Wild Heart Ranch is located in Claremore, Oklahoma. We provide medical or infant support to any indigenous wild animal in need of assistance and release it into suitable wild habitat once care is completed.
It was a cold, clear morning in early March of 2005 and I was right in the middle of cleaning yet another animal cage when a call came in to my wildlife rescue from a man I didn't know. He said he had picked up a wolf walking along the main highway near the town of Claremore. “How do you know it’s a wolf?” was my first question. I had taken delivery of many orphaned “coyote cubs” only to wind up finding homes for what turned out to be mixed breed puppies. No coyotes involved.
“I used to have a wolf, so I spotted that right away. She is very thin and dragging a steel cable behind her. It looks like she chewed through it. I picked her up. She didn’t fight me, and then I noticed her neck. She has a chain on and its buried in her neck. It’s terrible! I have to help her but I don’t know what to do. I cant take her home!” He was frantic to help her, but since I had no facilities to house a wolf, I knew I would have to refer him elsewhere. My heart ached at the plight of this animal. I could envision in my mind the carnage she had been living with. I had seen this type of neglect before, and it often took miracles to deal with it. I advised the man to continue to call around to find a veterinarian who would help the animal. I promised to make some calls of my own. I asked that he do his best and call me back.
Soon he called in again. No one would help him. He was at the local animal shelter with an animal control officer whom I had dealt with before. A compassionate woman who I knew could evaluate the animal for me. She had picked up many injured and orphaned wildlife for me and always took careful care of them until I could get them picked up. He put her on the phone. She told me the wound in the neck was so deep that it appeared her head was coming off and she needed to be put down. They could not do it at the shelter because the animal was found outside city limits. This seemingly unfair rule of boundaries ultimately wound up saving a life that day...
She went on to say how beautiful and how sweet the wolf was, and what a shame it would be to put her down. My guts ached. She had survived the worst of this. How could I request her death now that she had FINALLY been picked up for help? I asked to speak to the man that found her. I told him if he was willing to drive all the way out to my rescue for me to examine her, that I would take her if I thought I could help her. If her wound was too bad and treatment would be torture, he would have to take her back to town to my veterinarian to be euthanized, and I would arrange that and pay for it if needed. He anxiously agreed. He was on his way.
They arrived shortly. The black timber wolf was tied in the bed of the truck. If there was any dog mixed in there, it was well hidden. She was standing, and I instantly noticed her beauty, even though it was almost completely concealed with her dull coat and dangerously thin frame. Her eyes met mine, and something happened. It was my first ever gaze into the eyes of a wolf. I was instantly enchanted and motivated to assist her any way I could. Though she was starved and battered, the majesty and mystery within her remained intact.
I climbed into the back of his truck for a closer look. What I found I will never forget. A choke chain was cut through every bit of muscle around her neck and her flesh had grown an inch through the links of the chain. I had never in all my years of rescue seen such a horrific act of neglect and cruelty. Her body was trying to absorb the heavy links of rusting metal, but infection and the sheer size of it was preventing her neck from closing. I fought briefly to remove the chain; having no regard for any danger the act put me in with this potentially dangerous wolf, which was standing well above my waist. I was furious and sick with the chain and its twisted, embedded links. It wouldn’t budge. I ran to the house and got wire cutters. I could not get my hands on them fast enough. I wanted the chain off her immediately. Any second she remained in torture was one second too long for both of us.
When I got back to the truck the man told me they had already tried to cut it off. I ignored him and kept at it. It was coming off if I had to chew it off! I found a small weld in the chain and I knew that would be its weakness. It was. I cut through the weld and with strength I did not know I had, I bent the heavy metal link open and released its captive. It took another few minutes to unravel the flesh and hair from the links, which I did gently until it fell lose from around her. The wolf never moved, never fought, never flinched. She continued to lean against my legs while I worked. Not once did she growl or move away from me. I knew what I had done had caused her much pain. This animal knew that I was helping her.
