The Shadow of a Majestic Creature

I wasn't afraid of him, though he was afraid of me. The closer Mary and I came, the farther he moved away, till he was almost hidden in the trees at the edge of the yard.

I stopped and waited; my friend kept walking. ''Shadow,'' she called to the animal in her neighbor's lot. The cowering creature slowly straightened and cocked his head to listen. ''Shadow,'' she cooed again, clapping her hands in greeting.

Shadow's tail began to wag. He took a few steps and halted, eyeing me with amber eyes that could make an autumn leaf look pale. He ventured a few more steps, dragging his chain behind him, then trotted over to Mary. He was larger than a Siberian husky, with legs that were long and lean. But he offered her a paw and then threw himself onto the ground, rolling around like a puppy.

I stood where I was, about 30 feet away, as Mary kneeled, stroking the white of his chest and the thick gray fur on his body.

Part of me was stunned to see a timber wolf here -- living in a suburb, not far from a busy road. And part of me was saddened to know he'd always lived in captivity.

As the breeze began to feel a bit colder, Mary waved me over. I almost tiptoed, trying not to frighten the animal that, in the wild, should be fearless.

But this canine had known little more than a 100-foot dog-run, steel bowls for food and water, and a neighbor who came over daily. Mary talked quietly as I drew nearer, pointing toward a tunnel that Shadow had been digging, as if to get to her house.

Shadow walked back toward the trees, still wary of my intentions. He'd watch me, then circle closer, always returning to the edge of the yard. He didn't go near his doghouse.

As my nose and fingers began to tingle with the cold, I crouched down, and Shadow grew bolder. His large sweeping circles grew smaller and tighter, till his rugged features were just beyond my reach.

Mary spoke softly, telling him that I wouldn't hurt him. When he drifted away, she told me about the night he was lonely and wouldn't stop howling. He'd grown attached to her over the months; her neighbor took care of his physical needs, but she gave him companionship. He'd never bonded with his owner. So she went outside and gave him her old nightshirt for comfort.

I was touched by this story, and for a moment almost envious, but I realized that his owner's desire for such an exotic pet had already demanded a high price.

The creature before me, his confidence growing, was majestic, not evil; powerful, but nothing like the fiend of folk tales. He would never be tame or completely predictable, but he didn't deserve to be hated.

He neared us again, his interest waning, and I felt almost humbled by his long stride, his bright, alert eyes. He deserved more than he'd been given.

I asked Mary if perhaps there were a better place for him. She shook her head, saying he couldn't survive in the wild. And the wolf refuge/education center she'd called wasn't interested in any new animals. The director had yelled at her because it was an illegal pet.

Mary stood up, and I reluctantly followed. Shadow was once again by the trees. He'd had enough of us humans. My friend led the way back to her house, and I stopped for one last look. Part of me still wished I'd touched Shadow's coat. But then I decided that he had been stripped of much of his glory, and I didn't want to make him any more of a shadow.

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