Shawnee was 84% Siberian Husky and 16% Gray Wolf. She was one and a half years old when we met and fell in love. She was born in a private wolf-dog breeding center that bred wolf-dogs for sale as pets. (This is not necessarily a good thing.) The center was only interested in breeding for male wolf-dogs because that is what everyone who wants a wolf-dog wants. But male wolf-dogs make terrible pets! Terrible! But that’s what people wanted so that is what they bred for. The females were considered almost disposable since no one wants them. (Female wold-dogs — especially beta females — make fantastic pets but everyone wants males.)
At around the age of one Shawnee escaped from the breeding center. Since she was female they didn’t care and just let her go. She ran around in the wild for a while then she was picked up by Animal Control at a rest stop along a nearby highway. Then a woman rescued her from the pound and named her Shawnee. Shawnee lived with this woman for about six months but it was a real problem because Shawnee kept running away every chance she got.
You see, Shawnee was a beta female. In wolf society when the alpha male and the other males along with the alpha female went off hunting it was the beta females who stayed home in the den taking care of all the children. That is why beta female wolves are known as the baby-sitter females.
Beta females are all about family. Lone beta female wolves are extremely rare. They need to be part of a family, a pack. Very importantly, they need an alpha male to be loyal to and to feel fulfilled. Every beta female needs an alpha male to make their lives complete.
That is why Shawnee kept running away from the woman who rescued her. Because she was a woman! Shawnee needed to find her alpha male.
And that turned out to be me. At the time I owned and ran a bookstore. My wife, our daughter and our cat lived in an apartment upstairs from the bookstore. One day I was taking out the garbage to the dumpster in the alleyway. I opened the back door to the bookstore and was about to step onto the porch when I saw a big round ball of fur just in front of the door. It was a sleeping animal who sprang up into the air, flipped around and was suddenly staring at me. My first thought was, ‘Oh my god it’s a wolf!’ Looking closer I thought, ‘Oh it’s just a dog.’
She didn’t bark or growl. She just looked at me. She followed me out to the dumpster then back to the back door. I petted her then told her, “Listen, your owner must be really worried about you. You need to go home.”
She went home but the next day she was back at the back door. For two weeks she showed up at the back door every day. I ended up letting her into the bookstore and before I knew it I was madly in love with her and so was my daughter who was in first grade at the time. Then a customer came into the bookstore who recognized the dog and knew its owner. So I called the owner who lived just down the street and the owner came and got Shawnee.
But Shawnee kept showing up every day. Finally, the owner showed up one day with Shawnee and told me that she was moving to an apartment that did not allow dogs. Would I be interested in taking her?
My daughter was standing nearby and she immediately started jumping up and down screaming, “Yes, we’ll take her! Yes!” She then hugged and kissed Shawnee. I didn’t have to say anything except, “Sure.”
Shawnee had not only found her alpha male but her family. Anyone who was a part of my family was now part of Shawnee’s family and she treated them as such — even the cat. At first we were afraid to bring Shawnee upstairs to the apartment because we thought she might decide to make a feline sandwich out of Taco, our cat. But Taco was part of our family so, even though Taco was freaked out by this giant wolf-dog in our home, Shawnee treated the cat as one of the children she was to babysit. They got along famously. They played together, groomed each other, slept together, and even ate together; their bowls being right next to each other. (Have you ever seen a dog and cat do that?)
And Shawnee treated our daughter the same way. From grade 1 to grade 12 our daughter was not only raised by myself and my wife but she was also raised by a wolf-dog! She was my daughter so therefore Shawnee treated her like she was her daughter. She looked after our daughter as if she was her own. She played with her, guided her, she tucked her into bed each night and every morning she would wake her with her cold, wet nose. Every morning she would sit at the front door of the bookstore watching our daughter board the school bus to go to school and at 3:40 every afternoon she would be sitting at that door waiting for her to come home from school. She would have done anything to protect my daughter just like the cat and my wife. Her job was to take care of ‘our’ family. She was a veritable wife and mother.
