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FATE OR IRRESPONSIBILITY??

From the Spokane Spokesman Review - September 1, 1998

It's been six months since Spokane County animal-control officers loaded the frightened, cowering animal into a truck and drove him to the tiny town of Tenino, Wash. His name was Wolfy. And he'd been born with the odds against him.

He was part wolf -- but couldn't survive in the wild. He was part dog -- but couldn't be confined inside a home. Like thousands of other wolf-dog hybrids before him, Wolfy had been sold as an exotic pet, abandoned by unprepared owners and sent to the pound to face almost certain euthanasia.

His Spokane Valley owners had purchased him through a classified ad. They later concocted a story to get rid of him, telling animal-control officers he was a stray who had gotten inside their house and was threatening them and their baby.

Because he obviously was part wolf, he couldn't be offered for adoption. Cowering and shaking violently in his pen at the Spokane County animal shelter last February, the young animal seemed to have no future. But somehow, Wolfy got lucky.

Wolf Haven International, a nonprofit wolf sanctuary just south of Olympia, has given the young hybrid a new home and a new life. Sanctuary officials did it believing he was a purebred northern gray wolf. They now believe he's part dog.

Either way, they have no intention of kicking him out of his home. He's already bonded with his new mate, a northern gray wolf named Teka. And he's enjoying all the venison steaks, beef steaks and hot dogs he can eat.

His new family, a group of wolf-adoring staff and volunteers, also provide him with water, shelter and medical care when he needs it. They try to keep him as happy as possible.

But they don't pull punches. Wolf Haven rescues abandoned wolves, but it can't restore the life they've lost, staff members said. Although they live in an 80-acre sanctuary, the wolves don't hunt, procreate or run free.

They've become too dependent upon humans to live in the wild. Like Wolfy, most were turned over to Wolf Haven by people who couldn't handle them anymore. "We've got the ones nobody wants", said refuge curator Jack Laufer, who studies the endangered animals and uses uses them to help educate the public.

Dozens - sometimes hundreds - of visitors now see Wolfy each day. The good news, volunteers said, is that he no longer shakes and cowers. In fact, he's starting to become curious.

He's one of two wolf-dog hybrids currently living at Wolf Haven. The sanctuary also cares for 23 purebred northern gray wolves and five purebred Mexican gray wolves. The Mexican wolves are being prepared for reintroduction into the wild.

"They really are individuals", Laufter said. Some, such as the unforgettable Princess Lilypad, rule their territory and their mates with an iron paw. Others are gentle and quiet, like Jeremiah, a longtime Wolf Haven resident who passed away last year.

Their backgrounds are diverse. Ponti came from Hollywood after a movie producer found him impossible to train. Kiwi came from the University of Connecticut after funding for its research program was cut. Steve and Linda Kuntz founded Wolf Haven in 1982. The Kuntz's own wolf - Blackfoot - became its first resident.

The refuge survives off donations, program fees and entrance fees. This year, it expects more than 30,000 visitors. Most of them will see Wolfy.

Now a year old, he lives in a 7,000-square-foot fenced outdoor enclosure with Teka, an aggressive, outgoing female whose nose is covered with fight scars. She was known for attacking any other wolf enclosed with her, Laufer said. Many Wolf Haven officials thought she would never accept a mate.

But when Wolfy arrived, the two immediately began to wrestle and chase each other around "They played literally for three solid hours", animal care technician Judy Loeven said. Soon, they were sleeping side by side.

Teka is two years older than Wolfy. Friendly and outgoing, she runs to greet visitors, prancing around and mugging for their cameras. If Wolfy even tries to get near her audience, she'll physically push him away. Usually he's quick to retreat. "He's smart enough to realize she is 40 pounds heavier than him", Laufer said. Wolfy's submissiveness to Teka may ebb as he grows into adulthood.

When he first arrived at Wolf Haven, staff used a rope barrier to keep visitors away from his enclosure. Today, visitors stand just feet from his fence, peering inside, snapping pictures and sometimes even attempting a howl. On a recent morning, Wolf Haven volunteer Kirk Johnson howled away with members of a small tour group. The wolves didn't take the bait. "Sometimes they just ignore us", he said with a smile.

Sanctuary staff hold official evening howl-ins each Friday and Saturday during the summer. But so far, Wolfy has remained quiet. He doesn't howl, but he doesn't bark either, refuge staff said. He acts like a purebred wolf, but his head seems too large, too German Shepherd-like. And his eyes are brown, not yellow like the typical wolf's. But Teka doesn't seem to mind. And neither have visitors.

Teka's former owners had hoped to make her part of a pack at a zoo in British Columbia. Fortunately for Wolfy, her disposition wouldn't allow that. If their relationship remains strong, the pair could easily spend the next 10 to 15 years together, staff said.

Because of Wolfy's vasectomy, they won't be able to procreate. Because of their enclosure, they'll never be able to run with abandon or hunt for anything beyond the giant black ravens who swoop in to steal leftovers. But Laufer still believes their lives will have meaning.

Over the years, they'll be seen by thousands of schoolchildren. They'll help break stereotypes about the "big bad wolf". They'll help move the public to support wolf conservation efforts.

And when they die, they'll be laid to rest in the sanctuary's wolf burial ground, along with Hambone, Noah, Princess Lilypad and the others who have gone before them. Their simple graves sit on a hill, marked by rocks and wooden crosses. Some are marked by special tokens of affection: a beautiful feather, a beaded necklace.

The sanctuary is expected to accept nine to 13 gray wolves from California. Laufer hopes to keep them together as a pack, their natural family unit in the wild. Although they never experienced it themselves, staff believe these wolves improved the chances of freedom for others. "We can't save everything" Laufer said, "but I do think we can make a difference".

 

 

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