I flung the horrid chain to the ground as if it burned me. I was sick. The smell of her rotting neck nearly knocked me out, but I went to my knees and hugged her bony frame, giving her soothing words and crying softly for the injustice of all of it. She continued to lean into me. She was certainly nervous, but her trust in me was instant and her gratitude unmistakable. I was amazed at what a friendly and trusting wolf she was, but it would not be long before I would learn differently. Her trust of me was exclusive, and would never falter.
I put a leash around her waist and we guided her into the animal medical clinic that I operate for wildlife. The horror of her neck sent fear and doubt through me. I had never seen a wound like it. Every time she bent her head down to sniff the ground, her skull would expose itself. It was that moment that I had made a decision that I would stick too, and I would do whatever it took. I would clean her neck and immediately get my veterinarian on the phone.
Once inside I fed her anything on the dog food shelf that looked like steak on the label. I just dumped it on the floor in front of her. She was nervous and would not enter the clinic past a foot inside the door. The smells and sounds inside alarmed her. I understood. I had a variety of wild babies in care and this was not going to be easy on her instincts. I would later move her into the quarantine room where she would have privacy and quiet, but for now, I had to work on the wound and get something into her stomach.
She gulped the food as if it was her first fresh meal in months. I was certain it probably was. I didn’t know what she had been surviving on, but she had barely survived. She was a bag of bones. I later found out she had weighed about thirty pounds upon arrival. An animal that should have weighed over a hundred pounds was only a mere shadow. It was the saddest state of any animal on its feet I have witnessed before or since. It showed me just how much spirit and determination for survival a wolf has. A dog would have certainly been dead by now. She had survived with nothing and from the state of her neck, had been doing it for a very long time.
The cable she drug behind her was chewed. It was steel. Her flattened back molars told me of her struggle for freedom. She had been working on it for months and finally released herself. The choke chain had been twisted and rusted in place. It had to have been that way for months as well. Her survival was a complete mystery. Her nails were long, her pads were soft. This animal had been starved this way, tied up and possibly forgotten altogether. She had not been wandering long, but had escaped, narrowly avoiding death.
I named her “Koda”, a Native American name in honor of her heritage. In one tribal language it means “Friend”. In another tongue, it stands for “New Beginnings”. It was perfect. It suited her and she began to respond to it immediately.
After pouring and scrubbing her wound with a few bottles of peroxide and using a half a can of antiseptic salve, I set Koda up in the private room on a thick bed of my best comforters for the sorest of animals. She had no muscle or fat whatsoever to cushion her protruding bones. She welcomed my affection during the visits in her room. I spent hours with her. Stroking her dull fur that I envisioned someday soon would erupt into black satin luxury. She had evidence of white fur on her face, a strip down her chest and on her oversized paws. Her beautiful face and bright yellow eyes were framed with a wolf mane of long black fur. Her ears pricked for every sound, her head tilting curiously with every question I asked her as she strained to understand me. She was responding a little more every day until I was finally rewarded with her complete comfort and trust. She fell asleep with her massive head in my lap, her giant paws lying protectively across my legs. I was in heaven then, and Koda seemed to be also. I wondered if it was the first time in her life she had felt safe. She had fought to be wary, but eventually gave in to weakness and exhaustion and allowed herself to trust me. I would sit with her and watch her sleep, stroking her beautiful face and promising her with all of my heart that the sun would never again set on a day she wasn’t fed. I meant every word.
Koda seemed to sleep for days. I fell in love with her. I was already in too deep. No matter what her evaluation would conclude at her veterinarian appointment, I was going to do absolutely everything possible to save her. She was mine now. And even more remarkably, I was hers.
Loading her in the back of my SUV was never a problem. I climbed in, she climbed in. The ride was perfect. Koda didn’t give me part of her trust, she had given it all. If I told her something was okay, she was fine. Even if she wasn’t fine, she worked at it. She was remarkable. I wasn’t dealing with a dog. This was a creature far more intelligent. I admired her completely.
