Authors: Chris Kurtz
“Nice work, Wolfie.”
I turn around. Heckles is yawning and rubbing his whiskers sleepily.
“You're just lucky you're worthless,” I tell the rat. “Otherwise, you could have been stolen. A burglar was just in here. A sneaky burglar who thought he could get past the defenses of a wolf brother and not be detected.”
“Burglar.” He snorts.
“Mona's lucky I'm around,” I say. “That burglar
could have cleaned her out. I wonder how he got away so fast.”
I think about taking another exercise lap or two around the apartment, but I decide against it. I need to be rested and alert in case the intruder comes back.
I head to the kitchen, where a bright red bowl with white paw prints all around the sides is waiting. Running laps and chasing out intruders has made me hungry. I hope I didn't eat all of my Nibbles and Nuggets The Simple Formula for the Super Dog from last night.
Nibbles and Nuggets, for short, are yummy. Each nugget is a perfect circle, exactly the same as every other nugget, and each nibble is a tasty triangle. Duck-flavored and delicious.
Sure enough, I am still munching, trying to keep my energy up, when Mona comes in.
She looks at me and crosses her arms. I can tell she is still grumpy about the burglar. Me, I'm already over it, and I'm the one who got smacked in the ribs for my trouble.
That gives me an idea. I gulp down my last bite and then try to take a step. Oh, no! My left
hind leg is all injured and limpy. Head down. Tail between my legs. I limp away from her. Sad, sad eyes. Limp, limp, limp. Go right for the heart. Every dog knows how to do this. Stop, turn, and look. Betrayed. Abused. Then limp some more.
It's working! She comes over and scratches behind my ears. Ohhh, that feels good. Her hand runs down my spine. Ahhh. Then ever-so-gently she checks out my poor limpy leg.
I flinch. Then I start trembling to make sure she feels good and sorry. I'm listening for the magic words that will definitely make my leg feel a lot better.
“Do you need to go outside?”
Wahoo! The most magic words of all! I bark and turn in circles.
Hurt leg. Limp some more.
It's possible to recover a little too quickly from these things. The trick with humans is to get them to do what you want, and still let them think they are in charge.
After she gets dressed and cleans up the mess, she checks me over a couple more times to make sure I'm all right before we go for our morning walk. I love our morning walks! Not that I need them, you understand. A wolf doesn't need
anything other than a full moon once a month, and a pack to go hunting with.
Soon I'll be part of the pack. My training plan will turn me into a strong, trim hunting machine.
I make myself a promise that I'll do anything I can to grab this chance.
The entire week, Mona packs for Yellowstone. Honestly, I don't understand why anyone needs so much stuff. I say, just grab the dog food and let's go.
Finally, the big day arrives. I sit on the front seat of the car knowing we are heading for the best place on earth for a wolf brother.
Yellowstone Park is wolf heaven. Summer nights are warm and perfect for the hunt. After the howls go up, the pack becomes silent and moves through the trees like shadows. Small
animals burrow into their holes or scamper up into the branches. But the pack takes no notice. The wolves seek larger prey. I wonder if elk or deer will be on the menu the first night.
In the winter, the bears sleep in their caves and snow covers the land. Bison gather in groups for warmth. But not the wolves. Cold does not bother them. On the ground, the animal tracks lead the way, and the wolf pack is on the move once again.
Now I'm on the move too.
Dogs love road trips. We are delightful traveling companions. It's a quality that sets us above many other animals. Hippos come to mind, for instance. You hardly ever hear about hippos on road trips, and I've heard it's because the minute you get on the freeway, they need to go to the bathroom. When you ask why they didn't go before you left, they say they didn't need to before but now they do.
Dogs take exactly the right number of potty breaks.
Think about it. Would you rather go on a trip with a dog or a spitting cobra? A dog or a cricket? A dog or a slug? Everyone knows that spitting
cobras get grouchy after the first twelve miles, and after that they just lie there and stare at you without blinking.
Crickets sing the same song over and over, and just when you think you are going to lose your mind, they sing it again.
Slugs are easygoing and they don't ask for much. Everything might look just fine until you decide you'd like some conversation. You can ask a slug questions all morning long and not get an answer.
While we're on the subject, you might add rats and parrots to your list. Parrots get carsick. They moan and sway inside their cages.
As for rats â¦ well, they just act like rats.
Lucky for Mona, she has a dog. Having a good trip is obviously all up to me.
Mona's car is a hot little sporty thing. It's one of her best features. You can put your front feet up on the armrest and hang your head out of the window even if you're small.
Not that I'm small. A little undersized, maybe. Which could be a good thing.
On the freeway I hang my head out of the
window. The wind whips my ears back. I bark at anyone who gets too close, one lane away or so. Maybe two. Just in case they get any funny ideas of bothering me or Mona. Mona tells me to pipe down.
Pipe down, indeed. She should tell the parrot, moaning and groaning under the towel over her cage, to pipe down.
Mona doesn't understand about all the dangers out there. It's like a sixth sense for me, and poor Mona just doesn't have it. But I pipe down to be politeâand so she doesn't roll up the window. Driving with the window down and your head in the wind is like being on a hunt. The smells come by so fast, you need a wolf's powerful mind to sort it all out. Which, lucky for me, I have. Being a wolf brother is a big advantage.
Unfortunately, if you're not careful, a big whoosh of wind can plow right up your nose when you don't expect it. Wind going that fast can rearrange things up in there. That's what happens to me. I have to sneeze about five times to get my nose back to normal.
Mona seems to think that I'm spraying dog spit all over the car. I don't think it's such a big deal, but up goes the window.