Everyone who I treated like family or friend instantly became a family member or friend to Shawnee and that included customers that came into the bookstore — after all, the bookstore was part of our den. For almost nine years she was always working alongside me. She greeted all the customers at the door and followed them around to make sure they were happy. Several customers took to bringing doggie treats with them when they came book shopping. These were Shawnee’s favorite customers. Whenever a customer brought in a child with them Shawnee would babysit the child while the adult shopped.
Just a week or two after Shawnee became a member of our family my wife and daughter went out of town for a few days to visit relatives. Shawnee and I stayed home to run the bookstore. One evening after work I cooked up some chicken strips and put them on a plate. I took it downstairs and out to the back yard, Shawnee at my heels. I laid down in the grass and set the plate on the ground. I wanted to bond with her in the most primal way I could so Shawnee and I ate the chicken from the same plate, our mouths only inches apart. When we were done Shawnee licked the plate clean then she licked my face and beard clean.
From that moment forward, according to wolf society, we were officially married. For sixteen and a half years we were never apart. We were almost literally attached at the hip. The longest we were ever apart during all those years was about 12 hours one day when I drove to the city to pick someone up from the airport. It was heartbreaking for both of us to be apart for that long.
When I was asleep in the bed she was sleeping on the floor right next to me. Every minute I was at work she was by my side. When I went to the bank or shopping she was sitting in the passenger seat in the car right next to me. We went everywhere together and she took me for walks every day. She was actually with me more often than my human wife.
One thing I liked about Shawnee is that she did not bark. She was physically capable of barking but it was a real strain for her. In the sixteen and a half years that we were married I only heard her bark maybe five times.
But boy oh boy oh boy could she ever howl! She did not do it very often, she was a very quiet canine, but when she did howl it sent tingles throughout my body. My daughter would often howl in order to get Shawnee to howl and it sometimes worked. Listening to my daughter and Shawnee howling together was downright spiritual.
Over the years I had four different biologists inspect her. All four of them agreed that she had to be a minimum of 16% wolf. They showed me parts of her body that verified it including her mouth and teeth and spine and tail and a few glands on her body that were active in her (and all wolves) but atrophied in dogs. They verified what I had suspected. I learned a lot from those biologists and from doing some research — especially in regards to wolf society.
Of course she was also part dog, specifically Siberian Husky. When I put her harness on she was instantly ready to pull a sled. She loved snow and she loved pulling. Instead of a sled it was me who she pulled. And she was incredibly strong! She got me in shape.
Shawnee was utterly heartbroken when Jeff Bezos ran me out of business and I had to close down the bookstore. For the rest of her life she would go to and sit at the front door of where ever we were living at ten minutes until ten o’clock in the morning ready to go to work. Like clockwork she was ready to do what she and I did every day for nine years. She never understood why we stopped going to work together.
Eventually, our family began to break up. Our daughter graduated from high school and left to go live with her boyfriend who she soon married. My wife then left also. Soon it was just Shawnee, me and the cat. Shawnee did not handle change very well and to be honest neither did I. Thank goodness we were still together to comfort each other.
One night around four or five in the morning I was sound asleep and heard her calling to me. At first I was not sure if it was in my dreams or in ‘real life.’ So I got up out of bed and noticed that she was not on the floor next to me. I went into the kitchen and turned on the light. She was on the kitchen floor writhing in pain and agony.
I sat down on the floor and put her head in my lap and stroked her as she died in my arms. It was on November 30th eight years ago. It was the saddest day of my entire life.
This piece was inspired in part by reading yesterday on the eighth anniversary of Shawnee’s passing the beautiful story by Nalini MacNab , The Peace That Heralds Love, a story about the passing of her furry friend. Also, Linda Caroll asked to see a photo of Shawnee and after digging it up and looking at it I was inspired to tell her story.