the soft sandstone for centuries. But the best treat of all was seeing the wolves.
We arrived late in the day, and as we scrambled out of the Subaru into the winter air we heard a chorus of howls coming from what seemed like all directions. Thrilled by the eerie wailing, we rushed the front door of the hogan that housed the visitor information and gift shop.
Next tour was at 4p. We wandered the warm cave-like space, letting the girls each pick out one item. Dee chose a small pouch of wolf hair, Em a frog fetish.
A young woman named Angel was our guide. We were the only people on the tour. We started with the oldest wolves, in the earliest enclosures, the ones that went in when the sanctuary was young and could afford only to set aside small areas for the wolves. Over time, as the sanctuary grew the enclosures began to encompass the natural surroundings. Raven’s area was expansive and incorporated trees, brush, and rocks that were already in the spot where the enclosure was built.
Angel told us how each animal was characterized by how much wolf content it contained. Some were pure wolf; high-content wolf-dogs were mostly wolf and low-content wolf-dogs mostly dog. We even met a pure dog that a previous owner had mistakenly identified as a wolf-dog and abandoned. Raven was a black Timber wolf, ebony in his youth but increasingly silver around his face as he aged.
A lanky man with disheveled brown hair, I think his name was Ian, joined us as we admired Raven. Raven was imposing yet friendly; he came to the fence to see us. “Want to howl with Raven,” Ian asked. “Yes, yes,” we chimed. “OK, on the count of three.” Ian started howling, then Raven, then we joined in, the steam from our breath rising like smoke above us.
Ian asked if Jim wanted to formally greet Raven. “Sure,” Jim said. Ian walked along the fence line with the black wolf, so closely that Raven’s fur touched Ian’s leg and hand and vice versa. “See, we’re rubbing fur,” he told Jim, “You try it.”
Jim walked to the fence and stood waiting. Raven, understanding what was happening, walked to Jim and rubbed his fur along Jim’s leg, then circled back and did it again. “Cool.” Jim was grinning when he turned in our direction.
We left the sanctuary reluctantly, as the light was leaving the day. Driving home in darkness, we said hardly a word. Raven, the other wolves, the entire field trip left us full and content.
The next day, Saturday, Jim went to Western Warehouse to buy a new pair of work boots. He saw a crowd near the entrance to the Sunflower Market next door. As he approached he suddenly noticed a big black wolf on a lead, straining through the crowd in his direction. People moved aside to let the wolf stare, like a pointing spaniel, at the thing grabbing its attention. Raven, recognizing Jim’s scent from the day before, wanted to say Hello.
“Raven’s at the Sunflower. Hurry, they’re leaving soon.” It was Jim, calling on the cell phone. Em and I arrived just as Raven’s handler and director of Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, Leyton Cougar, was loading Raven into a white van. We pulled up next to the van and jumped out of the car, explaining that we’d met the wolf almost exactly 24 hours before. Leyton let us pet Raven while he finished loading the van. Raven licked Em’s face.
We saw Raven a few other times during his ambassador trips to Albuquerque. The last time I saw him was at Whole Foods. By then he had retired from big engagements. Someone said that he’d become sensitive to loud noise and crowds. I came back to the house gushing in dreamy tones about Raven. He had the power to make you fall in love every time you saw him.
We all cried as we read Leyton’s tribute to Raven in the Howling Reporter. Angel also wrote a moving piece, as did others who had the honor to live and work with this amazing creature. We learned that Raven came within days of being euthanized at the age of two, after his owner suffered a heart attack and couldn’t pay the cost to transport Raven to the sanctuary. A visitor to Candy Kitchen, hearing the plight of a wolf that would be put down if someone didn’t intervene, wrote a check for her last $400. Because of her, Raven was able to live twelve more years and teach young and old about the true nature of wolves.
Jim and I will make a donation to the sanctuary in Raven’s memory. We hope you’ll learn as much as possible about this incredible place and consider visiting it some day if you ever get a chance.
He was almost two years old when we met. He had midnight black fur with silver tips and a white flash on his chest. His presence was commanding. His eyes, like amber fire, reflected his energetic, electric personality.
I will never forget our first encounter and the shiver of fear that ripped through my body as he grabbed me by my right arm—the same arm that just three years prior, had been ripped open by an angry wolf-dog, who put me in the hospital for eleven days.
Raven didn’t hurt me that first day. He gave me something…or perhaps he flipped a switch inside of me. Whatever it was, it began something beautiful, a unique relationship between a man and a beast. Raven was born an ambassador for the wolf world. He was the go-between, sent to teach humans the truth about wolves. He dispelled the myth that wolves are the big bad beast that will run amuck and eat your children. They are family oriented social creatures who love and respect each member of their pack. He told the world that wolves are not a threat to man and are a necessary, intrinsic and intricate part of nature and our ecosystem.
~Leyton Cougar, Director of the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, excerpted from the Howling Reporter newsletter, with permission
Raven & Leyton’s Last Day, image reprinted with
permission from the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, photo
© 2009 by Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary. All rights reserved.
To read the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary memorial to Raven, click here. To meet the sanctuary’s wolves, click here, and here to meet the wolf-dogs. If you’re interested in making a donation in support of wolf rescue and care, please click here.