Heckles sniggers. With my sharp hearing, I detect it even though he's in the backseat.
I don't know why Mona hasn't learned that you should never, EVER take a rat on a road trip. They cause multiple problems. But Mona says she won't go anywhere without her family.
I sigh. I press my nose against the window.
If there was ever a time to feel sorry for myself, this is it.
Why should Heckles even get to be part of the family? He can't stop moving around in his cage. He gets sawdust all over the backseat. He poops inside the car whenever he feels like it with no regard for others. And he sniggers.
It's about time for a good pout. Even good traveling companions need to have a good pout now and then to make a point. I tuck my tail and drop down to the floor. It takes experience and skill to be a good pouter. Slump down with a sigh. Head on paws. Little whimpers. But most of all, sad, sad eyes.
Mona has no defense against the pout. She stops the car and lifts me back on the seat. She says she's glad to have such a strong, tough watchdog that never lets anything get by him.
The window doesn't go back down, though, so I keep my pouty face right where it is.
She starts in with the fingers.
Oh, the fingers! First she rubs my head. Then she tickles my ears. Then I roll over and she starts
on my tummy. If I get lucky, she'll find the just-can't-help-myself spot. The just-can't-help-myself spot makes a dog's back leg go nuts.
It's like a tummy party. It feels so good that the leg on the scratching side wants to join in. It just goes around and around like a windup leg until the party is over. Oooh, there it is. Mona finds the just-can't-help-myself spot, and pretty soon there's no more pout left in me. I look around for something to do.
, Heckles.” I jump into the backseat. “I'm bored. Wake up.”
Hector opens his eyes, and I can tell he hasn't really been asleep. “I don't feel so good.”
“Let's play Next Top Smell,” I say.
“You go first,” he says. He can't resist the chance to beat me at Next Top Smell.
I sniff. “Top Smell. Hmmm.” I sniff again. “Rat pee.”
“Duh,” says Hector. “What do you want me to do, hold it all the way to Yellowstone?”
“You don't even hold it around the block,” I say. “Okay, your turn. Second to the Top Smell.”
Hector sniffs. “Second to Top Smell â¦ air freshener. Pine treeâtype.”
“Double duh,” I say. “Been smelling that thing before we got out of the parking garage.” I look at the little cardboard tree hanging from the rear-view mirror. This isn't working out so great.
“I got an idea,” says Hector. “Let's play go back to sleep.” He curls into a ball.
Sleep doesn't sound like such a bad idea. Sleep builds bones. It's good for toughening me up to prepare for life with the pack. Anyway, there's nothing else to do now that the window is rolled up.
I hop back up and circle round and around on the front seat. I follow my tail for two and a half turns. Then I settle down and tuck my nose in for a long ride.
I wait for my mind to go far away to my wild place. That place isn't so far away any longer. It's getting closer with every turn of the tires.
In my wild place, the wind blows across the long buffalo grass. And something is crouching down, out of sightâhiding. The buffalo eating the buffalo grass don't suspect a thing.
The wolf leader has brought the pack around so that they are downwind. He is wise. He is experienced. He is a good leader even if he is a
small fellow. Not too small. Just a little undersized, maybe.
Which could be a good thing if you're hiding in the buffalo grass and sneaking up on a herd of buffalo.
Yellowstone is a long way from New York City. I have two or three bone-building snoozes in between rest breaks before Mona finally stops the car at a motel. After we get Hector and Glory and Mona's suitcase stashed away in the room, it's still light out. So Mona and I go off to find the nearest park in this small town.
I charge against the leash all the way to the park. I'm not going to miss a single opportunity to increase my strength. Mona yanks my leash back a hundred times, but I'm unstoppable. I bark
and growl at all the cats. We meet up with a few dogs.
There is a ridiculous-looking pretty boy with long hair. Afghan hound, I think they call his breed. He tries to sniff me up under the tail, and I spin around on him so quick he bumps his little walnut brain against his paper skull.
The boxer and the yellow Lab we cross paths with get a taste of some serious practiceâbarking and growling. Their owners give Mona dirty looks, and they pass us on the other edge of the sidewalk. After that, Mona keeps me on a pretty short tether, which is too bad because we meet a puffy little white cutie, and I don't get a chance to even touch noses. I can tell she wanted to, though.
As soon as we arrive at the park, Mona unclips my leash and I begin some serious training. My extrasensitive nose picks up the scent of a wild creature. Possibly large. Possibly very dangerous. Possibly with a great big rack of horns, and giant hooves.
Who knows what kind of critters they let run around in these small-town parks? I'm thinking
there could be a water buffalo loose in the park. Luckily I'm just the dog to handle the situation.
I finally track him down, and when he sees me on his trail, he jumps into the branches of an oak tree. It turns out to be a squirrel. What a trickster! I put the fear of dog into him for impersonating a buffalo. He won't be trying that again for a while.
Now that I've made sure the park is safe for Mona, it's time for my strength and endurance training. Everyone knows that wolves hunt by running their prey into the ground, and I'm determined to be in tip-top shape when I'm called on to lead the pack. Of course, I'll be respectful of the leader, but it won't take long for the pack to think maybe they should consider me for the job of top banana.
I gallop in a large circle around Mona. I figure fifteen laps will track down the most stubborn elk.
Five laps and I'm not one bit tired.
Seven laps and still running strong.
Seven and a half laps â¦ whew!
I sink down in a heap. Time to refigure my calculations. Six laps' worth of running should be all I need to catch even the most stubborn elk. Mona comes and picks me up. I snuggle into her arms and give her a grateful lick.