I spent just under three months working as a voluntary intern at the White Wolf Sanctuary in the USA’s state of Oregon. The parts of Oregon I saw were absolutely stunning, and not only did I get incredibly attached to the wolves, I also felt right at home with the wonderful people. It is one of those places I know I will always be able to return to, and be treated as family or a long lost friend.
During those several months I spent my time forming bonds with the wolves that positively benefited from direct human contact, learning about the wolf’s local and global conservation plights, and educating visitors who came from all over the world about this magnificent being: the wolf. Nothing can teach you more about a species’ behaviour than first-hand experience, and the more experiences I had with the wolves the more I was able to relate their physical behaviour with theories I had read about in books, information I had studied, and was even able to tie many aspects in to the behaviour of the domestic companion dog of today. I currently have one of my most enjoyable jobs working at a wonderfully passionate petfood company that focuses on 100% natural, meaty diets for our domestic carnivores. I have not been with the company long, but I know this work with the wolves has given me a great insight into true natural carnivore nutrition. It was fantastic to see the wolves with a whole deer or elk carcass – they would rip straight into the belly, utilising those nutritious organs that are so underrated in a lot of commercial pet foods today. Seeing the utterly raw, natural vitality of the White Wolf Sanctuary wolves, I know I would want to encourage a similar effect with any animals in my care.
While I was at the Sanctuary, I felt as though I couldn’t imagine my life without the wolves. I spent my days watching the wolves zoom around their habitats, listened to them howl and sit with those that grew to trust me and seek my company. I still feel those bonds I formed with Tehalin, Sakarri and the others and am confident they will not be broken. Lois (WWS founder and director) always said once they have met and accepted you, you can turn up years later and still have them recognise you – the wolves don’t forget. I hope this is true. The most special moments for me were those quiet times when Tehalin and I would just sit together. He would reach his paw out to me, might look into my eyes and try to lick my face. Those small gestures of trust and affection meant so much, and still do. I struggle thinking about how long it has been since I saw them last. There are times I feel so spontaneously compelled to buy an online air ticket and head straight back – but then other things slip back into my mind; things like my employment, the studio flat I rent and the little kittens I have under my care that also trust and seek my company. It goes back to that point of mine, how we can often feel so far away from where we think we belong. I know I will get back, but when? It will not be soon enough.
Sadly, since I was there three years ago, Nepenthe, Ventana, Odot and – the most difficult for me to accept – Asabe have passed on. Understandably they were the oldest of the group, but when I learnt of their passing I felt heartbroken. Asabe especially; he was one of the beautiful gentle giants I grew so close with, and it is hard to realise he won’t be there when I go back. Life goes in cycles, I understand this, but knowing this doesn’t make the intense desire to see loved ones again diminish at all.
My last few days at the Sanctuary were, of course, so tough. I wanted to communicate to them that I would be back, but how do you do that with a group of animals? Of course I shed tears on my last day! Even kids movies get me crying, let alone knowing I’m walking away from these beautiful creatures and all the friends I’d made for who knows how long. I tried to hold those last moments with each wolf in my heart forever, and I’m glad I can still picture and feel it like it was yesterday. Saying goodbye to Lois was awful – I don’t think either of us were very good at goodbyes so we tried to keep it as short and casual as possible. I still email her to let her know I think of everyone at the Sanctuary every day. I’d love to see it in the winter, when the wolves get to bound through thick snow – they’d be in their prime then. Many things would have changed by the next time I go back, but any good change would add to the excitement of it all.
The moment eventually came where I had to take the Ocean Haven’s little truck and head back down the mountain for the last time. I waited as long as I could, but finally I couldn’t draw it out and more and just had to go. After saying goodbye to Lois, I gathered my things and pulled myself into the truck. I still remember the wolves’ eyes on me. I know the tears were running thick and fast, then!
I got to hear the wolves howl a few times. I remember the first day of arriving at the Sanctuary, Lois picked me up at the bottom of the mountain and drove me up herself with one of the other volunteers. As we came through the gorgeously thick forest and up to the Sanctuary fences, the wolves howled as if signalling that Lois was home. They howled on many occasions I was there, always during the bright day when their activity levels were high. Occasionally it would be when a tour group had just sat down for Lois’ educational presentation – that, I know, was an experience for them.
As I drove out of the Sanctuary that evening, I remember Nike running along side the truck. I felt so guilty; I had wanted them to know I was sorry and would miss them every single day until I returned. I wanted them to know I was going, but I would be back. I thought I would just leave, and it would be like every other ending work day. But then Nike stopped in her tracks, lifted her head and howled, a long, sombre song. Slowly, the others began to join her. I had my windows down to wave and tell them goodbye as I left, and the melancholy echo filled the truck. It followed me down the mountain, even long after I was out of sight. Never will I forget that moment, or that powerful, lingering farewell.