Unloading her at the vet clinic was a bit more challenging. She was fine until she I opened the hatch and she saw the highway. She told me in no uncertain terms, “NO!”. It was the very highway she was found on. She panicked, but luckily her weight not being a factor, I easily picked her up and carried her into the safety of the clinic I knew so well. I understood her fear, and as soon as she realized she wasn’t being left outside, she regained control.
When we erupted into the safety of the clinic, all eyes were on us immediately. This animal was HUGE and I carried her like she weighed nothing, and set her down just as easily. The shocked stares made me sad, as I was about to show everyone that I had no super human strength, just a starving animal. The barking dogs and curious cats sent Koda’s nose and ears into a furious fit, fighting to identify any potential dangers. She leaned on me hard, trying to melt into my legs. I spoke softly to her and led her to the scale. She kept her eyes on me, and her expression was clear. “Please don’t leave me!” I wouldn’t think about it.
The weight scale wobbled under her feet. She went down like a fawn on a frozen pond. I helped her get her seemingly several yards of legs together underneath herself and we got a weight of forty pounds. The entire office fell silent. Everyone starred in shock. Koda was thickly furred and the only way you could tell she was so extremely underweight was to touch her. It was sickeningly sad. I knew I had put over twenty pounds of canned food in her since her arrival and she hadn’t yet eliminated anything significant. I fought back tears and Koda and I settled on a bench away from the chaos of the other waiting patients and their owners. Many sorrowful glances were offered to us, as well as questions about Miss Koda and her circumstances. Her story brought people out of their seats to share in our grief and try to befriend the pitiful wolf, who would have NONE of it. She backed up nervously, trying to disappear into my legs, and failing miserably. She looked to me to protect her from these curious strangers. It surprised me. I told her it was okay, no one would ever hurt her again, and I held her head, letting her eyes lock with mine as she fought to calm down. Though she remained rigid, she allowed the strangers to pet her and did not relax or move until they left our area. Koda then lay protectively at my feet, and kept a keen eye on everyone from then on. I wasn’t certain who was guarding who at this point. My majestic and formidable looking wolf would prove again and again to be a complete weenie, and would continue to hide behind her mother.
It wasn’t long before my veterinarian’s husband walked through the door. Lane recognized me immediately and came over to investigate what strange creature I was bringing his wife to examine on this day. Koda went to her feet. She was on guard. The tall man in the hat frightened her. Lane went to touch her and she fought. She wanted to get away. He knowingly backed off, used to animals and able to read and respect their body language. We visited for a minute about her story, the occupants of the office listening again intently. I pulled Koda’s bandage down a bit to give Lane a peek at her wound. I heard gasps all around us. It was horrible. Far worse than anyone obviously had imagined. Lane’s eyes told me it was hard for him to see it also, though he had been witness to all sorts of carnage being married to a vet. He knew his wife would fix her though. That fact was never in question for either of us.
When my beloved hero, Doctor Cash finally invited us into the exam room, Koda rode the wall away from the people waiting their turns. The harness that I had on her did not ride anywhere near her damaged neck, and hung loosely on her starving body. I knew Koda could get away from me any time she wanted, but always, her body language told me that she wasn’t going one inch from me unless she had too. I had known this animal just a few days, yet I knew her completely. It was strange. I hadn’t experienced a bond like that before or since.
Doc was in complete awe of the beautiful wolf and moved nearly to tears for her plight and condition. She never wavered on hope for her recovery. She encouraged me with her certainty, telling me that this was bad, as bad as she had ever seen, “Annette, she will heal.” She made sure to catch my eyes with that statement. She knows me pretty well and she knows that if I believe enough in something, I will make it happen. Doc got out her clippers and her wound supplies and we began the process of shaving Koda’s neck down and cleaning her up properly. Doctor Cash was much more aggressive with the cleaning than I had been. I knew that if anything went wrong, I wanted it to go wrong here, where I knew she would be okay.
