~ Afterward ~
By Sharon Lawrence
Celebrating the 100th year of Ron’s birth
September 12, 2021, Minden, Ontario ~ People often ask what happened to Tundra and Taiga, the other nine wolves and the plethora of other four-legged creatures who were housed at Wolf Hollow. The following is a brief update on many of the critters that you met in books and articles by Ronald Douglas Lawrence.
Tundra and Taiga thrived at our Ontario sanctuary and became superb wolf ambassadors. They were filmed, painted, and photographed by thousands of visitors, artists, and film crews from around the globe. In late 1986, Keg Productions produced a film called In Praise of Wolves. The storyline closely followed the book, with wonderful wolf footage provided by Jim Wuepper, and new film featuring our wolf family created by cinematographer Norm Lightfoot. The movie was used for a television series called Profiles of Nature and it is still occasionally aired.
After threats to burn our house down, shoot the wolves and drive us out of Haliburton County, Ron and I dedicated ourselves to wolf education. We visited many schools because we knew the importance of educating the young. Before and after In Praise of Wolves was released, Ron also did a great deal of wolf promotion on television and radio across North America.
People were eager to learn more about wolves, so in 1987 the Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve, hosted the first Wolf Weekend organized by Michal Polak, R.D. Lawrence, Peter Schleifebaum and Jim Wuepper. Visitors were housed and fed at the Base Camp, and participated in hiking, birding, wetland observations, lectures, workshops, and lots of fabulous wolf film watching.
After lunch on Sunday, the participants drove to Wolf Hollow to meet Tundra and Taiga, our wolves extraordinaire. Ron gave a general talk about ‘people behavior’ and how the wolves would probably act and react, and then he took small groups down to the enclosure.
Meanwhile, I answered questions, showed the wolf baby album, and discussed the wolf collectibles in the gathering room. This room was part of a two-story addition that gave R.D. a scenic upstairs office where he could look out over the property and see three enclosures, the river, and outbuildings. I also proudly displayed the woven garments made from the under-fur of our wolves, clouds of softness that were shed during the spring molt, that I carded, combed, and spun into yarn before weaving the fiber into wearable wolf fur garments.
Ron was writing full time, usually producing a book every year, and we welcomed hundreds of visitors who wanted to meet Tundra and Taiga as well as other animals we were housing for rehabilitation. Much time was spent building nesting boxes, clearing land, cutting fence posts, digging trenches, insulating permanent houses, and constructing pens or enclosures.
Wilfred was our first raccoon at Wolf Hollow, but dozens were raised and released over the years including a few special bandits like Nita, Killien, Miss. Deed, Alexander, Rosebud, Babe, Cuddles, Flo and Hugie. Many foxes, skunks and porcupines were also rehabilitated and released successfully over the years. Our animal numbers increased every year, and running the sanctuary became a full-time job.
We were not in the ‘wolf business’ so once Tundra and Taiga matured, we had to put a breeding program in place. For two seasons Taiga was given birth control pills which made her fat and cranky like many females, and there was also the fear of cancer developing. In the fall of 1987, Doctors Laurie Brown and Joan Grant from the Haliburton Veterinary Clinic as well as a team from the University of Guelph Veterinary College performed a vasectomy on Tundra. Ron and I sedated both wolves, tranquilized Tundra and the dirty little deed was done. Ron had thoroughly cleaned, sterilized, and set up an operating table in the century old log barn, and while he assisted in the surgery, I sat outside with Taiga who was very stressed and agitated. The operation was successful and wolf recovery speedy.
On October 10, 1991, a pathetic, skin and bones, five-month-old wolf that had fallen into the hands of a motorcycle gang was transported to the sanctuary by Christine Mason, wildlife coordinator for the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, based in Midland Ontario.
On October 18, 1992, Silva escapes, joins her wild mate.
October 1996, the Silva Pack is still visiting Wolf Hollow.
