Episode 73 – Ramon Castellanos

Ramon Castellanos joins us today to talk about his start in the animal welfare world. In addition to leading the research and development team at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary in New Mexico he also plans and implements habitat modifications. He talks to us about why wolf sanctuaries are necessary and how the wolves end up joining them. They also have a wonderful educational program which allows you to get up close and personal with a few of their star wolves!

Welcome to the professionals and Animal Rescue podcast. Where goal is to introduce you two amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. This podcast is probably sponsored by do bert dot com. Do Bert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Now on with our show, Ramon is currently leading the research and development department at the Wild Spare Wolf Sanctuary in New Mexico. In addition to research and development, he also focuses on educational programs and the planning and implementing of habitat modifications. Hey, Ramon, welcome to the program. Hey, Chris. Happy to be here. Thank you for inviting me on here. Yeah, we’re so glad to have you. And I’m super excited. Attacked it because I mean, well, sanctuaries or something that just I don’t know. It’s just got a place in my heart. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about you and kind of how your path is gotten. You to where you are now. Yeah, sure. Um well, in relevance to this place, I actually showed up at the Wolf Sanctuary. Pretty much completely by accident. So, you know, for your for your audience, probably don’t know where we’re located. We’re out about 2.5 hours away from any major city out here, so it’s very, very rule, and we’re out in the wilderness. Okay. Um, yeah. Uh, So I came out here with my wife about eight years ago now because my father actually built a store across the street and I come out here Thio try to get to know him and to work at his store. My wife, she was a dog trainer at the time, and she had a big passion for canines her whole life. Uh, so she was excited to come out here and try to, you know, work with wolves. Originally, she actually started in the gift shop working, I think about 15 hours a week on. And now she’s actually the director of operations. So I got a big, big transformation. Um, so, yeah, I started working at the store across the street, as I was saying, uh, trying to get to know my father. You know, I grew up in a situation where he wasn’t really around. I was raised by my grandmother, and, um So when we didn’t get to know each other a little bit, we did not like each other. Not. Yeah, it did not work out at all. So within about three weeks of working after store, I actually quit there. Um, after some just a really bad day with him and came over here. It happens to be that that day was actually the open house of a yearly open house to this place host and I started offering my time to some of the volunteers that were here just to help out. A couple of months went by and I was just doing construction, you know, just trying to survive. At first, I really didn’t have that much of an interest in working with wolves. Not that I didn’t love animals so that we can. I grew up around animals, but it’s just a weird place in my life, you know, weird time. And over the years of, you know, starting off doing construction, I started to get more and more involved in the animal side of things. Uh, doing animal handling and working with the animals and rescuing animals. And I don’t know, I just now. Of course, it’s in my heart. You know, I’ve become aware of just a massive need for especially in the wolf and cane on community, exotic and community. Just a huge need and a lot of exploitation. And, uh, yeah, that’s how I got started. Heater. That’s such an interesting story. Like you said, it’s something. It’s not like you, you know, planned so many people. You talk to that Aaron Animal Rescue our animal welfare. They plan to be a veterinarian when they were a child. And, you know, they’ve kind of realized their lifelong passion that it sounds like for you it wasn’t something that was always just This is what I want to do And you But you found your calling now. Yeah. No, absolutely not. It was not a plan at all. Like I said, soul into it by accident. Um, and it’s been quite the adventure, I would say. Yeah, um, with lots of lots of beautiful experiences, lots of difficult ones as well. I think for anyone seriously in this work bill, if they’re honest, still realize there’s a lot of sacrifice, a lot, a lot of pain involved in it, as Well, so tell us a little bit about the sanctuary there. I mean, I you know, maybe just some of the basics how big it is. How many animals live there? Sure Be. Sanctuary is currently about 122 acres. Uh, the animals live on about 40 acres, and we have between 65 75 animals year round. Generally speaking, at the moment, I believe we are at 68. We we have about 37 different habitats that the animals are spread into. We have several different species of wild canine. We have wolves, Wolf Dog’s Australian dingoes, red foxes, coyotes and something called a new guinea singing dog. Which is yeah, uh, one of the rarest canines in the world. Um, strictly speaking, not actually a dog. Apparently, genetics have proven that it’s a dingo, but a very long story of why they’re called the dog. But they’re actually more accurately called in New Guinea singing Dingo. So yeah, way actually have a pack of dogs now that I think about it to one pack of five dogs. So how did the animals come to end up in your care? Oh, all sorts of ways. Many of them are rescue from people who try to own them as pets. Primarily, what we do here is we take in disenfranchised, exotic canines from the exotic pet industry. So very few of our animals have actually come from a while. I think there’s only about three that were born in the wild but did not come from a wild situation when they came to us. They came from somewhere else that had rescued them. And most of our most Randall’s are come from people who try to own the past. It doesn’t work out because exotic animals usually make terrible pets, especially a lot of key. Nine wolves in particular, are extremely difficult to own, probably more so than the exotic cats. Big cats. Okay, what? Why is that shareware their listeners a little bit? Why, why they’re so difficult