It was always okay when Doctor Cash was there. I didn’t have to be the hero and I didn’t have to be the one to make life and death decisions. I had worked with many very skilled veterinarians, but none who I regarded as highly as Doctor Cash. She is a woman with a heart for animals like my own. No matter the hours, no matter the lack of sleep, no matter the personal struggles or inconveniences their situations cause, she is there for the animals that need her. She gives them her whole hearted professional attention and every single medical possibility known to her to help them. No life is unworthy, no creature insignificant. If she tells me that an animal is a lost cause, I know there is nothing that can be done. Doctor Cash has proven to me again and again, that when everything we know to do fails, find something new. I have never seen compassion and determination from a doctor like I see in her, with every case she handles. She is truly one in a million and has made the greatest impact on who I am today, and why I am so successful at what I do. Her skills have saved thousands of lives of whom she never knew, only for having taught me what I needed to do to save them all. My gratitude is endless.
The wound smelled a hundred times better than it had when I began, but it was still bad. Doc cut away the dead tissue and scrubbed the exposed flesh and muscle until all evidence of infection was removed. She instructed me to do the same every day, until it stayed clean on its own, and she advised the usual regiment for wounds. We wouldn’t close this wound with stitches. It wound have to heal from the inside out because it had been so dirty and infected.
Doc’s skills are remarkable, but I’m completely used to them. What had me in shock this visit was the strange black wolf towering over us as we sat in the floor working on her, who never flinched, never moved, and never fought anything we did for her. She remained rigid, and the sound of the clippers caused an initial bolt, but a secure hug from me was all she needed to understand that this was what I asked of her, and she gave it. I only had to ask once.
During the drive home, I was elated. My wolf would be okay. If Doc said she would heal, she would heal. My determination would not waver now. Koda and I would become constant companions and bond would continue to grow to proportions I would not be prepared for.
Koda continued to sleep in the quarantine room at night. I wanted her to get her rest and it was the only place, besides with me, she was relaxed. Koda loved children, dogs and me. That was it. She avoided my husband like the plague. She reacted to visitors with an almost predatory reaction, giving them a wide circle, hackles up, never taking her eyes off them. No one could touch her but me and my daughter unless I held onto her and asked her to accept it. Children were welcome as long as it was only one or two.
She continuously begged my dogs to play with her, but they were not to be fooled. Though none of them had ever seen a wolf before, they knew what she was and they were terrified of Koda. My heart broke for her daily as her romping invitations for play were ignored and regarded with avoidance by my usually friendly dogs. The only one who would partake was Otis, my English Bulldog. Otis never met his mother, being raised by me since he was three hours old, discarded for a birth defect and brought here for me to save. Otis is not a normal dog. He has the emotions of a human child without the sense, and fears nothing, loves everyone. No animal instincts whatsoever. Otis became her only animal friend, other than my old cat, Shaq, who slept curled up with Koda at night. Shaq’s elevator didn’t quite reach the top floor either, like my bulldog. Luckily for Shaq, Koda didn’t take advantage and eat him. Sometimes I would peek through the window of the room to see Koda relaxed on her bed with Shaq happily kneading her furry body with his front paws and claws, and (I was certain) purring away with pure contentment. Koda would just stare at him as if he had lost his mind. It confused her. I could see it on her face. Just enough to keep Shaq safe. Koda might have respected his lack of sense. It was as if she understood Shaq didn’t know any better than to provide massage therapy to a strange wolf. It was a bizarre relationship, but it worked for both of them. Koda had a night time companion and Shaq had a buddy the dogs that relentlessly terrorized him were deeply afraid of. A cat with a pet wolf. It had a tremendous “Mutt and Jeff” quality to it, but Koda seemed content enough. Her world had little companionship as it was. With my time barely available to her with all the hungry spring orphans I was caring for, any friend, even a stupid one, was welcome.
