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.

January 31, 2011



Hopi, a.k.a. Hopi Toad, was born at Mission:Wolf in 1988 to two resident wolf-dogs named Brea and Lakoda. His litter was the accidental result of inadequate fencing. The separation fence was not strong enough to keep Lakoda from digging in to mate with Brea on that fateful January morning. Growing up at the refuge, Hopi was always the omega (lowest ranking) of the "Hybrid Pack" but managed to maintain his happy-go-lucky nature. His distinctive markings caused many people to believe that he was part Rottweiler or German Shepherd, but in fact, Hopi was one quarter wolf and three quarters malamute. The tan spots above his eyes always added a special expressiveness to his face. Although he liked to bark and growl at people when food was around, Hopi was always friendly to humans and other canines.

As the years passed, older members of the “Hybrid Pack” passed away and the remaining wolf-dogs split off into pairs. Hopi happily moved in with his best friend, a female wolf-malamute cross named Haida. They quickly became known as one of the refuge’s most affectionate couples. Even when Haida had to move up to the Puppy Palace (our vet buildling) because of her arthritis, Hopi insisted on accompanying her. They spent the rest of their lives in a tiny enclosure attached to the building but seemed content just to be together.

When Haida passed away in August 2001, Hopi turned to the refuge staff and visitors for friendship. He survived his beloved mate by nearly a year. He fought off the pain and frustration of loosing one of his front legs to bone cancer and yet continued to smile whenever anyone walked past. While it is often very difficult for such an old animal to recover from major surgery, Hopi's strength and perseverance was a testament to the incredible will and resilience of his species. Even on three legs, Hopi still tore the staff kitchen apart whenever we brought him inside for some extra attention. Beating all odds, Hopi survived until June 10, 2002, when he was tearfully relieved from his pain by his friends at Mission:Wolf. That evening, Hopi's spirit rose above the refuge and we know he is still looking down on us from the ridge above.

January 24, 2011



Haida was a white and black wolf-dog cross who lived at Mission:Wolf her entire life. It all began on an early winter morning in 1987 when Mera, a resident female wolf, unexpectedly mated with Hota, one of the refuge’s male wolf-dogs, and later gave birth to four pups. Haida was the only one of the pups to survive due to a mastitis infection which caused her mother's milk to dry up. The early years of Haida’s life were spent pulling the Mission:Wolf sled and playing with her wolf-dog pack in the staff kitchen. Haida loved tearing apart brooms and climbing on the kitchen counter to roll in the sink. Even though she was really friendly and outgoing around people, Haida was by no mean tame or domestic and would have quickly destroyed a normal house.

During her days spent with the the “Hybrid Pack” Haida bonded strongly with a male wolf-dog named Hopi. Over the years they grew into one of the most devoted and affectionate companions I’ve ever seen. As they began to age, Haida‘s ability to climb the steep hills in their enclosure deteriorated. Out of necessity she was moved up to the Puppy Palace (our vet building) to receive special attention from the staff. In the mean time, Hopi was left in his enclosure with a new companion. However, Haida was miserable; she liked all of the attention, but she missed Hopi. Once Hopi joined her in the small enclosure, they were as happy as could be. Reunited with her beloved Hopi, Haida’s regained her zest for life and started wreaking havoc in the Puppy Palace. Despite her arthritis, Haida climbed on the counters, pulled open the cabinets, tore open food bins and shredded every blanket in sight.

It was my job to feed Haida and Hopi their supplements and clean up the Puppy Palace each day. Haida was very particular about the people she let into her life and remained standoffish for months. However, once she decided to trust me, Haida gave me her whole heart. I spent hours sitting in the Puppy Palace while Haida fell asleep with her head in my lap. I always felt honored that she trusted me enough to relax and dream while I watched over her. Haida Potata, as she was affectionately called, and Hopi came to be two of the most beloved wolf-dogs at the refuge. Visitors and staff alike would watch as Haida pranced up to the fence whenever food was around with a smile on her face. On August 17, 2001, Haida passed away from natural causes at the ripe old age of 14. I can’t help but smile whenever I think of Haida's soulful eyes, playful spirit and penchant for getting into trouble.

January 17, 2011



Sila was a white and gray female wolf who was born in May of 1990. She was sold as a 98% wolf-dog cross, out of a roadside zoo in Colorado. While we believe that she was a pure wolf, the breeder could sell her legally by claiming she was part dog. Her parents had lived in the same 15f t. diameter pen (similar to a circus cage) for over 9 years. Whenever puppies were born they were sold to visitors with the promise that they would make good pets and were great with children. Sila was sold for $400 to a couple who lived in Pueblo, Colorado. Even at three weeks old, Sila was an independent, feisty, little creature. She, like most wolves, insisted on having her own way and would discipline her owners whenever they tried to put their foot down.

As a tiny pup, Sila climbed onto her owner’s table to take a steak. When the man tried to take it back, she bit him on the hand (never try to take food away from a wild animal). Soon after, she got loose from the house and ran down the street, through a neighbor’s open door, and right into the house, only to help herself to a loaf of bread. The neighbor attempted to retrieve his bread and Sila retaliated by biting him. It was decided that she could no longer live in the city.

Sila came to live at Mission:Wolf when she was nine weeks old. Because she came as a young puppy, Sila was able to bond with many of the staff at the refuge and soon became an Ambassador Wolf, traveling with Shaman. She always looked forward to getting out and meeting people, as well as traveling across the country. Sila remained true to her independent nature as she grew, forcing Kent and Tracy to constantly come up with new ways to keep her busy. While visiting a natural history museum one year, Sila opened a storage cabinet during a program and found a taxidermied fox. When she and Merlin, her traveling companion and mate, started to get into a fight over who got to play with the fox, Tracy headed out the door with Sila and the fox in tow. Inside the program, Kent, Merlin and the audience heard a huge growl and then a loud thump. Outside Tracy had distracted Sila with a stick, grabbed the fox (the growl was Sila letting Tracy know that was not okay) and threw it onto the roof. With the fox out of sight, Tracy and Sila walked back through the door and finished the program. Over the years, Sila met tens of thousands of people.

