Apr 122009
Authors: Matt Minich

A MacKenzie Valley wolf named Tunyan stalks unbeknownst to the reporter sitting on a log bench and tugs his small, spiral-bound journalist’s notepad halfway out of his back pocket.

The animal sprints away after being discovered, shortly before the notes are lost forever.

Tunyan is among 30 wolves and wolf-dogs that live on the property surrounding Frank Wendland’s cabin. The cabin rests at the end of a four-wheel-drive road deep in Northern Colorado’s Rist Canyon.

Wendland opens the door to the cabin./The self-powered home is fitted with rooftop solar panels and is comfortably furnished with a desk, computer and full kitchen./On the refrigerator door, photos of wolves surround two bumper stickers./ One of the stickers reads, “Mean People Suck.” The other, “All People Suck.”

Wendland is one of the founders of WOLF, or Wolves Offered Life and Friendship, a Colorado non-profit organization that offers sanctuary for captive-bred wolves and wolf-dogs, wolves that are bred with domestic dogs.

The program officially began in 1995, when Wendland and his wife purchased the 180-acre property to house six wolf-dogs that they had rescued from various owners./ In the next 14 years, the program has grown to shelter 30 animals, most of which have been abused or neglected by their owners, and is currently turning down an average of three calls a day from people hoping to give them more, Wendland said.

Most of the animals were given to the sanctuary by private owners who originally bought the animals from breeders as pets, Wendland said.

“People get these animals as pets, and they don’t know how to take care of them,” he said.

“Many owners expect the animals to behave like dogs and are surprised when they act overly excited or aggressive, which are wolf tendencies.”

Because the animals have been bred in captivity, Wendland said that they are not candidates for release./

“They don’t have the skills they need to survive in the wild,” he said./ If released, most of the animals would either starve or risk being shot by property owners./

By and large, the animals sheltered at WOLF have endured some form of abuse, typically from otherwise well-intentioned or ill-informed owners, said Kiley McGowen, the program’s director and a graduate of CSU’s wildlife biology program./

McGowen leads the Collegian reporter and photographer to the enclosure of Whisper, one of the program’s pure-bred wolves.

Because Whisper is among the most aggressive animals at the sanctuary, no one but staff are allowed to enter the enclosure, and those standing against the chain-link arena are warned not to put fingers through the fence.

Thinking McGowen has brought food, Whisper approaches the fence, revealing a deep scar across her snout. McGowen tells us this is where a veterinarian, familiar with pets, had muzzled the wolf out of fear. Applied too tight and left on for days, the muzzle left a permanent scar./

Another wolf, named Arkte, was rescued in 2007 from an owner that kept her in a plastic travel kennel for six years; many others were chained in small backyards or garages./

The animals are housed in groups of two or three and will live with the same companions their entire lives./ The enclosures are large enough that the wolves have no motivation to escape, said McGowen, who added that they had never had an animal run from the property.

Because they are unable to hunt their own game, being both inexperienced and enclosed, the animals are provided with dry dog food and given some form of meat two to three times a week, McGowen said./ The animals have access to veterinary care, and many of them live into their mid to upper-teens, well over the average lifespan of wolves in the wild, she said.

Though WOLF owns 180 acres in Rist Canyon, the program can only legally use five acres for the sanctuary itself and is limited to 30 animals./The program currently has a complaint pending against Larimer County for the denial of the program’s request to expand the program to shelter 60 animals, but the issue has not yet gone to court./

The sanctuary clashed with the county recently over four new fenced enclosures built outside of the five-acre area./The enclosures did not house any wolves, but the conflict grew to such a level that in late 2008 the county threatened to close down the sanctuary entirely./

After what McGowen called “a massive public outpouring of support,” however, the county told WOLF that the fences could remain if the sanctuary purchased a building permit, which McGowen said cost less than $50./

Larimer County could not be reached for comment about the dispute. While WOLF claims they were only given the option of removing the fences, leaders explained the county said that building permits were always an option. Because the animals at WOLF cannot be released into the wild, they will live out the remainder of their lives at the sanctuary. The organization does not adopt the animals to any other facilities or private owners./

“These are sentient beings; you can’t own them,” Wendland said.

Staff writer Matt Minich can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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