The presence of other people always made Koda nervous. She wanted to move away, but wanted to be next to me, so, often she would just lean. At thirty and forty pounds, I didn’t notice it, but at eighty and above, when people came by my wildlife clinic to drop off an animal or assist me, I was eventually moved and pinned against a counter. I would try desperately to be welcoming and friendly to visitors as I was physically being held captive by a giant wolf. My feet would tingle as the blood flow would eventually become restricted, and I would fight a silent struggle to make room for circulation. It would be to no avail. The harder I pushed, the harder she leaned, and the harder she leaned, the more determined many visitors were to approach her and attempt to gain her trust. I would just eventually give up, and suggest a tour of the outside. Of course the promise of a cougar licking their hands would send them out the door, to which Koda would finally release me and GLADLY head for the privacy of her room. It had become an almost daily occurrence. I finally wised up and if someone was heading toward my clinic and Koda was with me, I would just simply sit down in a chair. I’m sure some people wondered how I kept up with everything around me as they would always find me sitting down, petting Koda. Our little secret.
It was one afternoon that we had a new volunteer in the clinic going through orientation to work for us. My husband, Robbie, was giving him the initial tour and I was beginning the task of changing Koda’s bandages. Robbie went off to do something in the house, and the man was left with Koda and I for a moment. I asked him to hand me bandages as I unwrapped Koda’s neck, knowing with him present, she would not let me reach for my supplies. I was pinned in my spot by the nervous wolf. “I hope you’re not weak around wounds.” I said to him. “No, I don’t have a problem. They don’t bother me.” He replied. “Good.” I said, as I casually removed the bandage and began telling the story of the injured wolf I was working on. About half way through the scrubbing of the gaping hole of raw flesh, my husband returned and headed out the back door to which the man quickly followed without another word to me. Robbie returned a minute later asking for a wet towel. The worker had passed out cold, revived and vomited. Having finished with Koda, I ran out to check on him. He was white as paper. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. He was smiling, embarrassed by his lack of tolerance. I reassured him that Koda’s neck was far worse than the normal wound and I should have warned him. He insisted that it was okay. He had never seen anything that bad and wasn’t sure if he would again. Her neck had improved tremendously and it looked wonderful to me and Doctor Cash, but to everyone else, it was still quite a shock. It was nothing short of barbaric and I had to remind myself, other people couldn’t handle it. My brother, who lives next door, even began to call ahead before he visited to make sure I wasn’t in the middle of Koda’s bandaging. He is a trained Marine. That says a lot.
Koda’s health improved with leaps and bounds of recovery. Two weeks after her first doctor’s visit, her weight was up to eighty three pounds. More than double. Doctor Cash was so proud of both of us, and we soaked it up completely. Koda and I had worked hard. She as much as I. The daily wound cleanings did not even require restraints. I called her to me and she stood still and patient as I cut away the dirty bandages and scrubbed and replaced everything. She was more cooperative when I was alone with her than when I had help. What an ideal patient she was. If only the other injured wild animals would all respond with the same tolerance, what a breeze my day would be!
Koda’s routine became ritual, as any wolf or wild animal is happiest if they know what to expect in captivity. Every morning, she was in the safety of her room, waiting for me with wide eyes in her room. I would let her out and as soon as she was finished mauling me with affection, I would put her harness in place and she would again become excited to be going outside, her favorite place. Because Koda was now full of health and energy, she had to be tied; otherwise she would just simply and effortlessly jump the fence and take off across the neighbor’s pasture. This happened twice before I realized my precious wolf could never be allowed to roam free in my two acre yard. The cattle ranchers would shoot her without thought as she is large enough to be dangerous to the calves they depend on for their income. If it happened, I had no one to blame but myself.