On May 16, 1992, Alba arrived at the sanctuary. A surplus Arctic wolf from the Toronto Zoo, she had been bought by a mindless dog breeder, who wanted a white German Shepherd. When the man introduced sweet Alba to the dogs, they attacked her viciously and tore off her tail and part of an ear. Her muzzle, upper face and feet were slashed and bitten. Her good ear had a tattoo inside which we traced back to the Zoo. The zoo had no breeding policy at this time, so surplus animals were sold. The breeder who had purchased Alba was eventually reported and surrendered the wolf to authorities. She was brought to us for rehabilitation. She was not releasable. We began an immediate boycott of the Toronto Zoo. Friends and family cancelled memberships and soon a breeding program was in place.
April 12, 1994, Alba dies from bone cancer. When we buried her in view of the two wolf enclosures, Tundra, Taiga, Shasta, Alberta, Numa and Leda all howl a mournful good-bye as Ron, and I lower Alba’s body into her grave. It was very emotional for us and the wolves.
On May 1, 1993, Shasta arrived. Alba was lonesome in the double enclosure, after Silva escaped, but not for long. The following spring, she had a soul mate next door. Shasta was a wolf hybrid, part Alaskan Malamute, part wolf. She had been chained up in a backyard for years and collared so tightly that the leather was now embedded under her skin. It was fashionable in the 1990’s to own a wolf or a wolf-dog hybrid. According to the Humane Society of the United States at that time, there were about 200,000 hybrid wolfdogs in America. Canada had no statistics available.
The Humane Society of the United States was totally opposed to the unbridled practice of breeding wolves and dogs. No one should ever consider tying up a wolf or wolf-hybrid. Animals kept in such conditions, whether wolves or wolf-dog crosses, will respond badly to their treatment. They may become inordinately fearful, or extremely aggressive. Shasta was both and very unpredictable. It was extremely difficult to read her body language, but it was obvious that her abusers had been male. Ron was never able to establish a good relationship with this animal, but over time she did accept and play with me. I could hand feed her and enter her enclosure, but I was always ‘ON GUARD’ with this hybrid, as her behavior could change in a second. Ron never entered her enclosure but did sometimes feed her peanuts through the wire. Shasta died in July 2000.
August 2, 1993, Alberta, a wolf-hybrid from the Crows Nest Pass of that western province, joined our family. This animal was wolf with a touch of Siberian Husky, but her behavior was always that of a Canis lupus. She was a sheer joy, a great wolf ambassador, who looked and sang like her kin. The daily wolf chorus was now a combination of Tundra, Taiga, Alba, Shasta, and Alberta.
BRIGIT, NUMA, LEDA
On October 12, 1993, six animals arrived from the Michigan Pack, (In Praise of Wolves) accompanied by Jim Wuepper and a volunteer. Jim was ready for a career change and wanted an appropriate home for his beloved wolves. Three adults were moved to the Haliburton Forest, and the Wolf Centre was established. Brigit, who was now 16 years old and in poor health, as well as two young pups, came to Wolf Hollow to live on the property with Tundra, Taiga, Alba, Alberta, Shasta, Ron, and myself. Murray Palmer, Jack Lyons, Ron, and I constructed an ‘add a room’ down by the river, joining the main enclosure so Brigit, Numa and Leda could socialize with Tundra and Taiga. Taiga showed little interest in the new arrivals, but Tundra pranced, whined, and leaped in the air, displaying much excitement. In a few days we slid the steel gate between the enclosures. Numa and Leda joined the adults and were immediately taken over by Tundra. The gate was closed so Brigit, who was deaf and almost blind after a small stroke, could have her own private retirement quarters where she could still socialize with the wolves or just watch at the fence.
Brigit had a massive stroke in 1994. She was buried beside Alba, in full view of the wolves, and as we placed her into the ground, Tundra, Taiga, Numa, Leda, Alberta and Shasta sang a sorrowful farewell.
In August 1995 a tornado ripped through Haliburton County, leaving a trail of destruction in many areas. We were on high alert all day and had secured the enclosures as best we could, but we were totally helpless when the tornado touched down in our area. The enclosure where Tundra, Taiga, Numa and Leda were housed was severely damaged by high winds and uprooted and fallen trees. Tundra, Taiga and Leda did not survive this disaster.
