As a child, I learned from my father that all dogs are descended from wolves. “If you want to understand dogs, learn about wolves,” he said. We always had big dogs – Collies, Shepherds. It was easy to see their resemblance to wolves when they rolled over in a submissive position, or raised their hackles when they felt threatened, or sensed that one of their pack (which meant us) might need protection.
I think about wolves a lot these days. There is an unfolding tragedy in America – groups of people seeking a return to the worst of this country’s roots when wolves were massacred by the thousands and brought to the edge of extinction. Those of us who care, who are horrified, are fighting for their survival. So with wolves constantly on my mind, it became both fascinating and amusing to watch my little pug Gracie exhibiting clearly defined wolf behavior. The first line of her book, The Wit and Wisdom of Gracie, basically wrote itself: ‘I am a wolf in pug’s clothing.’
In the world of wolves, the pack is everything. There is an intricate hierarchy that is indisputable and clearly defined, with the Alpha wolf in charge. In our home, a small black and white cat named Aretha is the Alpha member of the pack. Gracie learned this as a tiny puppy when I brought her home into what was then a pack of three – me, Aretha and a skittish gray cat I’d rescued named Skeeter. Aretha strode toward the little squishy-nosed intruder, hissed, bared her teeth and angrily swiped her paw (although not, I noticed, with her claws out.) Skeeter hung back and watched, I’m sure hoping that this funny looking puppy would get the message and peace would be restored in our newly configured pack.
It all worked out just as I (and Skeeter) hoped it would. Gracie decided that cats must be above her on the evolutionary ladder and there was simply no use in arguing the point. A year later, when Skeeter sadly developed an incurable cancerous tumor under her tongue and I had to put her down, Gracie accompanied me to the vet’s office and the two pack members touched noses to say goodbye seconds before Skeeter died.
I watched Gracie and Aretha’s interactions in the days after Skeeter’s death. Wolves grieve, tigers grieve – and I saw a wolf descendant and a tiny tiger briefly forget their roles to bond in sorrow. While they didn’t quite cuddle, they seemed to need physical closeness, sharing the same end of the couch or the same pool of sunlight on the patio. In time, they resumed their already defined roles, and Gracie wouldn’t think of intruding on Aretha’s spot of sunlight. “Go find your own,” Aretha’s harsh look would say, and Gracie obeyed.
Gracie is seven now; Aretha is eighteen and still in command. Gracie now checks on Aretha, making sure she’s comfortable, I guess. Because the most important thing about the pack is loyalty.
This post was kindly written for The Pugington Post by Patti Davis.