Guest Blogger, Kim Young (wolfhaven.org)
Wolf Haven International, a sanctuary for displaced wolves, is located in Tenino, WA (south of the state capitol of Olympia). The sanctuary was founded in 1982 by Steve & Linda Kuntz, then a young couple with a small child, a “pet” wolf, and a dream to establish a place for otherwise homeless, captive-born wolves.
Like many before them (and unfortunately, to this day), Steve & Linda quickly realized that a cute, young wolf pup does not translate into a tractable, well-behaved domestic animal. In all too many sad cases (estimated at 70%), captive bred, born and sold wolves (and wolfdogs) are euthanized by their second or third birthday, when they reach the age of sexual maturity. Fortunately for the 180+ animals who have been rescued and given a lifetime home at Wolf Haven since 1982, the Kuntz’s opted not to go that route. Instead they took on the vastly more challenging vision of establishing a lifelong home for these animals who were never suited to be someone’s pet.
The art of deception
Over 12,000 visitors come to Wolf Haven annually to see, hear and learn about wolves. One of the most frequently asked questions is “Where do these wolves come from?” The surprising answer is that most of them are rescued from private ownership (yes, it’s legal in some places in the U.S.; illegal in others). Who can deny that almost any animal is cute when it is a baby (including opossums)? That little bundle of wolf pup looks like & acts so much like a puppy, right? The catch is that it took thousands of years for mankind to successfully domesticate dogs so that they would have characteristics that we humans like in our pets: tractability, friendliness, loyalty, affection.
Wolves, on the other hand, tend to possess characteristics that we are not fond of in our domestic animals: independence, indifference to human approval, shyness. Add amazing escape artist abilities (wolves can jump, dig, climb, run), jaw strength of 1500 pounds per square inch (twice that of a German Shepherd), and natural instincts to cover territory and chase prey, and it’s easy to understand why wolves purchased as cute young pups typically end up euthanized or chained for life. Even those with the absolutely best intentions are usually unable to cope with the physical, emotional and psychological demands of maintaining a wild animal in captivity.
What about a nice compromise?
Nope, sorry, but a wolfdog (a cross between a wolf and a domestic dog) is not the answer. Hundreds and hundreds of breeds exist, so there isn’t any need to create something that really is neither fish nor fowl. Dogs have been domesticated so that they yearn for human contact and approval. Wolves avoid human contact and have no need to please people. What happens when you mix these opposing traits together – unpredictability. Genetics is a messy business, and regardless of what you might hear, it is not scientifically possible to predict behavior with any reliability. The wolfdog may be tractable and may not be. The wolfdog may stay in the backyard and not roam, but may not. The wolfdog may not instinctively chase prey (anything running, including a child) but on the other hand, just might follow this instinct.
At our sanctuary
Wolf Haven currently has a handful of wolfdogs. We could easily fill our sanctuary with them, if that was our intention and space was available. That is not our mission, however; we need to keep our focus on wolves and their welfare, both those born in captivity and those born in the wild. In an ideal world, there would be no need for a sanctuary for displaced, captive-born wolves. As long as people succumb to the desire to force a human relationship on wild animals, though, Wolf Haven and other sanctuaries will exist to take them when the animals outlive their usefulness. Here, the animal is placed in an enclosure with a companion animal of the opposite sex. They are given excellent medical attention, quality food, enrichment items to keep them stimulated and left alone to be what they want to be – themselves.
There are currently 51 animals living at Wolf Haven and the majority of them are not seen by the public nor even by non-animal care staff. Wolves prefer it this way, and we make all decisions based on what is in their best welfare. Sanctuary tours are available, however, for small groups of people, who follow guidelines and behave as guests in the wolves’ home. During a 50 minute tour, a visitor can usually see a gray wolf, wolfdog, coyote and two types of endangered wolf species, the Mexican gray wolf and the red wolf. I say “usually” because the animals are free to place themselves wherever they want inside their enclosure, whether that is the back part or up close near the fence-line. The best times to come for a tour are in the morning, during winter, and in cool or inclement weather. The iffiest time to see a wolf is on a hot summer afternoon. Just like other mammals, on a hot day, a wolf is more likely to kick back and relax under a shady tree in the back.
Contact us & get involved
On June 1, 2015, Wolf Haven will begin offering our guests the ability to schedule a sanctuary visit through a reservation system. Guests will either log onto our website or make a simple phone call to reserve the date and time of their visit. This preregistration system will allow our guests, staff and volunteers to better plan and manage sanctuary visits. Not only will this ultimately be better for the wolves (who prefer predictability and routine), it will be more convenient for our guests as well.
We love talking about wolves, whether it is on a tour of our sanctuary, in our education center or at an outreach event. In addition to western Washington, Wolf Haven has outreach educators at various times of the year located in Arizona, Portland, Oregon and Southern California. If you’d like to get more information about Wolf Haven, please visit our website at wolfhaven.org, or call us at 360.264.HOWL .
Our education department can be reached at http://www.wolfhaven.org/educational-programs or 360.264.4695 x219.
Regardless of whether you are able to visit Wolf Haven physically or have someone from Wolf Haven visit you, please get involved and stay involved in wolf issues. Sign up for our wolf alerts, newsletters and other wolf news at http://bit.ly/1JVqBI1.
You just might make a difference in a wolf’s life.
– Kim Young
Director of Communications
Wolf Haven International