DECATUR – An unconventional companionship is bringing happier days to two animals, thanks to the ingenuity and efforts of workers at Scovill Zoo.
Since her packmate Mowgli died unexpectedly in April 2014, Tilly the wolf has lived alone. Zookeepers did their best to provide more interaction, but they noticed clear signs of depression: moodiness, testiness, acting out with people she previously liked.
“Some days were worse than others,” said zookeeper Mindy Weaver.
No wolf pups were likely to become available anytime soon from Wolf Park, the Indiana wildlife facility that provides the zoo with hand-raised wolves. Workers there suggested finding a large dog to live next door to Tilly and keep her company, zoo Director Ken Frye said.
Enter Timber, a 90-pound mixed breed whose origin could include husky or Alaskan Malamute, but who bears an unmistakable resemblance to a wolf. An intact male, Timber is estimated to be 18 months to 2 years old.
When zoo officials heard about him, Timber had been living at the Wayne County Humane Society shelter for three months. He was relinquished by previous owners who could no longer care for him, said Amanda Cline, shelter manager and animal control officer.
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Employees quickly grew fond of the “very lovable, laid-back” dog, Cline said. But the shelter, which frequently operates well over capacity, was no place for him.
When the zoo contacted the shelter about adoption, it sounded like a great fit.
“Even though we miss him like crazy, it’s better for him to be somewhere where he can run and be free,” Cline said.
And so, Timber came to live at the zoo on July 29 and moved to the pen next to Tilly in September after a quarantine period. There are countless wild smells to explore, plenty of room to run and a steady stream of attention from keepers.
The dog and wolf can touch and sniff each other through a fence, often running together alongside of it. Tilly has shown no signs of aggression toward her new neighbor.
“I think she feels like she's got a friend,” Weaver said.
Zoo officials hope to try uniting Timber and Tilly in the same enclosure eventually, but they want to be as certain as possible that it will be safe for both animals. Wolf pups are born knowing how to submit to a dominant wolf, Frye said, and there's no way to know whether Timber will have the same instincts.
“We want it to go well and we don't want him to get hurt in the process, because she would want to definitely dominate him once they go in there,” he said.
Frye said a wolf pup or two might become available to Scovill next summer. If that happens, the zoo will seek a new home for Timber.
Keepers are working with him now on skills such as wearing a leash, which he doesn't like.
But Timber needs no help learning to love people. He bounds excitedly toward visitors, leaping up on them and sometimes flopping over for belly rubs.
“I think they’re both happier,” Weaver said. “I think he’s in a way better place, and I think she feels like she’s not just alone.”