On that day, five years ago…
Mónica Boada (Intern)
…I left the Wolf Science Center, but a part of me always remained in this place. The WSC was not only a research center in which I had gained experience in conducting behavioural research, it had been my home for almost a year. I walked around the park one last time, with tears in my eyes as I listened to the howls of the wolves, and I made a silent promise: that I would return, even if it was just as a visitor.
Life went on. I had decided to return to my home country, Spain, to do a PhD in Psychology. This required obtaining a Master’s degree first, which I achieved in Barcelona, where I worked on a project about physical cognition in forest buffaloes. Afterwards, I started my PhD in Madrid, which would focus on the study of cooperation, social cognition and domestication from a comparative perspective. This materialized in a study about social motivation towards humans in pet dogs.
Years passed and the world changed, but it was evident that the WSC was always at the back of my mind. I must admit that some nights I would dream of being with the wolves again. So, it is not surprising that when I had the opportunity of doing a short internship during my PhD, I decided to return to the WSC. But it was not only because of my connection to this place, since it is evident that the WSC is an exceptional research center for the study of the effects of domestication on behaviour and cognition. I was happy to be involved in any of the ongoing projects at the WSC but imagine my delight when I was informed that I would be assigned to a project with dog puppies!
Even if I had already worked at the WSC, this time the experience has been completely different. First, I stayed in Vienna rather than in Ernstbrunn. Although living at a house right next to the park, where you could sometimes hear the wolves howling from your room, was an unforgettable experience, living in Vienna allowed me to discover the beautiful city. Additionally, although externally the park looked the same, internally there have been many organizational changes. This meant, for example, that as a scientific intern I would only work on my tests and would not be involved in other activities, as was the case during my previous internship years ago.
Another difference from my previous stay is that this time I brought my car with me. The first time I visited the WSC during this internship, as I was driving, with green fields at both sides of the road, and as I went through the villages filled with colourful houses and flowers, I felt the excitement building in the pit of my stomach. The emotions associated with the WSC, which had been in slumber for years, reawakened. I also thought to myself that coming in spring had been a good decision, since it is the season when life starts to bloom again (besides, I am no stranger to the piercing cold of the Austrian winter, and I would prefer not to experience it again).
I was very happy to see some familiar faces again, both human and non-human, and actually got a bit emotional. When I visited what had previously been the interns house, now converted into an office, something stirred inside me as well. All the memories associated with this place came flooding back. Walking through the house and seeing the living room and bedrooms turned into offices was strange. But I was overjoyed and thankful when I saw that my picture, along with those of other interns, was still on the wall in the kitchen.
Many years have passed since my previous stay, and although I got reunited with some human and non-human individuals, sadly some faces were missing. All the wolves of the black pack are gone. The animals have aged, their fur has turned lighter in colour, and their joints have stiffened... And during this stay, I had to say farewell to two wolves. It was very depressing, but I am grateful that I got to see Chitto and Yukon again before they left us.
While some animals reached their final destination in this journey that is life, for others the journey has just begun. As you might have heard, dog puppies have arrived at the WSC! Needless to say, they are adorable, and I was fortunate enough to work with them during my internship. However, the downside of conducting a study with puppies is that as an experimenter you are usually limited in the type of interactions you can have with your subjects. Can you imagine how hard it is to keep a neutral facial expression and to refrain from petting a cute dog puppy that is a few centimeters away?
All in all, although this internship was completely different from my previous one years ago, it was a positive experience overall, and I am glad that I decided to come back to the WSC. As I am writing these lines, there is only one week left of my internship, and although I am looking forward to going back home, saying goodbye to this place again will be hard. Especially knowing that it is very likely that this is the last time I will see some of the animals, considering their old age. But such is the nature of life, and that is why we should cherish every moment and every memory. I will, for sure, cherish the memories of my time at the WSC.