While it is always bittersweet to face endings, please join the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary Team in wishing Crystal all the best in her new beginning with husband, Ramon Castellanos, another long-time member of the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary family. May they not only enjoy the warmth and beauty of all Hawai’i has to offer, but may they face and welcome new challenges, excitements, and opportunities.
To celebrate, I have asked Crystal a few questions to share with our dear readers. Please enjoy!
What inspired you to first seek out a volunteer position at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary?
After attending the grand opening of the Candy Kitchen Trading Post located across the street from the sanctuary, Ramon and I were driving back to Albuquerque, New Mexico where we were living. During the drive, we talked about the strong pull to move out to the area. The next day, I messaged Leyton J. Cougar, Executive Director at the time in 2011, asked if he remembered me, and I was told to apply right away. We moved out within a month of that message, and I met with Leyton just a couple days after we moved where he took me around each morning and we discussed canine behavior.
Can you share one or two of your favorite memories?
Memories with the Animals:
- A few weeks before high-content wolf-dogs Brutus and Skye passed away, Nicole Schepker, Program Director and I walked them to the One Acre enrichment habitat for one of their last visits there. Watching them bound to the back as if they were puppies (they were rickety old seniors and Brutus was suffering from cancer) with the fresh snow under their paws brings such sweet fondness to mind. Whenever I think of them together, I imagine them running with that much happiness—away from humans and free to be themselves in their full expression.
- Just before the new year of 2015, high-content wolf-dog Azaria (a.k.a. Zari), had an incident with next door neighbor, Nikki, another high-content wolf-dog: Nikki bit and tore her tail through the fence of the sub-enclosure. Rae McCue, Animal Care Supervisor, and Ambre Hudson, Assistant to the Directors, had been working to clean the injury while I was away, but upon inspection I knew the injury needed to be seen by a veterinarian. Zari underwent surgery that day whereupon her tail was amputated. She had not fully woken when the vets put her back into the kennel and loaded her into the van. Upon arriving to the sanctuary, we heard a noise and looked back to find Zari loose in the back of the gold van. She was still a little out of it, but she was coherent enough to come up to the front and begin to scent roll on the thermos that was in the cup holder between Rae and me. She was so cute—a huge happy grin with docked tail moving side-to-side. Rae’s laughs were quite infectious.
- The day Leyton asked me to come meet Storm. I was actually under the impression that Storm, an arctic wolf, didn’t like me in all the years before this fateful day. I told that to Leyton, and he told me that Storm had different feelings. (This was after a break-up with high-content wolf-dog Savannah.) From that first meeting, Storm and I became the best of friends, and I am forever grateful for that introduction. Leyton and I walked him that evening, and I about cried when Storm began to howl with everyone while I held onto his leash.
- Being trained on “my first wolf-dog,” Junior. Before I began my animal care training, Angie Albrecht, Animal Care Supervisor, and Allison Bailey, Website Developer, asked if I had any habitats that I had particular interest in being trained on. As I had initially felt upon arriving to the sanctuary with the responsibility then to care for the domestic dogs, I said I’d be happy to be trained on any of the rescues. However, I did have a soft spot for the old man, Junior—Junior didn’t have a close relationship with many people nor did he seem to like men very much. He was mostly deaf due to chronic ear infections and on his way to being blind, but there was something about his spirit that called to me. I wanted to get to know him, even if it was brief. My training with him went so well that I soon became his primary caretaker. Just before I was trained on him, however, senior wolf-dog Azaria had been paired with him. Although I originally wanted to meet Junior before Zari came into the picture, she stole my heart. Both have passed on, but they feel very much a part of me.
General Memories at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary:
- The very first day I walked up along the wooden perimeter fence, looking for a gate to walk through in order to meet Leyton, the rescues of Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary began a chorus. The song penetrated my being, and I began to weep. I will always remember that feeling.
- Howl-o-ween of 2011, Allison Bailey, Tasha Standish, Taylor Hord, and others put together the best night tour extravaganza.
- Playing Dungeons and Dragons with Ramon, Taylor, Tasha, Allison, Helen, Billy, Jenah, Dennis, Donna, Robin, Kristina, Jane, and Mikael in the communal kitchen.
- Laser-tag and Chaco Canyon with the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary Team.
- Going to El Morro National Monument each year with a new group of Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary friends.
- Dinners at Ancient Way Café.
Personal Memories at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary:
- Climbing a 10-foot fence to then secure escapee Flicker, a low-content wolf-dog who had only arrived to the sanctuary as a new rescue several hours beforehand. Boo ya!
- Leashing low-content wolf-dog Luna when she jumped out of her habitat during a Howl-o-ween event.
- Turning 21-years old with my wild-spirited family, and celebrating with them at the very late (due to fire bans) 4th of July celebration.
What has been the greatest lesson you have learned while living and working at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary?
The greatest lesson I have learned while living and working at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary is that there is more to each of us. All of the rescues, staff, and volunteers who call or have called the sanctuary home have grown and changed by the time spent here. I’ve seen rescues arrive petrified and traumatized by their past experiences to become social and trusting over time. I’ve seen volunteers arrive without certain skills or knowledge, for example, cooking, and I have watched them become avidly conscious of their diet and nutrition. I’ve learned that you can’t judge a book by its cover. I’ve also learned that the animals communicate to us if we’re open to listening to them.
What has been the most challenging aspect for you as someone living and working at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary?
The most challenging aspect for me as someone who has lived and worked at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary was the inability to fully separate work-life from personal-life, especially when I was living communally with everyone, which was up until around 2017.
What will you miss most after you leave?
I will miss the fur-kids the most. I have developed so many relationships with a lot of the senior population, so it will be hard to be away and watch them cross the rainbow bridge from afar. I also have to say that I will miss autumn—always too short, but it always brought the tarantulas; winter—it’s so beautiful, and the wolves and wolf-dogs love winter; monsoon season—I always loved the way the thunder shook the ground, waking the toads at Raven’s Pond; and the New Mexico sunrise and sunset—unreal!
Any parting words for your team or Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary supporters?
It has been a complete honor and privilege to be a part of the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary Team! I am so proud of how Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary has grown in the time I have been involved, and I am so incredibly excited to see where the sanctuary progresses from here. I thank the supporters: We could not do what we do without your help! I really encourage the supporters of Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary to stay tuned to the changes on the website and social media platforms, especially now during this pandemic.
Crystal Castellanos was originally an accredited dog trainer before becoming a general volunteer at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary when she arrived in June of 2011. She joined the Animal Care Team after passing her tests on August 18, 2011. Several years later, Crystal was promoted to Lead Volunteer in the Animal Care Department, and then in January of 2014 she advanced to become the Assistant Director, working closely alongside Leyton J. Cougar, Executive Director of Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary from 2003 until 2018. Finally, in November of 2018, Crystal stepped in to her final role as Director of Operations.
For almost a decade, Crystal had adorned many hats to support the mission and vision of the sanctuary. She developed her own skills and always worked tremendously hard to ensure each and every rescue received the love and care they deserve.
Crystal, you will be sincerely missed by many, canid and human alike.
“After years of having a rigid routine and pouring my heart into the sanctuary, I am aspiring to be open to the unknown and to the changes that will come. I have no particular goal other than doing what is going to fulfill my passions and being of service to others in my own way. Once upon a time, I thought I would want to own and operate a sanctuary of my own. After operating a world-renowned sanctuary, I have to say I have done that and have no desire to do so again. Whatever happens, I will be intimately involved with helping animals utilizing my own gifts. For now, I hope to hone my animal communication skills and perhaps I will find myself training people to train their dogs once again.”