Last week, we had a vet check on Aidan that started with staff rearranging the retirement area, and specifically Grizzer’s line of sight. No, we didn’t move Aidan into the Pack Holding Area for the exam, we had to address a long-standing issue that Grizzer has with our Vet. As we discuss rank order issues, you may hear reference to staff interpretation of behavior as “living in the moment” and “they don’t hold a grudge”, especially when wolves are observed in social interactions or resting together shortly after they had some intense dominance interactions. What needs to be qualified is that there is a difference between “living in the moment as an expression of wolf communication” and negative conditioning or association with a negative event. It’s been our experience that this negative association is often with an event surrounding a human, a portion of their facility or in Boltz’s case, the sound of a buzzing insect.
So, back to Grizzer’s issues. In 2008, after a medical exam prior to Aidan and Denali’s arrival on site, Grizzer was just given a reversal drug and was becoming alert to his surroundings, but not quite stable. We had challenges during this immobilization with Shadow having an issue of acute gastric dilation or bloat that required intervention. When Grizzer was beginning to move around, it appeared that he may have had some gastric dilation as well. Unfortunately, the reversal had already begun working and Grizzer was far more aware of his surroundings when the Vet pushed on his stomach to assess his condition. Grizzer responded with a quick grab bite and the event seemed to have left him with a negative association. So, fast forward to 2018, we needed Aidan to be calm and interact at the fence to allow the vet to see his leg, so Grizzer needed to be moved out of sight for the scheduled visit. All went well, with Aidan, but on the way out, we wanted to assess Grizzer’s cognitive recognition of the Vet. Since he is nearing 14 years of age, this was a good test to see how Grizzer’s sensory abilities were aging. At first, Grizzer showed no response visually, which aligns with our interpretation that his vision is not as good as it used to be. As soon as the Vet spoke, Grizzer began the defensive bark-howling he’s displayed since that fateful immobilization in April 2008. I posted it on last week’s Youtube, it’s not a fear response, it’s definitely more along the lines of a threat display. This definitely makes for challenging times as Grizzer ages, but fortunately, the Ely Vet Clinic has several great vets who don’t have the negative association in Grizzer’s mind. This is an important lesson for wolf care staff reminding us all to be very aware of the wolves mental state in all circumstances. This unfortunate split-second moment will be with Grizzer for the rest of his life.