Peek Into The Pack Blog

Why Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary No Longer Brings Rescues Off-Site

2020-04-03 PITP Cover

Article by Kendra Kain-Woods

Kendra is our Grant Coordinator and Copy Editor, as well as an Animal Care Specialist. She is an animal behavior enthusiast, greatly enjoying the impactful relationships possible through training as a means of communication and building trust. Through her love of writing, Kendra hopes to further support the wild rescues of Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary.

April 2, 2020

For Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary’s long-term Howling Supporters, they likely recall Leyton J. Cougar and Raven, an ambassador wolf, traveling throughout the country for educational outreach events. Raven was a gorgeous, black-coated animal, and he shared an exceptional relationship with Leyton. Together they greeted the public and shared valuable information concerning captive-bred wild canid species, such as wolves and wolf-dogs, the cruel realities of the exotic pet trade, and the importance of respect and compassion towards all creatures whether domestic or wild.

Leyton and Raven got the “Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary” name out there, and they began cultivating our reputation as well as sharing our mission of “Rescue, Sanctuary, and Education” with the world.

Raven has not been the only ambassador to step onto the stage or in front of an audience, however. In Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary’s 29-year history, Flurry, Storm, and Forest are other well-known names, all three having been wolf ambassadors. While our dear Arctic wolf, Storm, has passed and joined the Big Pack in the Sky, Flurry and Forest are enjoying their retirements at the sanctuary. Both gentlemen are 12-years old, quite healthy but with the aches and pains common in old age. While they still, at times, come out to greet the public on-site, they no longer travel off the sanctuary property.

In fact, Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary has moved away from bringing our rescues off-site completely, and this is for several reasons:

  1. In all of Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary’s history, the team has prioritized the rescues. We operate with an “Animals Come First” attitude, and we strictly enforce the rule that socialization is never forced on any animal. That means, if one of the rescues tells us, “No, I’m not coming out of my habitat,” we listen.

    If we were not to respect that “no,” team members could and likely would be injured as a result. Can you imagine leashing up a wolf that does not want human interaction much less being restrained and moved out of their marked territory where they feel most comfortable? Any stressed animal is capable of harming someone out of fear, and wolves are no different. Even with practiced ambassadors, like Flurry and Forest, there is always a risk when taking one of our rescues out of their habitat.

  2. Flurry with Maisie Williams

    Wolves are naturally afraid of people. As an apex predator, meaning that wolves are at the top of their respective food chain, wolves do not have any natural predators. The only animal historically that has ever posed any kind of threat, has hunted and killed them, are humans. For thousands of years, humans have battled with their fears and misunderstandings concerning wolves as vicious, dangerous predators, and reacted by killing and removing them from the land. As such, wolves innately want absolutely nothing to do with people.

    So, ambassador wolves tend to be the “weirdos,” and their general comfort with people, including strangers, is not normal behavior. Keeping that in mind, if we were to force our more typical wild canids to not only leave the comfort of their territories but interact with complete strangers, it would be incredibly stressful for that animal. As an organization that provides lifetime sanctuary to its residents, this is absolutely unacceptable, especially as this particular stress can be avoided.

  3. The rescues of Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary not only thrive on routine, but expect and require it. This fact has directed the nature of many of our animal care protocols as a result, including the strict feeding time of 9:30 AM. Because the majority of our rescues come to Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary with the experience of prolonged exposure to people, which creates a strong relationship in their mind between humans and food, our rescues do not legally qualify for rehabilitation and release into the wild. This disqualification also counts for our rescues who were born into captivity with the intention of being sold as pets. If not for organizations like Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, our wild rescues would likely have to be euthanized, as many animal shelters will not adopt wolf-dogs to the public. Although, of course, the laws differ from state-to-state. Unfortunately, many states consider foxes and coyotes to be vermin, so their fate is more often than not euthanasia.

    Storm as a puppy!

    Because our animals thrive, expect, and require daily routine, being sporadically brought off-site to events where everything is strange and unfamiliar can be stressful for the animal, and often unnecessary. To further address this point, the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary Team has plans to expand what can be done on-site, including basic veterinary care and fecal testing, to not only become more self-sustaining but to prevent unneeded stress wherever we can.

  4. Most of Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary’s ambassador animals, especially those that would have left the property, are either in retirement or they have crossed the rainbow bridge to join the Big Pack in the Sky. Even if as a team we still intended to bring animals off-site for educational programs, we currently do not have any rescues who wish to do so.

    Some of our younger animals, such as Quinn, a male low-content wolf-dog, and Naia, our 10-month high-content wolf-dog female, do agree to come out on-site, but this is not a guarantee.

