Thursday, July 30, 2009

Running with the Pack

Running with the Pack

By Pat Cunningham

INTRO ~ Hi Happily Ever After animal lovers, I thought a lot of you might like a peek at the realities of wolf pack life. Plus, Pat’s understanding and research is great information for all of us romance authors who run on the shapeshifting wild side.

Pic from ~ ~

I’ve always been an animal lover. As a dog person, I picked werewolves as my supernatural being of choice when I moved into paranormal romances. Fortunately I live in an area with a unique research opportunity – the Speedwell Forge Wolf Sanctuary of PA, right up the road from me, so to speak, in Brickerville, Pennsylvania. The Sanctuary consists of 25 acres and is home to 40-odd wolves, divided into packs/family groups, each with its own roomy run. I stopped in recently for one of their weekend tours and picked up some info and anecdotes to give my howling heroes and their world some verisimilitude. As I discovered, even with wolves truth can be weirder than fiction.

First off, the biggest wolf in the pack doesn’t necessarily become alpha. The sanctuary has a family of four eastern timber wolves, all zoo born. Because the pup was bottle fed and received better nourishment growing up than his parents, he’s the largest of the group. That doesn’t mean Pop can’t make Junior submit when he’s of a mind to. Attitude more than size is what makes an alpha wolf. The smaller wolf dominates the larger because he’s got the drive and the mindset. The Dog Whisperer is right – it’s all psychological. The muscular six-foot werewolf might find himself taking orders, and having to like it, from his 5’2” mate. That could make for some funny scenes.

We’ve all got this picture of alpha wolves clawing their way to the top of the pack and ruling with an iron paw. That ain’t necessarily so. The sanctuary’s pack of thirteen gray wolves is led by Murphy, possibly the laziest wolf on the planet, according to his keepers. Murphy does nothing and makes no effort to maintain his leadership. The pack follows him because they like him and they want to. His brother Winston could probably kick his butt and take over the pack, but he just isn’t interested. As beta, Winston does the heavy lifting in pack administration. He keeps the others at bay while the alphas feed, then determines who eats next and in what order. If your alpha hero’s smart, he’ll have a loyal beta to watch his back so he can focus on running the show.

Another myth blown out of the water is wolf monogamy and the idea of the alpha male in charge at mating time. When a gal’s in season, the keeper said, the boys take notice, regardless of her rank or theirs. “She gets up, they get up. She walks off, they follow. She stops, they stop. It’s hysterical to watch.” She, not the males, decides who’s going to father her litter. She picks the wolf she deems most likely to sire the strongest pups. If that turns out to be the alpha male, and it probably will, so be it.

As long as there’s no alpha female on hand, the pups might even make it. Alpha females tend to kill other females’ litters, both to secure their own pups’ survival and to demoralize possible rivals, to keep them too depressed to challenge her authority. If your story needs an antagonist, you need look no further than the literal queen bitch determined to hang onto her position. And hide your kids.

At the other end of the hierarchy exist the omegas. You can’t really call it living for them because they have to take everyone’s crap. The omega in the gray wolf group was easy to spot: the tips of her ears had been chewed off and the end of her tail was missing. The keepers had to move her into a separate pen or the pack might eventually have killed her. She shared her new home with two other wolves and seemed a lot less stressed. Got any werewolf omegas? Might they be harboring resentment and plotting against your alpha hero?

Finally, take this one for what it’s worth. Glacier is a big handsome gray wolf who comes from a showbiz family (his grandfather played Two Socks in “Dances With Wolves”). He’s also something of a diva. Glacier has been known to go off and sulk if he isn’t the center of attention. His last girlfriend had to be removed from the pen; Glacier bit her because he was jealous that the keepers were petting her more than him. Glacier shares his pen with Chipper, a diminutive male who’s suitably submissive enough to satisfy this prima donna alpha. “We think he’s gay,” the keeper said.

And on that note, I’m heading back to the keyboard. Happy writing!

Coyote Moon

Blurb ~

It's that time of the month -- the full moon -- when Willy Alvarez's moods go wonky and her dreams fill up with wolves. A time for hungers she doesn't dare fulfill because they lead to violence. She's resigned herself to a manless life, then Cody Gray arrives.

Cody is cute, funny, charming, and a werecoyote. His nose knows what Willy doesn't: she's half werewolf. He's convinced this repressed half-human she-wolf is his perfect mate. Now he just has to convince her. And quick, because her long-lost pack has learned about her existence, and they've come to town to claim her...

COYOTE MOON by Pat Cunningham at ~ ~ NOW full-moon rising on Siren-BookStrand’s bestseller list.


Savanna Kougar said...

Howls of happiness...

Jane Richardson, writer said...

I love wolves, so I loved this. Only seen them at some distance in a wildlife park, but would love to get closer. Love the idea of Glacier have handbag-snapping, hissy fits! Good luck with the book. :)

Jane x

Savanna Kougar said...

Hi Jane, on behalf of Pat, thank you!

Lindsay Townsend said...

Fascinating blog, Savanna. I love all this kind of information.

I love the excerpt, too!

Lots of luck with your super book, Pat!

Savanna Kougar said...

Lindsay, thanks for commenting!

Savanna Kougar said...

Jane and Lindsay, Pat asked me to thank you for commenting.