A steel tie out cable was used to give her some freedom outside. I HATED to attach it to her for any length of time knowing her history. It was far from the ragged construction style cable she had been dragging behind her when she arrived. This was a plastic coated cable that would never knot up or twist on her. She had thirty feet of it which gave her a sixty foot wide circle to explore. It was the best I could do and still keep her from getting tangled in the trees. Sometimes she would allow other animals to venture through her territory, but more often, those animals would be caught. Chickens and ducks barely escaped with their lives until everyone finally understood her limits and stayed away. Koda was only on the cable while I could watch her. When it was time for me to get busy with my chores, she came into the house where her favorite place in the whole world was kept; the living room’s couch.
The couch and Koda became almost inseparable during the day. It is a wide leather couch and for a heavily furred timber wolf, it was a cool place to spend a hot summer’s day, under the constant blast of the air conditioner vent. My Chihuahua SeeMore kept constant vigil from the couch arm. He WAS NOT giving up his spot, wolf be damned! (That’s a Chihuahua for you!) Koda would lay on that couch all day if she could get away with it. I left the television on for her to provide company, something she fought to understand. I finally decided it confused her. She would react with fear to certain faces and sounds, and when she threatened to jump through the window at a man yelling on the screen, I shut it off for good. Koda would snooze away the hot afternoon in the quiet of the living room. Her sidekick, a Chihuahua that hated her guts, kept her company until I would finish the daytime chores. Then we would go out for her evening romp, which we both savored.
A leash walk was always bad idea for us. Koda had become far too strong for me to control on a leash. She just drug me anywhere she wanted to go. At some point, my right shoulder was damaged, probably forever, but to me it’s a souvenir of a very special bond. Every time it cracks and pops, I’m reminded of the days I went skiing in my own front yard, during the summer time. Not something too many Oklahomans can boast about. Every day I went skiing from the clinic to the tie out, the tie out to the house, the house to the tie out, the tie out to the clinic. I eventually learned to bring the end of the tie out closer to the house, and then move it back to its usual tree while Koda was distracted playing with her buddy, Otis.
It wasn’t long before the problems began and started to gnaw away at my convictions to keep Koda forever and ever. It was May and I was getting abandoned fawns in almost daily. They were growing fast, as usual, and I had to have my quarantine room back from Koda to put them in. Fawns spook over the slightest movement and with eighteen being kept in the main room of the clinic, I was setting up a disaster if I didn’t get them into the room soon. It was a time that would break my heart for Koda. I wanted to move her into the house, but it was just too much. Koda paced incessantly at night and no one could sleep. She wanted to sleep in her room, so I was forced to put her in an outside dog pen. It was a large pen…six by twelve feet, six foot walls and completely covered, with a wolf sized dog house. Koda wasn’t as happy there, but it was only for the night time. The only thing about her being in the pen that was rewarding to me was her nightly howling at the moon. I say the moon, but it was probably her heartbreak of losing her indoor bed and nightly massages by her cat. Either way, I cherished her howling. Her long, sorrowful song that sent chills through me every time I heard it. The sound was magical and I could almost close my eyes and see her atop a ridge overlooking the wilderness, with nature as her home and her choices hers to make. It was where she belonged and I strongly believe that any wolf in captivity and all of their problems and challenges are born with an instinct far stronger than their bonds to their human captors; the desire to be free. Though they may never understand it, that need will always be there, insatiably leading them not to conform. They may not know what they are missing, but they all know they are missing…something.
During the day Koda was on her couch or her tie out, but even those freedoms were cut down when the fawns eventually moved outside. It would only take one time for a little spotted fawn to get too close to Koda for me to see the nature of the wolf erupt from her. The killer instinct, the hunter, the wild spirit, it was all there. She ate three harnesses and broke two brass tie-out clasps before I decided that my love for this animal would now be tested to its limits. I loved her so much that I would gladly keep her forever and deal with every problem and challenge with patience and understanding for the wolf that she is, but did I love her enough to give her up no matter what it did to me? I wasn’t sure. The thought of it nearly destroyed me. I didn’t know if I could do it. She counted on me for her very breath. Could it be done?
