The Weekly Wolf

I spent six years living with the wolves of Mission:Wolf.
Each Monday, this page will feature a new photograph and story of these wolves.

April 26, 2010



Gandalf is a shepherd / collie cross who was sold and raised as a wolf. He and his sister, Nali, spent most of their lives confused about who they were and where they belonged. For their complete early history, please read Nali’s story below. In short, Gandalf and Nali came to Mission:Wolf while still very young because their owner recognized he couldn’t care for them. Once they arrived at the refuge, the two pups were so rambunctious and displayed so much doggy behavior that none of the older wolves would accept them into their packs.

Thankfully, a couple of Mission:Wolf’s lonely wolf-dogs were up to the challenge of raising these two ruffians. Nali moved in with an ancient wolf-dog named Yaqui and Gandalf was paired with a shy little husky / wolf cross named Aurora. Gandalf and Aurora got along famously. Aurora was ecstatic to finally have someone to play with and Gandalf was happy not to be competing with his sister for attention any longer. They spent the vast majority of their time laying together, play bowing and raising a ruckus with their incessant barking. With Gandalf’s influence, Aurora even started trusting the staff a bit more… allowing some of us to touch her for the first time in a year.

As Gandalf and Nali grew up, it became readily apparent to everyone that they did not belong at a wolf refuge. Their constant barking, social-ness with humans, small feet, odd textured coats, and aptitude for obedience training convinced us that they were merely confused dogs who had been misrepresented as wolf- dogs. While Aurora bonded with a new companion, Gandalf moved into the refuge kitchen and started learning how to be a dog. After only a few months Gandalf was adopted by a kind person who gave him a stable home with two other canine companions for company.

April 19, 2010



Early in the spring of 2002, a man in Arkansas bred a white German Shepard and a collie to produce a litter of wolfy-looking dogs. He then loaded up the pups and headed off to a gun show in Colorado. At the gun show, the breeder sold two of the pups to a well-intentioned, but uninformed man. By lying and claiming the pups were 90% wolf, the breeder was able to sell them for much more money than if he had admitted they were shepherd/collie crosses.

When the man returned home with his pups, now named Nali and Gandalf, they were already too big and independent to be set free to run around the partially fenced yard. So they were chained outside to keep them from slipping away unexpectedly. It didn’t take long for the neighbors to come gawk at the pups. This only frightened Nali and Gandalf, sending them into fits of defensive fear barking. While trying to hide from the neighbors, the pups wrapped their chains around each other and a nearby porch swing, making them even more frantic to get away. Within a week of arriving at their new home, the pups were in serious trouble. The city government was alerted to the fact that wolf-dogs were being illegally kept within the city limits. The owner was given a week to remove Nali and Gandalf or they would be destroyed, so he contacted Mission:Wolf and asked for help.

We never believed that Nali and Gandalf were 90% wolf, but they were still so young (only 5 months old) that no one could actually tell what they would grow up to be. Nali and Gandalf’s situation was so desperate that we agreed to give them a home. When they arrived at the refuge in August 2002, the pups were frightened of everyone and everything. Their first months were spent hiding from and barking at staff and visitors alike. These two pups just didn’t understand that we wouldn’t hurt them.

After months of effort, we finally won their trust. The problem now was their constant screaming and whining for more attention. We moved them all over the refuge trying to find an adult wolf to act as a mentor and show these two hooligans the ropes, but no one would accept. They were too old (and too noisy) for any of the wolves to put up with. We were all frustrated and annoyed, but every time we were ready to give up on them, Nali and Gandalf looked at us with those innocent eyes and we couldn’t say no. In a last ditch effort to calm the pair down, we separated Nali and Gandalf. With much screaming and crying, their separation was traumatic for everyone... but it worked out in the end.

Nali moved in with an ancient wolf-dog named Yaqui. At 13 years of age, Yaqui didn’t know quite what to do with this whipper-snapper. Nali would race around and around their enclosure, teasing Yaqui, until he grumpily howl-barked at her. When no one else could, Yaqui would keep Nail in line by howling directly in her face whenever she got to rambunctious. The puppy-ish antics of little Nali kept Yaqui on his feet and healthy. Sadly, after only a couple of months together, Yaqui unexpectedly passed away from a quiet degenerative disease.

