The ultimate native canine species is the wolf (Canis lupus), often referred to as the grey wolf to distinguish from other canine species. Due to legalised persecution, the wolf was extirpated from across the Blessed Isles in the eighteenth century, although it may never have been seen in the Faireys, Orkneys and Shetlands, which do not share in the wolf and dog related folklore in the same way.
An Otherworld variety of the wolf remains, although the populations are small and have generally become very shy of humans. However, the Rangers who work from the Unnatural Resources Ireland base at Kilkenny have more regular contact with a number of local packs who sometimes work as their Otherworld guides through wolf territory. Their spirit forms, when seen, tend to look like a stereotypical wolfman – a humanoid shape with a wolf’s head and brush. Unlike the stereotypical wolfman, records and the Kilkenny Rangers insist that these wolves are typically shy, quiet and well-mannered although their moral compass may not match with human culture.
There is some debate about whether the domestic dog (Canis [lupis] familiaris) is a subspecies of the wolf or a hybridisation that has become a distinct species that is capable of crossbreeding. Although dogs have a wide variety of shapes and sizes, the most immediate difference between the two species’ basic shapes is that wolves have a brush (straight) and dogs have a tail (slight to exaggerated curve). There do not appear to be any long-term feral communities and domestic dogs rarely show signs of a spirit form. Those that do are often captured feral hybrids that may have been born in the Otherworld and their spirit forms look more human with fewer signs of their wolf heritage. They are typically more boisterous and child-like than their wolf relatives.
The impact of the Otherworld wolf or dog can be seen on Blessed Isles folklore and tradition in the following instances:
- A number of deities, heroes and opponents had the ability to take a wolf form, which suggests they were actually Otherworld wolves living among humans in our reality and could switch between spirit and animal forms at will.
- There is a Celtic tradition from young warriors being referred to as both hounds and wolves (resulting in proper names starting Cu, Ci, Cyn or Conn). There are a number of “sons of the hound” or “sons of the wolf” who could easily have been sons of Otherworld wolves or dogs. Something that incidences of second sight in some lineages may support, even if such hybridisation is scientifically doubtful.
- The Scottish and Irish fairy hound (Cù Sìth and Cú Sídhe, respectively) is likely to be based on particular Otherworld wolf packs or localised Otherworld hybrids that standardised to the point of being a landrace. The typical description is of a bullock-sized wolf with shaggy green or white fur. They are usually described as having coiled or plaited tails. It is worth noting that the word translated as “green” (glas) has historically, been used to cover things we would recognise as “blue”, “grey” or “pale” as well as “green”. Scottish Rangers have reported seeing packs with long haired brushes – and some of them decorate and plait these long hairs with beads.
- The Welsh fairy hounds (Cwn Annwn) are associated with Wild Hunt traditions, which indicates Saxon or Norse origins as well as Celtic or Otherworld-inspired. Similar hounds exist in Cornwall, the West Country, the Isle of Man. They are generally described as white with red eyes and ears. However, the medieval story of Pwyll has Arawn, king of Annwn (the underworld), in charge of a pack of fairy hounds who are chased off a kill by the eponymous Pwyll and his own hunting hounds. Academics have suggested that this may be a corruption of an interaction between an Otherworld wolf or dog pack, with the leader transforming into his spirit form to defend their rights, and a Welsh hunting party.
- The Black Dog is an apparition or ghost allegedly seen across the Blessed Isles, as well as on the continent, may also have origins outside of Otherworld inspiration. Typically, it is a lone large, black dog with glowing eyes seen at night and foretelling the observer’s death. While the interpretation may be unrelated, there are known to be black (or melanised) wolves in the Otherworld packs and modern sightings suggest that individual wolves and wolf-hybrids roam large distances across the Otherworld and possibly our reality.