At one point in the venture with Koda, my husband sat down next to her on the couch and looked directly into her wide eyes. He had always just ignored Koda’s apparent fear and avoidance of him. It was the best way to deal with a frightened animal, and Robbie knew that. He wanted Koda to wonder why he didn’t seem to notice her, so when he finally DID make an effort, she would be caught off guard. It worked. Koda was completely in shock that she was being confronted by this giant man who had never paid her any attention whatsoever. He began talking to her softly and reassuring her that he would not hurt her. I was amazed. Koda didn’t budge. Though I was only a few feet from her, she never made a move toward me. She kept her gaze locked on his, her ears pricked to his voice, and then the miracle happened. Koda offered him her paw, her gesture of trust. I was the one frozen in shock this time. Robbie’s smile was brilliant. He looked at me and stated with all assurance and playfulness, “I could take this wolf away from you if I wanted too.” I laughed knowing my husband too well, and knowing he probably spoke the truth, though he would never compete with Koda’s love for me. From that day on, Koda loved and trusted him completely. He was her friend, but out of respect and love for me, Robbie never went out of his way to cultivate the bond. I was grateful, though I wasn’t sure why.
It was this day that made placing Koda in another home an initial possibility for me. We knew a special couple who had brought me a raccoon that had been mangled by a dog. We had named him Mo, and his is another miraculous story to tell. Mo was here for a very long time, and his rescuers, LeAnn and Scott, would visit often and that is how they met Miss Koda.
They had rescued another wolf-dog as the animal shelter had him rigged up for a shot of euthanasia. He was a gorgeous white wolf and was the center of their world. Their wolf had aggression issues which they dealt with in complete patience and understanding of the species. Their stories of his plight made me aware that my answer was right before my eyes. It would hurt. It would hurt like hell, but Koda deserved more than I could give her and yes, I loved her enough to let her have it. I would tell LeAnn and Scott. I hoped they would accept.
Of course they did. They loved Koda and they wanted to win her trust before deciding for certain that she could go home with them. They began to visit a few times a week, sitting with her within her tie-out area, giving her the option to approach, pretty much the same process Robbie went through with her, but they provided treats and rewarded her trust with gentle acceptance. Their patience was endless. They had complete hope of establishing that bond that we all needed to see before we could move forward. It didn’t take long for Koda to give LeAnn her paw. I anticipated as much as LeAnn is probably the most gentle and loving person I have ever met, though quietly my heart broke to see Koda giving someone else her love. I knew that it would grow into the special bond that she shared with me, and I couldn’t help but feel the loss that Koda and I both needed to occur. LeAnn being female and Koda’s preferences for trust obvious, it was done. It would happen. My emotions were completely mixed. My bond with this wondrous animal was sacred to me, but it was also selfish. Koda needed to go more than she needed me, only she didn’t know it. I needed to never see her on that terrible cable or locked in a dog pen at night alone. I couldn’t stand it any longer. Koda didn’t know she was restricted. She had more here than she had ever experienced in her life. To Koda, she was in paradise, but I knew the truth. She was just held captive by another means and her world had become a series of cables and locks and cages protecting her from herself and the other animals from her instincts. I couldn’t stand it. I knew I had to do this.
The deadline approaching for her to leave my home forever, I began to ignore Koda’s invitations for attention. She was bonding with LeAnn beautifully and I assisted by pulling away from my beloved wolf. It tore my heart out. Koda would watch me through the dog pen, her eyes pleading with me to visit her. I couldn’t look at her. From the corner of my eye, I could see her head tilting side to side with confusion. There was no way she could understand. No one did. No one but me. It was agony that could only be compared to listening to your baby cry and resisting the desire and instinct to cuddle it. Koda’s feelings were hurt, but I was the one who was suffering.