    In fact, even with our seasoned ambassadors, at times they simply say, “No,” and there is nothing the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary Team can do about it. If a rescue does not wish to come out and greet the public, we will not force them to do so. Each time a trained guide asks one of our ambassadors whether they would like to come out, there is always a chance they will refuse. Furthermore, even if an animal decides to come out, we cannot guarantee how long they will be comfortable remaining outside of their habitat in close proximity to the visiting public.

    Finally, there have been situations where one animal out of a habitat is willing to come out as an ambassador, but by doing so it causes drama between pack members. This was the reality for our rescue, Dakota, who used to come out on-site only for meet-and-greet events. However, this greatly upset Powder, one of the Arctic wolves living in the same habitat as Dakota, and out of fear of being disciplined by Powder, Dakota started to refuse leaving the enclosure for public events.

  5. Flurry ‘scent rolling’

    Ultimately, for the well-being and safety of all our rescues, the team, and the public, Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary will no longer be bringing animals off-site to events. On-site meet-and-greets may at times still be offered, but we cannot guarantee that our current residents will want to oblige.

    Furthermore, it requires extensive training and specialized skills for a guide to be able to properly care for a willing ambassador animal. From the moment the ambassador is leashed up to the encounter to finally returning to the habitat, the guide is watching the body language and subtle cues to how the animal is feeling and reacting to the process. Guides must keep a vigilant eye, as at any moment the animal could decide they have had enough and wish to no longer greet the public. They are not trained dogs, after all, but inherently wild. Escorting any ambassador to the public adds multiple layers of unpredictability, which in turn could lead to safety concerns.

    At this time, the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary Team only includes three trained staff as escorts for meet-and-greets, and we will be giving our farewells to all three throughout 2020. That means when 2021 rolls around, Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary may no longer be able to offer even on-site meet-and-greets.

To all of Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary’s Howling Supporters, whether you have been following and supporting us since the beginning or you are new to the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary Family, we, the team, are incredibly grateful for you all. Your kindness and generosity help us pursue our mission of “Rescue, Sanctuary, and Education,” and to provide the best living situation for our rescues as possible. So, a huge howling thank you, to you all!

Many changes have begun to shape the future of Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, but change is a necessity for growth. We hope you will continue to support our deserving animals, and watch as the sanctuary continues to blossom into a beautiful haven for our wild rescues.

Howls of love from the Wild Spirit Family.

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  1. Barbara. Arana

    You are doing a marvelous job. Wonderful

    • Kendra Kain-Woods

      Thank you so much, Barbara!

  2. Connie Nowak

    Don’t forget Nayati. He was a wolf among wolves. I miss him and Raven very much.
    One day I’ll be running with them.

  3. Linda Young

    I had the privilege and honor of meeting Raven back in 2004. I remember waiting for his arrival with some other people and when he finally walked in with Leyton I was awed by his size, demeanor and beauty, never having seen a wolf in person before. As he came round the corner, Raven turned his head, walked straight over to me and planted a big kiss on my face. I will hold that memory forever. As wonderful as it was for someone like me to have had such a chance I agree completely with the new protocol of keeping the animals on site, primarily because it shows respect for them and their needs as individuals. I think, too often, some people seeing a wolf out in public on a leash and getting petted think what a good pet they’d make and that is totally wrong. Wild Spirit is a truly inspiring place staffed by exceptional, caring people. It would be wonderful if our world was such that all the residents could live safe and free in the wild as Nature and God intended. That is a future to hope for.

    • Kendra Kain-Woods

      Thank you so much for your comment, Linda!

      The Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary Team agrees: It can certainly give the wrong idea to the public when they see a wolf or other wild canid on a leash walking around with a caregiver. It is vital for folks to recognize the difference between walking one of our more social rescues (as we certainly cannot do so with each of them) versus walking our domestic dog pets who want to adhere to a human’s lead and will. In fact, providing enrichment walks to some of our rescues is one of the riskier things that we do, and it requires a caregiver to receive specialized training before they are permitted to participate.

      Howls of gratitude your way for the continued love and support. Wishing you and your family well!

  4. DeAnna Vincent

    I have met and photographed all the of the ambassador wolves mentioned in this post at various times over the years. I have always been impressed with the knowledge and handling skills of everyone at sanctuary and trust you all know what is best for the animals. Additionally, I always thought the public outreach events were cool but I could certainly see how it would be stressful for the animal and potentially send mixed messages to the public about wolves being wild animals and NOT pets. So, indeed, it does seem best for the wolves to stay home.
    Please continue to carry one with your very important rescue work!

    • Kendra Kain-Woods

      Thank you so much for your comment and support, DeAnna Vincent! It is wonderful to have friends of the sanctuary who understand why we have made this decision and support it. The Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary Team hopes you can come visit us again in the future! We also hope you are well and safe during this unprecedented time. Howls!

  5. Mary johnston

    Long time fan and supporter. Try to visit periodically –


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