Now that she was a few years old, it was quickly becoming apparent to everyone that Nali was not a wolf or wolf-dog. She looked and acted just like a collie / shepherd dog. In an effort to convince Nali that she was, in fact, a domestic dog, she moved into the house with the staff, ate dinner in the kitchen, and went for leashed walks every day. After only a couple of months of this, Nail was so well behaved we decided it was time to find her a new home. Thanks to help from the Aspen Animal Shelter, Nali was adopted by caring people who were looking for a playful dog and is now part of the family.

April 12, 2010



Amulet is a petite and delicate female wolf who came to live at Mission:Wolf in 2007. She and her brother, Fenris, were born in a dog shelter after their mother was confiscated from a compound in Michigan. Their early days were so stressful that Amulet and Fenris quickly decided that humans were terrifying monsters. Even though they were still young pups when they arrived at Mission:Wolf, the staff had their hands full trying to get them to calm down.

The pups were introduced to Ambassador Wolf Maggie in the hopes that she could teach them how to be around people. Within day of adopting the pups, Maggie retreated from all human contact. She refused to greet visitors, choosing instead to hide in her den… she was torn between greeting her human friends and protecting the pups. This arrangement just wasn’t working out for anyone. With Maggie in the den, Amulet and Fenris looked to each other for the courage to be around people, and when they didn’t find it, they ran off even faster.

We then hoped that by separating the pups and giving each one an adult wolf to look up to, Amulet and Fenris would start to relax and gain a little self confidence. Amulet moved in with an older male wolf named Merlin. While Amulet was unsure about the new situation, Merlin was thrilled to have a companion and seemed to appreciate living with a female wolf who didn’t boss him around. Sadly, just as the two wolves were starting to bond, Merlin passed away from old age.

In an attempt to keep Amulet from withdrawing even further from human contact, she was quickly introduced to a huge red malamute / wolf cross named Luke. Luke has proven to be a great influence on little Amulet, showing her that people aren’t too scary, and the pair now serve as a good illustration of the differences between wolves and dogs.

April 5, 2010



People keep wolves as pets for all different reasons. Two of the most common are (1) to make a connection to nature through keeping a part of the wild with you, and (2) as macho symbols of power and aggression. Fenris and his sister, Amulet, are the unfortunate results of the latter type of thinking.

Their mother lived with 17 other wolves in a private compound in Michigan. Shortly before Fenris and Amulet were born, the compound was raided by the police looking for illegal drugs and guns. The wolves’ owner shot one of the officers while trying to protect himself and his wolves. In the ensuing confrontation, the owner was shot and killed. When the dust finally settled, all 18 wolves were transferred to the Michigan Humane Society’s dog shelter.

Never having handled wolves before, the shelter staff was overwhelmed and didn’t notice that Fenris’ mother was pregnant. She dug a shallow den in the back of her enclosure and gave birth to four black pups while the staff looked on helplessly in April of 2007. The pups were left in the enclosure with their mother for four months, only being handled once to spay and neuter them.

Fenris and his siblings learned, even before birth, that the world is a terrifying place. The stress and trauma their mother encountered by watching her owner be killed and being moved into an unfamiliar environment was transferred to the puppies through extremely high levels of adrenaline in-utero and then through her milk. Wolves only bark as an alarm call when something very dangerous is near, so the constant barking of the other shelter dogs told the wolves to be scared of everything. After four months of constant barking, Fenris and Amulet were neurotic, horrified pups with nowhere to go.

Through news reports and the outreach of one of the shelter’s staff, Mission:Wolf found out about the homeless pups. We agreed to take them in, hoping that their young age would allow us to socialize them. Little did we know what we were getting ourselves in to. Fenris and Amulet arrived during the summer rush at Mission:Wolf and were immediately horrified. We have never seen wolves that are as negatively imprinted by humans as these two. Fenris and Amulet spent their first months at the refuge cowering and fear barking from the very back of the enclosure.

Fenris was soon introduced to a very outgoing female wolf named Raven, in the hope that her bravery would rub off on him. Slowly, his fear barking tapered off and gave way to curious glances through the trees. In the two and half years he’s been at the refuge, Fenris has grown into a strikingly hansom wolf with unusual white markings on his face and chest. We still only catch glimpses of him through the aspens in his enclosure, but he’s slowly coming around.