Sila only stopped traveling when her mate, Merlin, became to head-strong and powerful to do Ambassador work anymore. She chose to retire to life at the refuge, rather than continue traveling without Merlin. With her strikingly white coat and being the largest female at Mission:Wolf, weighing over 100 pounds, Sila quickly became the queen of the refuge. On my first visit to Mission:Wolf in 1999, Sila was the very first thing I saw. I had not arrived at the refuge until after dark the night before and had no idea what to expect. When I woke at dawn the next morning to 52 wolves howling I climbed out of the tent and couldn’t see a thing in the thick fog. A few minutes later the fog parted and I caught sight of a bright white wolf watching me from the top of a hill. From that moment on I was in love, with Mission:Wolf and with Sila. For the rest of the short time I knew her, Sila spent her days stealing meat from and dominating Merlin, impressing visitors with her striking eyes and doting on the people who had raised her.

January 10, 2011



Shaman was one of the most intense wolves to ever live at Mission:Wolf. Born on May 1, 1988, at a roadside wildlife park in South Dakota, he came to Mission:Wolf while only 19 days old. As a tiny pup, Shaman was social and stable around people. He became the center of attention on the Ambassador Wolf program. Living up to his name, which means “teacher and healer,” Shaman not only served as an ambassador to thousands of people, he taught other brave wolves how to greet an audience. Within three years he had appeared on nearly every television network, including the NBC Today Show and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Shaman was one of the most influential teachers of the Ambassador Wolf Program, meeting thousand of people, touching their hearts and changing their lives. A striking black wolf, Shaman inspired those around him to make the world a better place for his fellow wolves.

By the age of four he had fully matured and viewed his female human companions as part of his pack. He became so protective of them that he began to challenge his male human companions, and he finally had to stop traveling.

Shaman retired to the refuge, where his two lifelong companions, small wolf-dog sisters named Ghost Dancer and Dancing Bear, were waiting for him. Together the girls would gang up on big Shaman and drag him around by his neck in play. However, when it came to feeding time Shaman was clearly the alpha and thought allof the food was for him. The staff had to learn little tricks to ensure all three would get enough food, like throwing a bone far away for Shaman to chase and then quickly giving the tail-wagging girls some big juicy pieces of meat before Shaman returned. This helped keep Shaman fit and trim for a while, but he soon began to steal extra pieces of meat. As Shaman aged, he was moved to the Mission:Wolf farm where he could get smaller daily feeding and extra attention. With Dancing Bear as a companion, Shaman flourished at the farm for a while. However, at the ripe old age of 16, we had to say goodbye to Shaman as he passed into the spirit realm. Our “teacher” may be gone but the patience and wisdom he brought to our lives are still here.

This is the only picture I ever took of Shaman… and I quite like the abstractness of it, though it isn’t a very good representation of him. Shaman moved to the Mission:Wolf farm not long after I first came to the refuge and at the time I was most interested in taking “natural” looking photos without fencing in the background. I now wish I had taken more photos of my older wolf friends when I had the chance.

January 3, 2011

Black-billed Magpie 

Black-billed Magpie

The black-billed magpie, Pica hudsonia, is a large, gregarious song bird that is found across the western half of North America. They are a member of the resourceful and inventive crow family and are often confused with their California cousin, the yellow-billed magpie. Both species are best known for their striking black head, white body, iridescent blue-green wing patches, and very long tail.

Magpies are year-round residents in the thickets and riparian groves throughout the Rocky Mountains. These bold and relatively tame birds often form loose flocks of up to 700 individuals, ruled by a strict dominance hierarchy. When springtime roles around, black-billed magpie pairs return to traditional nest sites to raise their young. Their distinctive nests almost always have a domed hood with one or more side entrances. The females will lay 6-7 eggs and incubate them for 16-21 days before the chicks are hatched. Once the babies emerge both parents work hard to provide them with enough food. The young usually start flying 3-4 weeks after hatching but remain with their parents for two months before flying off to join other juveniles in larger flocks. Their normal lifespan is 4-6 years.

Black-billed magpies are opportunistic omnivores, feeding on carrions, insects, eggs, rodents, berries, seeds, nuts, and garbage. They forage on the ground, walking or hopping around in their search for food. Magpies are known to shadow predators, like gray wolves, looking for leftovers. Black-billed magpies make food caches throughout their territories, storing food against future hunger. They relocate the caches using mental mapping and their sense of smell - an extremely unusual skill for birds.

Mission:Wolf always boasts large flocks of resident black-billed magpies. They have learned that the refuge provides innumerable opportunities to scavenge meat from the wolves. There are several old trees in the wolf enclosures where the magpies raise their families each year. The wolves have learned that the fledgling magpies often fall out of their nests when first learning to fly and spend hours laying under the trees waiting for a snack. When a wolf does manage to snatch up a baby magpie the parents aggressively defend their young, repeatedly attacking the wolf from above. If the rescue mission isn’t successful the entire colony of magpies will descend on the wolf and incessantly pester them for days on end. I have watched three adult magpies stand on opposite sides of a wolf and take turns running in to peck or pull out fur when the wolf’s back is turned. After a few days things calm down again and the wolves and magpies return to their usual peaceful coexistence.