Mission: Wolf - The language of the wild
Mission: Wolf - The language of the wild
Want a pet? Rescue a dog! That’s the message Kent Weber, founder of Mission: Wolf, an educational non-profit since 1984, wants you to take away from a visit to the 200 acre self sustaining complex tucked away in the Wet Mountains of Colorado.
An excerpt from the Mission: Wolf mission statement reads as follows: “We figure that if you have a wolf in a cage, it’s good for one thing: to teach people not to put wolves in cages. Every year we travel the country with our ambassador wolves to teach people about the value of wild wolves and the drawbacks of trying to keep a wild animal as a pet. Our goal is to put ourselves out of business. When we educate enough people that there are no longer captive wolves in need of rescue, we can tear down our fences, turn the wolf sanctuary into a nature center, and listen to the wolves howling in the wild.”
I visited Mission: Wolf on assignment to photograph for a AAA Colorado Encompass Magazine article about Colorado animal sanctuaries written by Denver based freelance writer Pat Woodard and scheduled for 2016 publication.
Getting there wasn’t easy.
There are no advertising signs pointing the way to Mission: Wolf. Google Maps is not especially helpful. Trust me on this.
My friend Nancy and I blew in ignorant bliss right by the turn off, traveling 10 miles or so beyond before suspecting there might be something wrong and stopping to call. We had to move slowly in two directions before successfully finding a cell signal. Thankfully, after describing our location, “Near a large ranch with a big pond…” sanctuary volunteer, Pele, got us turned around and pointed in the right direction.
Turning off the highway onto a dirt road, we traveled 13.5 miles to the sanctuary where we found teepees, tents, a variety of solar powered buildings, and a whole bunch of middle school kids working hard moving dirt from one location to another. We were greeted by Paige Funkhouser, a 7 year long volunteer who explained the kids come to help, and learn through interaction with the wolves, something about themselves as well as the plight of these magnificent animals.
I was impressed. This is no kitschy tourist operation. If you find yourself at Mission: Wolf, it’s because you made a special effort to be there.
80 of the 200 acres are fenced and currently home to 35 wolves. The remaining 120 acres is in conservation and serve as a buffer zone. The wolves were born in captivity. Some were sold as pets, others used in movies or roadside zoos, and none would survive if released in the wild.
“They were born in cages, and they will die in cages,” says Kent. “Sadly, I have turned away thousands of requests to take in wolves. I just don’t have room for them all. There are more wolves in captivity than there are in the wild.”
Quoting from the Mission: Wolf website: "Wolves reach maturity at 2 to 3 years of age. Up until this point their minds are very much like that of a dog. When wolves do finally reach maturity, they become very independent, and possessive of anything that happens to find its way into their mouth. It is usually at this point that people who own a wolf or a hybrid find that they have an animal they can no longer control."
The animal ends up in a rescue to live out its life, or worse, abandoned, caught and destroyed.
Mission: Wolf’s philosophy is that we humans care more about something we can touch than an abstract idea. “Meeting a wolf face to face continues to motivate people long after the experience,” says Kent.
In preparation for our “face-to-face” with ambassador wolves, Magpie, Abraham, and Zeab, we listen carefully to Kent, a wolf-human behavior expert, who shares with us what to do when we enter the pen, and the language of the wolves.
Good thing too, because knowing what it means when that big ole head comes at you to lick your mouth, will prevent sure and sudden heart failure. In accepting the “kiss” it signals to the wolf that you acknowledge their respect and offer of friendship.
“Turning your head or pushing the animal away is the same as rejecting a hug from a 2 year old child,” say Kent. “It hurts their feelings, and causes them to continue to try to gain your affection.”
Alrighty then. In we go.
As instructed, we ignore the wolves and seat ourselves on a log in the pen. Immediately, the wolves come to greet us, their tongues going straight for our mouths. It takes an effort not turn away, instead looking directly into their eyes we acknowledge them, pet them, and have our hearts stolen now and forever.
We leave with the certainty that what Kent and his dedicated team of volunteers are doing at Mission: Wolf is important. For the wolves, and for us.
(For the record, a wolf's kiss is not slimy, nor is their breath offensive :)
Using my camera, Kent snapped the image above of me with Zeab, described by Kent as the most gentle wolf he's ever known.
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