Tundra and Taiga had been a part of our family for more than eleven years. We began and ended every day with the wolves. We had bottled fed the blue-eyed pups and witnessed in awe as their eyes changed to pale yellow and their baby teeth fell out. I had brushed the wolves, as well as carded, combed, spun, and woven their clouds of softness into wearable art. They gave us respect and unconditional love and taught us so much about ourselves. They were our ‘furry, four legged kids’ and to lose three members of our family all at once was a crushing blow. We buried Tundra, Taiga and Leda in a large den that they had dug inside the enclosure. It was under an enormous, uprooted white pine stump that still displayed a tangle of root tentacles. My stomach churned and my heart throbbed. Uncontrollable tears streamed down my face. Ron and I worked in complete silence. Shaky and weak from our trauma, we helped each other back to the noiseless house.
Numa somehow magically escaped, in spite of the fact that he was three legged. This young wolf had somehow lost his foot before coming to the sanctuary. Because it would not heal, nor could he walk properly with one shorter leg, Dr. Laurie Brown amputated the leg at the shoulder in the fall of 1993. There was also the fear that gangrene would set in. Numa compensated very well with his disability, but we were still shocked that he alone had escaped. The young wolf loved his freedom and, although we recaptured him on two occasions and put him into the small secure enclosure where Brigit had lived, he found an ingenious way to escape once again. Numa hung around the property for weeks, usually showing himself in the early evening. After dinner, when all the chores were done, I took food and my camera down to the century old barn area, sat on the ground howled, and waited. He always came to eat, taking food gently from my fingers but moving away to ingest the meat. However, he positioned himself close enough to me so I could talk to him and photograph him. November is the beginning of hunting season in this area, so the night before the opening, I talked firmly to this wolf, warning him of the upcoming dangers, and suggesting that he hide somewhere on the property or that he go deep into the wilderness for safety. On November 15, he was sighted briefly with another wolf. Then he vanished.
On the morning of March 4, 1996, my birthday, I found Numa’s three legged tracks coming into the driveway and over to the feeding station. He appeared to have eaten and then his distinct markings went out the driveway along the side of the gravel road, out to the paved Buckhorn Road where they disappeared. I was ecstatic. What a birthday gift! I was overjoyed to know that he had survived not only the hunting season but also the winter.
In late September 1995, R.D. was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. This devastating news would bring many changes and challenges for the next eight years. Ron completed Owls, The Silent Fliers, which was published in 1997, but was unable to complete any of the other seven books he was writing. I kept Ron at home where the surroundings and routines were consistent and familiar. He continued to enjoy his relationship with Alberta and two other wolves that had been brought to us by the MNR for rehabilitation and slow release. R.D. no longer knew who I was or why I was in his ‘space’ which made running the sanctuary, the property, and the household very stressful for me. My sense of humor and silly antics were instrumental in my survival.
Ron died on November 27, 2003, at the age of 82. I had placed Ron’s tape recorder on the bed pillow so he could listen to the sounds of his beloved wolves howling, howl barking, and whimpering. I held his hand and said, “The wolves are calling to you Ron, and you are free to go!” He just stopped breathing! November 27 is also significant as it marks the birthday of daughter Alison, as well as the day that Ron proposed to me in 1973.
A Celebration of Life for R.D. Lawrence was appropriately held at the Haliburton Forest on a beautiful warm sunny day in August 2004. Family, friends, fans, and supporters from near and far came to share stories and memories of Ron, the wolves, and Wolf Hollow.
In February 2006, I donated the Literary Estate of RD Lawrence, his personal belongings, and memorabilia to the Minden Hills Cultural Centre, in Minden, Ontario. The Friends of RD Lawrence was formed, and twenty-seven students from the Sustainable Building Program at Fleming College in Haliburton, constructed a straw bale building at the Minden Hills Cultural Centre to house the collection.
In June 2006, I sold the sanctuary. Operating Wolf Hollow for more than twenty years was a huge commitment of time, energy, physical work, and money, and something that one cannot do alone. My passion for the wolf, the true spirit of the Canadian wilderness, has never waned but now I get my ‘wolf fix’ by visiting the Wolf Centre at the Haliburton Forest, a centre that welcomes 30,000 visitors each year from around the world.
“When your life is touched by wolves, you are changed forever!” ~ RDL
“The Green Trees Beyond” – (c) 2021 the e-book version of R.D. Lawrence’s 1994 Memoir.