Working days at WWS are relaxed and slow to start. The heat of summer keeps the wolves lazily snoozing until at least mid-afternoon in their circular little dug-out bed burrows, in the long yellow grass, or under their favourite picnic tables. The first task of the day is to check and clean out the many water troughs within each wolf pair’s habitat. These water troughs are placed strategically within easy reach of a hose and a large, metal pipe. Troughs are filled from outside enclosures; the metal pipe is used to push troughs on their side to empty, and the hose is then inserted into the pipe when you are ready to refill one. This multi-tool process is essential – if you left a hose itself inside a water trough you may as well kiss it goodbye; the wolves love to play with them! Protecting the hose inside a metal pipe means the wolves can’t run off with it.
While each trough is refilling, you can duck into the enclosures to retrieve last night’s food trays. We have a huge amount of ravens at the Sanctuary. Because of this we feed the wolves their daily meals just as the sun is about to go down for the night. This way the ravens aren’t about in the same force as you would find them in the daylight, and the wolves can eat in peace.
Retrieving the food trays is a task I’ve never had to do on my own until this (my third) visit to WWS. I’ve found it quite daunting – and I know our Health and Safety Officer back at my job in New Zealand would be utterly mortified at some of the current practises here! Due to various circumstances I’m actually the only day-time staff member at WWS at the moment. Anything requiring entry to wolf enclosures is absolutely best approached by two or more staff members: you should have a wolf ‘spotter’, and someone to distract the animals if need be. However, I don’t have those options right now. So, while I wait for water troughs to fill, I ‘spot’ each wolf (there are two in each enclosure), double- and triple-check that I can see exactly where they are, and then I sneak in through a gate, uplift the food bowls lying near the entrance, and slide the gate shut as I exit. We currently have six different wolf pairs in their own habitats, so that’s six times I need to steal in and out without incident.
The most likely ‘incident’ here would be one or both wolves feeling energetic enough to get up and trot over to see what you’re doing; without someone to distract them it would be near impossible to get out of the gate without them following you.
In my mind I do also note the concern of a less friendly wolfie encounter. During my original internship to WWS in 2010, Lois (the Director) and I would frequently interact with the wolves inside their enclosures. As Lois (who is in her late 70’s now) is less physically-able, less and less interactions inside the wolves’ enclosures occur – right now she is unable to supervise outdoors at all. Enclosures are the wolves’ territories; their places of safety. Almost all of the wolves come up to the fence for pats and scratches and kisses from me, but you are asking a lot more of them to trust you actually inside their home environments. Spooking a wolf or making it feel uncomfortable has the potential to do irreparable damage to the relationship you have with it, and wolves in captivity who feel threatened may of course choose to defend themselves. Neither of these are nice outcomes, thus, it is best to utilise the lazy heat of the morning for food bowl collection time; all the wolves tend to be snoozing away happily – they might lift their heads to see what I’m doing, but that’s about it.
Just because I know Mum is reading this: if there is any chance of the darling creatures being too close to the gate, or if they are looking even slightly more than blissfully sleepy, I don’t risk it (we’ve got plenty of bowls!).
This concludes outdoor ‘work’ for the moment, and then it’s in to the meat prep. room to do food preparation. The wolves get beef, pork and whole chicken frames almost daily. We also have a road-kill collection permit thanks to the Oregon Department of Transportation, so if someone hits a deer or elk they can contact us and we will pick it up. Sometimes hunters also donate carcasses to us. Figuring out the daily meal plan for twelve wolves can be quite a big job, and a lot of time is spent chopping meat and dividing it into equal parts.
Most days in summer we have a privately booked tour scheduled. These can take up to two or three (or more!) hours in the afternoons depending on how interested the visitors are, and how much the wolves like these new people. I enjoy the variety of having tours some days and then having others where bigger jobs can get tackled when we’re not open to the public.
Tours are great fun, and as a non-government funded organisation we rely solely on donations and the admission fees people pay to see the beautiful wolves. Currently it is $50 per adult and $15 per child (15 years and under). Groups are given an educational talk before being taken around to see all the wolves and (hopefully) pat some of them. I have met some truly wonderful people on these tours who are just so interested in the animals and what we do here. Being able to share this beautiful place with like-minded people, and even introduce some to their very first wolves, is just so special. At WWS we aim to education and inspire. A lot of people out there assume that a wolf’s just a wolf – but these animals really do each have unique personalities, and so many of them are ridiculously affectionate with humans given the chance. They aren’t the evil, cruel beasts we see portrayed in movies and other media. When a tour ends and someone tells me, with tears in their eyes, that it has been a life-changing experience for them, I know we are making the difference we hope to.
Between cleaning, food preparation, tours and of course providing companionship to the wolves if that is what they so desire (after all, at WWS we are their happy servants!) the days pass quite quickly. I feel so grateful that each night I get to lay my head down on my pillow with a heart so full of love, and a feeling of such satisfaction that I’m doing something good for the animals, and other people.