Her neck had healed in about six weeks. The wound was no longer detectable. Her fur had re grown around the wound and she had shed her undercoat. She looked like hell. Her luxurious winter tail was just a sad black whip and her already thin frame was exposed for all to see. I was grateful that this stage was not how she was originally discovered. She would have probably been shot on sight, as she would have looked like death without the disguise of her heavy winter coat.
The day finally came that she was to leave her home, and I moved though it like a zombie, ready for it to finally end. I never faltered on my decision to give her up and have not experienced one moment of regret for doing so, but the pain was nearly unbearable. I gave in to my urges to play with Koda that final day. We spent the morning together ‘hugging’ for long minutes, her paws on my shoulders, her face in mine. It always made Robbie nervous to see this act that we both enjoyed. Koda was taller than I, standing on her hind legs at about five and half feet. The whole family cuddled and played with her, took photos, had her in the house all morning. I did my best to avoid my work, doing the bare minimum with the other animals until after she left. I cherished every second on this last day, and I held nothing back. Not even my tears.
LeAnn and Scott arrived elated to be finally taking Koda on her final journey home. They drove an SUV, so it was something Koda would be fine with. Koda LOVED car rides as long as they didn’t end anywhere but back at home. The vet’s office was a HUGE “NO!” to which I had to abandon further visits. Koda nearly escaped the last time I took her, and I was afraid to go back. She was scheduled to go directly to LeAnn and Scott’s vet for spay surgery and a full physical and they had prepared for her problem with that by sending their vet’s technician here to spend time with Koda. It had been a complete success. Koda gave the woman her paw almost instantly. We were all delighted. She would stay at their veterinarian’s office for nearly a week where they would discover and treat an early case of heartworm and any other parasite she had picked up before she arrived here. Koda was given the full treatment and LeAnn kept me posted on every move, every discovery, and every symptom, problem and her full recovery from all of it. It wasn't long before we all rejoiced the day Scott was handed a well deserved oversized wolf paw. We had no doubt that would happen as well. Koda never failed to acknowledge persistence.
Koda loaded into their vehicle that final day without incident, where they had her bed made and gave her lots of room to avoid them if needed. We made the exchange quickly. I couldn’t hold it together long. They pulled out of the driveway with a wave as I smiled against a damn that was not just threatening to break, it was exploding. As I took my last look at the dark bushy figure in the back of the vehicle as it sunk beneath the hill of my road, the ears curiously pricked, the head tilting, straining to understand, my final sight of my beloved Koda was just as my first sight or her had been. Those bright, intelligent, yellow eyes locked on my own, that would forever captivate my heart. We had said goodbye in the very spot we had first met, with only a tiny scar remaining as evidence of our journey together. Koda was now stronger than she had ever been in her young life, and that would only continue to improve with the diligent care and love of her new family. Her photos sent to me at Christmas were nearly unrecognizable, but the eyes were the same. I would know those piercing, yellow eyes anywhere. They were photos of the most beautiful animal I had ever seen, a wolf that had only lived in my imagination, but I knew would someday erupt to shock us all. I was right. She was there all along. Somewhere beneath the bandages and the bones, hidden under the dull, neglected coat, she was always there. There was Koda who had been my best friend, my constant companion and my most patient teacher of whom I had never really seen before. There was the glorious wolf in my dreams…her spirit intact, her eyes glowing, and her head with its familiar tilt of questions. Her journey was long and difficult. Her suffering seemingly endless and her will to survive driven by forces no one could explain. Nothing had changed her need to be loved and nothing had caused her to hold it back. She had given everything and was grateful for so little, but now she had it all.
My girl had surprised me every day that I knew her, and I now held in my hands the evidence that I had made the right decision for her in every sense and possibility. After such a long and treacherous road, my precious wolf had finally made it home.
Annette King-Tucker, Animal Rescuer
Wild Heart Ranch Wildlife Rescue