With a prognosis of a Spindle Cell Sarcoma, we know that our time with Luna is limited.  The fact is, most canines don’t live long enough in comparisons to their humans.  But, we are realistic that changes can happen quickly, so we need to make each day important for her interactions. Our goal for Luna is to heal the incision, get her on a comfortable routine of feeding, social visits and taking medications to make her comfortable and reunite her with her retired pack mates.  We use the canine stress dictionary to help staff define her behavior.  We have definitely witnessed an increase in displacement behaviors, like branch-chewing and know that stress can impact healing. The photo for the log was taken by Katelyn Schwab, who was assisting in the lab monitoring Luna’s behavior to some ongoing work in the wolf yard. 

When working with a wolf that has such a challenging diagnosis, staff must be extremely diligent and be aware of every movement, behavioral actions, change in attitude, feeding preferences and assessment of discomfort and pain.  Staff need to employ a significant amount of creativity to make sure she gets the necessary medications.  She continues to receive two different types of antibiotics, some pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication.  The incision has been challenging as the mass continues to cause her irritation and she’s scratched open a portion of the outer sutures.  The inner sutures are holding and staff are using topical treatments to keep the incision dry and encourage healing.  We have moved her back into the Pack Holding Area and given her access to the Wolf Care Center, but the negative conditioning associated with the surgery recovery has left her reluctant to  come into the building.  Staff left one of her favorite fleece blankets in the building to entice her, but, she chose to move the blanket outside and sleep in the vestibule or her favorite spot is in the den.   A Youtube showing her behavioral activity will be posted later this week and we will connect with Luna as part of our August 14th, Positive Conditioning Webinar. We will definitely need some positive conditioning to overcome Luna’s avoidance from all the medications and procedures surrounding this diagnosis.

The initial results indicate a spindle cell sarcoma that has a deep root behind her left shoulder blade.  We are waiting for the full biopsy  to understand the full nature of this sarcoma.  Please trust that we are working diligently to get her the medication to help her heal from the surgery and be comfortable as we continue to assess and monitor progression.   Our August 14th Wolf Care Webinar will have more details. 

After Luna’s mass removal this winter, she recovered well. Her hair grew back around the incision and the site healed without issues. However, on Saturday, July 6, staff again noticed some irritation and weeping, which was the same issue we saw in February.  

This time, the weeping was below her original incision. The Ely Vet Clinic consulted with the pathologist who assessed the first mass and suggested a week of antibiotics. If it was an infection, the site should show an improvement from the treatment. If we saw no results, we should perform a second biopsy.   Staff followed the plan and felt the need to complete the biopsy. Luna was taken to the Ely Vet clinic at 7:30 a.m. on July 17. Unfortunately, the medical exam of Luna did not have a good outcome. 

She has several deep, vascular masses embedded in the muscle. Much of the mass had necrotic tissue that was extracted from her neck but the depth, amount of vascular bleeding and adherence to the underlying muscle resulted in a decision to biopsy samples, suture the site and make her as comfortable as possible without complete extraction that could have impacted her neck and leg muscles.  

A tissue biopsy was sent into the lab and we expect results in the next week. Luna spent the night in the Wolf Care Center with access to the outdoor facility, but a series of intense storms kept her sleeping comfortably on several fleece blankets through the night. She will remain in the East Side Retirement area sharing a fence line with Aidan and Grizzer, but will need time to heal before the determination is made to reunite the Retired Pack. 

