Q: Dear BooneDogs: Hi, my name is James. I am an avid reader and fan of your BooneDogs column. I never miss a column! I noticed that you have written several columns on wild dogs and, in particular, one on coyotes, a species that most people consider a nuisance but you seem to admire [. . . ] Can you elaborate on your seeming passion for wild dogs and indulge my curiosity as to why you love them? Thanks, and keep the great canine columns coming!
A: Hi, James. Thanks so much for the compliments.You are right about my passion for wild canines. While I am a certified domesticated canine trainer and behavior counselor, I am truly wild about wild dogs and wild dog behavior.
I also realize that many people who read my columns do so for advice on how to handle issues that may come up with their pet dogs, and sometimes I fear that these readers will find my columns on wild dogs or wild dog behavior not to their liking. If so, they have you to thank for encouraging me. : )
Like many other kids who grew up during the ’70s, I eagerly looked forward to Sunday nights, which was when “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” aired. Watching the show was usually a family affair, and I owe a debt of gratitude to Marlin Perkins (and his adventurous assistant, Jim) for teaching me so much about wildlife from around the world.
Although we had a family pet dog that I liked, I wasn’t particularly “dog crazy” at that point in my life. Other than the few pets we had and the farm animals I would spend time with on ocassional visits to my uncle’s farm, I really didn’t have much of an opportunity to learn about animals and animal behavior as a young child, other than what I learned from reading and from Mr. Perkins.
I’m not 100 percent sure where I saw my first show about wolves, but I’m pretty certain it was on “Wild Kingdom.” Seeing these animals in the wild on TV was, at that time, about the closest I thought I would ever come to seeing real wolves in the wild. By the time the ’80s rolled around, there were very few wolves living in the lower 48 states, and because we had spent the last century plus working on eradicating them from the face of the planet, the chances of seeing one was slim to none. Coyotes had not yet made their push east in the great numbers we have here today, so my only true wild canine spottings were of foxes, and even those sightings were rare and unlikely.
The first wild canines I encountered, other than the foxes, were coyotes on a trip out west with my husband in the ’90s. Even though the coyotes were abundant in some of the regions we visited, it was still very exciting to see these large wild canines with my own eyes, even if it was often just a fleeting glance. Maybe it was these sightings that made me realize just how cool it was seeing actual wild dogs, actually in the wild.
In 2009, we traveled to Botswana for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see and study African wild dogs (also sometimes called painted dogs) in Sub-Saharan Africa. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I realized how very few people have ever had the opportunity to see these animals, let alone study them, or maybe it had something to do with just being in Africa, surrounded by thousands and thousands of incredible animals in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Whatever it was, I can say with confidence that the days we spent watching these beautiful canines while they were hunting, resting, scouting and interacting were some of the best days of my life.
The behavior exhibited by these beautiful, highly endangered predators was nothing short of amazing, and I dream every day of going back one day soon to see how “my” packs are fairing.
While I have not yet been back to Africa to visit my four-legged friends in the Kalahari, I have had several opportunities recently to see and study wolves in Yellowstone National Park and Isle Royal. But that is another story for another day. I can tell you that every bit of behavior I am privileged to see, and every little thing I learn about these animals, only makes me admire them and value them more.
Wolves, and all wild canines, have been able to survive in a world and a climate of intense human persecution, fear and misunderstanding, and their very existance takes us back to the days when we were much more closely in tune with the natural world around us.
I guess for me, wild dogs represent the possibility of us achieving that kind of unity with the planet once again, some day in the not so distant future. If these amazing animals can learn to live in harmony with us, I think it’s proof that we can also learn to live in harmony with the living things around us, and more importantly, perhaps, with one another.
BooneDogs is a weekly column provided by Melissa Bahleda, a certified canine behavior counselor and the founder of PARTNERS! Canines, a nonprofit shelter dog rescue organization located in Boone.