NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - Who would have thought that a rough-and-tough-looking working dog could love and care for an eclectic brood that included wolves, pigs, owls, rabbits, turkeys, geese, ducks … and an emu?
But Kai did, gladly.
The 90-pound German Shepherd had reined as the self-appointed sheriff – and nanny – of all critters wild and domesticated.
Today his human and animal companions are in mourning.
Kai passed away peacefully in his sleep on July 19 at the ripe old age of 14-1/2, according to his grieving “mom,” North Salem resident Rebecca Bose, curator at the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem.
Acting as the “bridge between canine and human worlds,” Kai helped raise three of the center’s now-grown wolves, Alawa, Zephyr and Nikai.
As the pups’ role model, friend, and, when needed, disciplinarian, Kai’s presence was critical to their developing a basic comfort level around people, Bose said last week.
As educational ambassadors, the wild creatures needed that skill in order to be able to promote the conservation of their species.
Bose was never surprised that Kai took to his role as caregiver and protector like a duck does to water. German Shepherds are naturally intelligent, curious, loyal and watchful.
“They need a job; something to do,” Bose said.
Kai also was a friend, traveling companion and body guard for the late ambassador wolf Atka, who, the center said, “instilled compassion, understanding and awareness to the hundreds of thousands of people he met over his storied career.”
Kai was a bit of a superstar himself, Bose said.
The photogenic pooch was featured in a Subaru commercial titled “Best Friends,” and was chosen by Westchester Magazine readers last year, along with porcine pal Kooney, as “most unlikely to be friends.”
Kooney, a kunekune pig, was rescued by Bose’s longtime partner, Chris Evers, the founder and director of Animal Embassy.
The North Salem organization is dedicated to exotic animal rescue and environmental education.
Kooney is also an animal ambassador. He and Evers travel around New York and Connecticut conducting educational programs for children, as well as parties and other events.
Kooney — who eats like, well, a pig — is a trotting illustration on food production and supply, Evers has said. And meeting him is a whole lot more fun than some boring, old lecture on where meat or vegetables come from.
Kooney and Kai could often be spotted wowing the small fry at Hayfields Market or Purdy’s Farmer and the Fish in North Salem, or strolling along the community’s open space trails.
Evers, who grew up in Darien, Conn., started out catching and studying turtles and frogs in his backyard. He soon added a python, chinchilla, iguana and other exotic pets to his menagerie. After graduating from college and traveling the world, he worked for several rescue organizations before launching Animal Embassy in 2003.
He met Bose shortly afterwards. And that’s how Kai eventually got in with the other furred and feathered crowd.
Bose grew up obsessed with horses. While a fourth-grader at Pequenakonck Elementary School, she frequently sneaked over to Old Salem Farm across the road where she would “beg, borrow and steal to ride.”
Bose had majored in pre-veterinary science in college. After graduation, with the vision of going to veterinary school, she instead fell in love with wolves and started volunteering at the newly opened Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem.
Happily, the part-time gig evolved into a full-time job that has taken her to places across the country, including Washington, D.C., and New Mexico, educating us two-footed types about wolves at museums, schools and national parks.
Folks who grew up on “Little Red Riding Hood” and scary Disney movies tend to think wolves deserve a bad rap, said Bose.
But they are actually more like people than some think.
“They are social; they care for one another; they live in family units,” she had once told a Halston Media reporter.
And like other modern canines, who all descended from wolves, Kai had that kind of heart and soul, Bose said last week.
Bose decided she wanted a dog like Kai after meeting Eno, the German Shepherd owned by center founder Helene Grimaud.
Kai was bred in Germany and arrived as a pup on a Lufthansa flight at JFK in the middle of a snowstorm, Bose recalled.
They became fast friends and Kai had no trouble easing into his role as nanny, protector and friends of both the wolves and Evers’ troop.
“He gave me everything I could have asked for,” she said.
For Bose, the connection with Kai was “unconditional, nonjudgmental.”
Bose and a few close friends bid goodbye to her beloved companion during a brief ceremony at Rainbow Bridge Crematory in Yorktown.
“Kai lived a long, wonderful life. He was an exceptional animal in every way,” she said.
Although serious about his job, Kai’s pretty face helped him become a talented fundraiser. Last year, his Facebook campaign hauled in $10,000 for the center’s programs and events.
To lend a paw, visit nywolf.org.