Thank you all for the concern and support you have given Luna during this medical situation.  Medical issues are always more challenging when there are so many variables to manage.  When working with captive wolves, we have the issue of immobilization and transport to the vet clinic, ambient temperatures and the influence on thermal regulatory ability after drugging, keeping a wound clean in an outdoor environment, pack social interactions during recovery and the risk of immune challenges caused by the actual medical issue we are treating.  The professionals at the Vet Clinic manage the medical, but it’s the job of the wolf care staff to manage the post-operative care and the social pack dynamics.  It’s been our experience that separation from the pack can lead to some posturing and rank issues upon a wolf’s return to the social structure.  Fortunately for Luna, Aidan and Grizzer have been very respectful of her and have shown no focus on her sutures.   In the posted photo, the suture site is visible on the left side of her neck. While Luna is showing some scratching at the incision site, she appears to be scratching the hair above the site, and not at the suture level.  Since a protective cone is not an option, we closely monitor her actions and offer distractions.  We have arranged the schedule to have more wolf care staff and volunteers to be in the wolf lab, including full-day coverage last weekend and this upcoming weekend.      She also had her nails trimmed at the vet clinic to reduce a toenail catching a stitch.  This is a long process of healing; It is standard protocol for dissolvable sutures to be used, eliminating a second immobilization to remove sutures.  We expect the sutures to completely dissolve in 3-5 weeks.  The results of the biopsy came back today and we are happy to report that it is not a malignant tumor.  Unfortunately, they don’t know for sure what it is and are doing more test on it to see if they can figure it out.  There are two possibilities, one is that it was an abscess that had gone bad despite the antibiotics, the second is that it may have been from a hematoma.  Since it was on her scruff, maybe she was bitten (scruff biting is very common, especially this time of the year and with food possession issues) but the bite wasn’t enough to break the skin and it bled under the skin.  If it opened from scratching, bacteria may have gotten in there and grew from there.  The suture site remains very clean and shows no redness.  She completes her antibiotics today, one week post-surgery.   Luna also has a long history of Vitamin D, Ionized calcium issues and her last blood work in 2018 showed some higher than normal Lymes titers which indicated that she may have been exposed to Lymes disease.  All of these tests require some time, but I hope to be able to share some results during her birthday webinar.  The true test of Luna’s recovery is her willingness to take her morning breakfast and her social interactions with Aidan. We captured some footage of her playbowing to Aidan on the surveillance cameras on Sunday and again tonight and have invited some long-time friends to come and visit (thanks Don).  If you want to get a live view of Luna’s activity, follow this link to register for Luna’s Birthday Webinar on  March 25th at 5 pm.

 “Situational Awareness”…  these two words describe the most important skill in wolf care (well, maybe second behind social interaction), but having the ability to acknowledge the normal circumstances of wolf interactions and assess when something is not quite right.  Wolf care is done 365 days a year; there is always someone caring for the ambassador wolves and every wolf receives a complete visual if not hands-on interaction during wolf care. This is the summary of what we have experienced with Luna in the last few weeks.  Staff had noticed that she wasn’t as willing to allow body work which had been such a critical part of her routine.     She was displaying a lot of antagonistic behavior towards Aidan during a time when we typically see a bit of pair bonding from these two “former Exhibit Pack  leaders”.  The most notable observation was that Luna was not interested in her morning breakfast.  If you have spent anytime near Luna, you would know that food possession is her favorite past time.  This “situation” started in late February. On February 24th, staff documented a spot of blood that could have been the result of a scuffle over a cache or a favorite resting spot (Luna likes a bed in the sun, but so does Aidan).  On any physical abnormality, our USDA Vet Care Plan calls for a consult with our local veterinarian and depending on the circumstance, a course of antibiotics is often prescribed rather than risk anesthesia for a veterinary visit, especially in winter months.   On the 24th, we started a 14-day treatment of antibiotics and staff continued to try to physically assess the status.  Issues were complicated by Luna scratching the area and causing more irritation as well as sub-zero temperatures that increased immobilization and recovery risks (always a risk assessment in any action with captive wolves).  But, it was apparent that we saw limited improvement from the antibiotics and we needed to have a complete veterinary exam.  On the morning of March 12th, staff assembled at 7 am for the immobilization;  Staff discovered what appeared to be a mass on her neck that had ruptured overnight. She was immediately taken to our longtime vet for a 90-minute surgery to remove the mass and provide adequate stitches to aid in healing for a wolf that would not be wearing a protective cone when she returned to her retired packmates.  By noon, she was back at the Center and slowly returning to her old form. She slept in the Wolf Care Center with the wolf curator, and by 3 am, she even showed some signs of food possession, which should surprise none of you!  Luna will have wolf care volunteers staying in the wolf lab to listen and implement “Situational Awareness” through the weekend. 





