MacKenzie has been greatly benefited by a warm week of weather. Temperatures reached over 30 degrees this weekend and this makes her much more agile and comfortable. As I write this, she's been watching the Exhibit Pack as they race around the exhibit. Her desire for status has not decreased with age. She continues to maintain the dominant role in the Retired Pack and shows dominance through the fence at the Exhibit Pack. A few weeks ago, we wrote about Lakota losing her vocal chords and not being able to howl, but still goes through the motions. This is age related, not injury related. The one thing we have noticed, is that MacKenzie doesn't stimulate to howl, even when the Exhibit Pack is in full chorus. So, we don't know if she has lost her voice as well.

The video this week shows a short clip of MacKenzie showing some dominance over Lakota. It is not as physical as the younger wolves’ dominance rituals, but the eye contact says the same thing. MacKenzie is, and always has been the leader of her pack. But, we are acutely aware of the fact that they will be 15 years of age in April. Staff have noticed MacKenzie sleeping a deeper sleep this past week. We know Lakota sleeps soundly, but we believe her hearing is going, as she doesn’t respond to sound when she’s sleeping, But, MacKenzie is usually alert to the sound of a gate opening, or any vehicles driving up to the wolf lab. Twice last week, staff noticed her sleeping in a side rest position and she didn’t lift her head until the staff were right at the edge of the Retired fence. We certainly want to let her get her rest, but we also want to make sure everything is ok. So far, she has been, lifting her head to look at us with a look as to say “why are you bugging me again. It could be because the temperatures have been very warm (+30 degrees Fahrenheit – warm for a full coated wolf), or there may be the start of something more. The Plasma TV’s in the building are tuned into the Retired Pack all day so they can be frequently monitored. As a reminder, the Nanny and Behavioral Team applications are on the website under the Programs tab… the deadline is February 1st.

MacKenzie continues to remain alert to the activities of the Exhibit Pack and to any activity in the wolf lab. Her hearing is very keen and she is quick to check things out. Lakota's hearing seems to be decreasing, staff often comment on how long it takes her to notice staff at the fence. It's possible that MacKenzie compensates for her lack of vision by increasing her other senses.

In the past week’s we’ve been attempting to wean MacKenzie off of the anti-inflammatory to see how she is progressing without the medication. She had a slight relapse, losing some stability, so we are now back to a the maintenance dose that seems to be best suited for decreasing the stiffness and keeping her active. It is likely that she will need to maintain this maintenance dose for the rest of her life. We are encouraged by her improved attitude as her physical condition improves, and she continues to maintain dominance over Lakota as shown in the short stand over recorded for Lakota’s video clip.

MacKenzie is nearly complete in her shedding with the exceptions of some neck hair and hair on her flank. She looks great, and seems to respond better to the cooler conditions. As with Lakota, MacKenzie’s appetite is good and she has been very responsive to staff lately. Last week, there were some individual days that she wasn’t doing well and was very irritable, but this week is starting out well. At this age, it is important to think of every day as the first time meeting her, since her behavior and attitude can change daily. Of course, that’s how we recommend all wolf handlers to interact. Never become complacent when working with a wild animal, as much as they are socialized to humans, they still have wild instincts that drive behaviors.

MacKenzie has been shedding slowly, but she’s finally at that point of displaying a glossy summer coat, just in time for Labor Day. We have determined that her tolerance for large meals seems to be an issue. While she enjoys eating a full beaver and deer legs, the large volume that she generally consumes is putting a bit of a weight strain on her spine. We have been transitioning the Retired Pack to twice a week feedings for the last 6 months, and now will reduce the food sizes and feed 4 – 5 days a week. While behaviorally, MacKenzie would rather possess a deer leg or beaver and consume the whole amount, physically, it’s not her in best interest. It will be an interesting transition for the Retired Pack.

The cooler weather has increased the wolves appetites, especially MacKenzie. The Retired Pack is fed on a twice a week schedule with chicken or bone dust on Wednesday's and deer or beaver on Sunday nights. After last week's feeding of beaver, the only evidence that remained was one beaver jaw from a feeding of 2-30+ lbs of beaver. This is common prior to winter, wolves have a natural instinct to get as much resources as possible. The extra food helps build a fat layer before nighttime temperatures begin to dip. So, far, we've experienced temperatures in the low 40's, but we will be analyzing the wolves diet to ensure that they are feeling satiated with a meal.

While Lakota was at the clinic for surgery, Wolf Care Staff members Jen Westlund and Matt Fetterer stayed with MacKenzie and fed her a meal of chicken. She did extremely well in Lakota's absence, ate her entire meal, and layed within about 8 feet of the fence the whole time Lakota was in recovery. When Lakota did come back into the enclosure, she sniffed Lakota's face, but didn't give her any sign of aggression or dominance. A full bale of straw was spread in the den boxes and in the corner of the pen and as of this writing (5:40 pm on Monday), both are bedded down and sleeping.

MacKenzie requires many more calories per week than Lakota, and management of getting the ideal amount of food to MacKenzie without overfeeding Lakota has been a bit of a challenge. But, we seem to have settled into a routine and MacKenzie is doing well. The weekly video clips also help wolf care staff make a comparative analysis of her mobility week to week. MacKenzie did have a rough day last Thursday. There were several dead trees removed from the retired enclosure at the last “Workin for Wolves session, and more dead trees in the area surrounding the enclosure. In an effort to reduce the fire potential next summer, winter time burning is necessary. The fire crew from Vermilion Community College donated 2 hours of time to cut, pile and burn this debris. Lakota was fine with the chainsaws, fire and burning pile, but MacKenzie had a bit of pacing, until the crew left. Wolf curator, Lori Schmidt, was there with the crew, but with MacKenzie’s poorer eyesight, she reacts negatively to things that she hears, but can’t see.

One of the concerns when working with wolves is the issue of separation from the pack being perceived as a dispersal from the pack. Some facilities have observed problems when a pack member is absent, even for the shortest of veterinary checks, and the rest of the pack doesn’t accept it back. We had a bit of concern about Lakota’s surgery, but we were cautious and kept Lakota in the adjacent vestibule in the Retired Pack so MacKenzie was able to see her. MacKenzie was amazingly tolerant, and lay several feet from the gate until Lakota was returned later to the enclosure. There has been no sign of investigation of Lakota’s stitches, and no dominance between the sisters.