Located in the Wet Mountains about 40 minutes outside of small town of Westcliffe (pop.=600) in Colorado is one of the most remarkable places in the world- Mission:Wolf
Mission:Wolf is a wolf sanctuary run by Kent Weber and Tracy Brooks. They, along with many volunteers, care for 38 wolves and wolf/dog crosses that were once pets and/or removed from their natural territories for one reason or another. I had the amazing experience of being able to stay at Mission: Wolf for a few weeks and get to know the wolves and learn about the importance of human and animal interaction.
“Wildness in nature and in the human world is fast disappearing. Our modern society is afraid of what we cannot control, as demonstrated by the extermination of wild predators. Wild places, extraordinary events, and strong-willed people are what we tell stories about. Wildness shapes our society. Mission: Wolf’s history is filled with wild animals, wild stories, and wild people, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.” – Mission: Wolf
So what is the difference between a dog and a wolf?
Wolves and dogs may look similar at a quick glance, but in all reality, they have very little in common. Physiologically speaking, wolves have piercing yellow eyes, long legs and huge feet, whereas, dogs tend to lack these features. But perhaps the most important difference is actually their temperament.
Wolves and dogs have evolved differently- dogs were bred to be man’s best friend, wolves were not. Wolves continue to bred in the wild in fear of mankind. Wolves are incredibly independent creatures and do not seek to please us, thus someone who buys a pet wolf often realizes their mistake quickly, but by then what do you do with a homeless pet wolf? Luckily, Mission: Wolf is there to step in. Although only a few of these wolves can find a home at Mission: Wolf as there is simply not enough space or resources. Kent says he gets calls almost everyday from pet owners wanting to give up their wolves and he must turn them away. The realistic future for these unluckily animals is not bright.
So whats it like living at Mission: Wolf?
There is no wireless internet, terrible cell phone reception and if you are a lucky volunteer you get to sleep in a teepee. When the teepees are occupied, tents are found scattered around the premisses. Mission: Wolf is very much a cooperative living environment- food is shared and work is a group project. Everything is run off of either solar or wind energy. There are a few main greenhouses and more being built with recycled material everyday. In fact, almost all of Mission:Wolf was built with recycled materials either donated or found on Craigslist. Everyday projects include things like staking out a new horse pasture, repairing wolf enclosures, picking up wolf poop, and feeding the wolves. There is always something to do.
Since wolves are not very interested in humans, their human contact is limited. Occasionally volunteers will go into an enclosure for a “greeting.” This consists of sitting down and bearing your teeth at a wolf. This is how wolves greet each other. The wolf may or may not approach you and lick your teeth. It can be quite frightening to trust a semi-wild/wild animal like this, but wolves are not vicious animals like they are routinely portrayed in pop culture media. Instead, they keep tight family ties and a single pack often involves many (if not all) members of the same family. In the wild, they would not seek human attention, however, can be curious animals.
“Humans have tremendous conflict with wild animals and even our own pets. At Mission: Wolf, we teach basic body language and animal behavior in an effort to help improve human-animal relationships. Developing an understanding of how to interact with animals is key to our peaceful coexistence.” – Mission: Wolf
Protecting the Wolves
Wolves represent one of the top predators in North America and as such hold the top spot on the trophic cascade. Thus, if the wolf population is decreased than the ungulate (hoofed animals) population explodes. In return, there is greater demand for surrounding vegetation, which is decimated in order to feed all of the new hungry mouths. The ecosystem quickly becomes out of balance. However, with a healthy population of wolves, the sick and old ungulates are picked out of the herd to provide dinner for the wolves. This actually strengthens the herd and allows the stronger animals to continue to breed. This is just one example of a cascade that is affected by the wolf population, however, there are many more. So lets save our wolves!!
If you would like to donate and/or visit Mission: Wolf click HERE. Any and all contributions are welcomed and appreciated.
*photos for this piece were taken by Kent Weber and me 🙂