Wolf Behavior

Luna’s expressions give a good indication of her overall attitude.  Here she is displaying a “Roll on Back” behavior.  This is definitely a “I feel good” attitude.  She has been having a good winter.  With the generous donation of cover hay from Connie and Nick LaFond, we are able to provide  deep layers of cover hay between each snowfall. This is very comforting for Luna and definitely improves her attitude.  After Aidan’s return from surgery, she did have a few moments of posturing, but Aidan took it in stride and Luna gave him his space.  Staff did note a very low throat-ed loan howl from Luna while Aidan was resting in a nearby bed of hay. It was certainly out of character for Luna who usually has high pitched rally howls, but even a short separation of a social pack mate can have an impact.

Since Aidan’s retirement, Luna has definitely been returning to her own form of social bonding, otherwise known as “Obnoxious Submission”.  We need to credit our colleagues at Wolf Park in Battleground, Indiana, for introducing this term through their Ethogram publication.  We credit Luna for animating this behavior.  In this photo, you will see her display a foreleg stab to Aidan’s face, often followed by several lunges towards him before rolling over to submit.  Aidan takes it in stride, since this is the pair-bonding method Luna chose to display when they shared leadership in the Exhibit Pack from 2012 – 2016.  Having these two wolves reunited in retirement has increased both of their activity levels, making them more mobile as winter arrives.

As we posted in Luna’s last log, she is fed in her own area and receives bodywork daily from staff.  To make this happen smoothly, we need a lot of staff trained in procedures and staff have to be consistent so Luna knows what to expect.  Wolves tend to be “neo-phobic”, displaying a fear of new things and this can even equate to new or different procedures.  One of the most important components of the training is helping people develop the skills to identify body posture, facial expressions and circumstances that indicates a wolf’s attitude, energy and behavioral  interactions.  Wolves can be influenced by many internal pack issues as well as external environmental issues such as weather and activities around the enclosure.  Luna has started to increase behaviors as winter approaches and she is a great teacher for the staff to learn to interpret and anticipate behaviors. Her most common activity is trying to get Aidan to chase her.  She gets a certain look on her face, her ears go sideways, she drops to the ground with her front leg and springs into action.  A trained wolf care staff member needs to recognize the first signs of this behavior to make sure they are not in the way of the end result, which is usually three retired wolves doing a loop throughout the three enclosures. 

To manage Aidan and Luna in the same space, we need to separate Luna in a vestibule for her morning breakfast and keep her there long enough until Aidan and Grizzer have finished their larger meals.  Luna is still on a reduced diet to meet the goal of 100 pounds before winter and we are seeing the effect that the weight loss has had on her mobility.  She is far more active and showing less instability in her back right leg.  The other benefit of Luna needing to wait in holding until the other retirees are done with their breakfast is that staff get the opportunity to do some body work on Luna in the smaller vestibule.  She is less distracted and more willing to sit for longer sessions.  Staff are also seeing the effects of this extra work;  She is building muscle mass and her tail has more freedom of movement.  When we had our first consultation with a Practitioner about Luna she had significant concerns about her sacrum (tailbone) being locked down;  Without  spending any time with Luna she said “having her tail locked down like that is not only painful, it keeps her nervous system stuck in “alarm” mode.  With her hip weakness, she may display defensive aggression because she is not stable’.  To those of you who knew Luna as a pup and throughout her time in the Exhibit Pack, this statement is spot on.  So, the more body work we can do to relieve the tension of her sacrum, the better for Luna and those who live with her.