day one as a trainee handler

When the call came through that we could start our training I was very excited.

I was up early in the morning and down to Beenham to get there as soon as possible. I was met with the first great task for the day - helping to clean out the bedding areas... Phew. These guys know how to make a stink.

It is not too bad though once you get used to it.

We mucked out the bed areas, keeping the dry staw.
Cleaned the bed platforms if they were wet or soiled.
Cleared out any food that was left lying around.
Swept the floors.
Washed through with dissinfectant if there was any soiling or wetting on the floor.
Took the old straw out to the incinerator.

Once all that was done it was time to get the wolves out. We started with the European girls - Lunka and Latea. Keith would accompany with their big brother Alba - a wolf we are very unlikely to ever get to handler status with. He is getting a little too old to accept new dominant partners.

The roles of handling and backing up were explained to us again - the handler focuses almost entirely on the wolf. Paying particular attention to the lead and not getting it tangled in the wolves legs or on vegetation. The back up person keeps a watch on other peoples proximity to the wolf (especially on public days and shows) and watches all around for anything that the wolf may like to chew.

If the back up person does spot anything 'chewable' then their aim is to make sure the wolf does not see it. Normally this would involve just stepping on or in front of it until the wolf is passed. You do not try and get on something if the wolf has already seen it and wants it. Once the wolf has something - you call for a senior handlers help.

Keith went in with some assistance and put on their collars and chains and brought them out to meet us.
(There were three other trainees there with me)

After the wolves had met us and sniffed us, we started out through a gate to a back field.

Once we were out to the field it was time to take over handling the wolves. This is the time when they have some fun. New people to drag around the field, have fun with and squirm on. The wolves are very intelligent animals and very much like a class of six years olds will test a new teacher, the wolves test new handlers to see how they behave.

Generally though the walk was very enjoyable with only a few anxious moments. Once when a pheasant was spooked. Another when a hare ran out right in front of the wolves, then finally when some people who were walking a small dog were passing by on the other side of the hedge. The wolves behaved though and we got back without any problems.

Once the wolves were back in their enclosures we had a debrief to tell us what was good, where we needed to improve and what we needed to watch for. Overall though - it was a good day.

Next came a most wonderful experience. As there was no public walk on that day and only handlers were at the farm we went into the enclosures with the wolves. Firstly with Duma and Dakota. We went in, were greeted, then went over and sat on their platform with the sun shining down.

The girls would go off and wander around for a while and then come back and give us a lick and a kiss.

After being in there for around 45 glorious minutes we headed off and went in with the European girls. As Alba is too domainant Keith stayed with him in a side area to the enclosure.

We stayed with Lunka and Latea for around 20 minutes, before going out.

Things had gone well - the wolves seemed to like us, so I was looking forward to a lot more interactivity with them. It is true that cleaning out is hard work, but it is very rewarding. Somehow at the farm there is a very easy peace.