to own his pets. Yeah, a lot of room for that. Um, some would say that the wolf is the epitome of the wild Hear someone say in that they are extremely resistant to training, which is kind of amazing because, you know, dog is in essence, the least the best evidence that we have today tell them for the dog isn’t domesticating. Wolves and dogs are pretty well suited to be trained, but won’t. Not so much. They also are extremely high energy animals. Uh, extremely curious. Meant to run 100 miles a day at times. You know, a regular easy day for them. 20 miles a day. So they have a ton of energy. They’re very curious. Very intelligent. Very independence. Uh, not very cuddly. You know you don’t like, you know, how do you see some people? I’ve never seen that in person, but you’ll see some people like cuddling with a big cat that they’ve raised or something like that, right? That’s extremely uncommon for Wolf. Even if you raised that wolf, it’s maybe one out of 1000 from where we come across, you know, just a general estimate of a wolf that will actually be anytime cuddly with you. Um, so they just or suited for life in the house. They also are naturally very fearful and afraid of people in particular, which is the opposite of what you usually hear. Uh, well, actually, having a natural Yeah, in absolute fear, humans in their in their impulses to move away from us not to pours us because we are their only predator. Um, and we have also been hunting that in particular for a very, very long time. So won’t just have healthy fear. Uh, so even when raised by people they are, they can be skittish, you know, um and particularly and then even so once you have a wolf that’s not as afraid of humans as the average wolf because it has a unique personality and has been raised around them. They have an animal that’s an apex predator and isn’t afraid of you. So it’s just a very dangerous situation in a lot of ways. No, it doesn’t because it’s interesting to me. It’s kind of fascinating that the majority, as you said, are actually coming from people that thought they could care for them as pets and not they’ve been rescued or something in the wild and rehabilitated. So that’s an interesting, interesting twist, I guess, that I didn’t really expect. And it’s kind of another element to this is. One of the biggest differences between the dog and wolf is that between the ages of two and four of Wolf goes through a radical shift in its personality because between that age between that, those ages is actually becoming an adult. Um, and so a lot of the puppy like quality that we associate with the dog are actually present in the wolf pup. You know, it’s like a very, very rowdy, very intelligent, really sensitive dog in that it’s playful, it’s trusting. It’s curious. It’ll it’ll defer to you as an authority. It might let you actually manhandle it. And you put on the back, rub its belly, that sort of thing. And then, yeah, between that age gap, which is pretty wide gap two years, uh, that all goes away. Yeah, all the way aired. More territorial, more predatory A ll way. Bigger boundaries, way more independence. We more skittish. Uh, and that’s when we get most of our calls to rescue. An animal is between the ages of two and four. Because, you know, the 1st 2 years they were a party in some senses, they were, you know, they were displaying the dog like those domesticated like dog like qualities. And then all the stuff goes away. Yeah, yeah, all the sudden it turns into what it really is. Which is a free spirited wild animal. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So now how do we Oh, now they come to you guys at the sanctuary, And I guess, how do things work there at the sanctuary? What’s different for them? About the environment that you’ve built? Um, So why people come here? Well, our sanctuary is unique, I would say amongst sanctuaries. Wolf Sanctuary. Anyway, at least in the United States one, we are a very high quality sanctuary when it comes to our animal care portion. Uh, there’s definitely aspects of our infrastructure that we could have proved that we could improve upon. But when it comes to the quality of life and the quality of care for the animals were certainly one of top three in the United States. No question about it. You know, we are just constantly concerned about what’s going on with the animals. Everything that happens with them get observed and reported. We get medications, we give supplements, we give enrichment and all our choices always go back to what’s best for the animal. So the animal care piece is really, really dialed in, uh, and then we allow people to work with the wolves or at least with animals that they wouldn’t be able to work with in a lot of other sanctuaries. So we mixed quality care with the ability to interact and learn. Uh, what, you walked in C with wolf sanctuaries. Orwell really crappy care, you know, put it bluntly where you don’t really have ah ah systemized and thought out set of protocols in place for taking care of animals and and or you can’t interact with them. Ah, as much you know, so you can work around them. Perhaps, but you can’t actually go in and play well. Plays a strong word, but interact. Most of them don’t play. But because most of the most wolves on wolf stars as they get older aren’t really playful. The rare ones are, um, but but yeah, we get to interact with them, get a pet them. We don’t force interactive, of course, but an animal wants to interact. They get that opportunity. You know, I’ve talked to people at other Wolf Sanctuary where you’ll see some animals literally like begging in some ways to interact with people and because their policies are in place. Don’t let them than the animals doesn’t get interacted with and people don’t get the attraction. So we we combine both. Yeah, yeah, that’s really interesting. Now, with one of the questions I was wondering is just kind of looking at the rescues that you have it your sanctuary talk a little bit. About what? What is a wolf dog? Does that mean that it’s half wolf half dog? And then I see high content, mid content, low content. Okay, so, um, you have heard the term hybrid to refer to me? Well, yes, so very common terms around to for a walk up and it’s technically inaccurate. Will Stall is not a true hybrid. Hybrid is the result of mixing two completely unrelated species to one another, and the offspring usually has a few defining qualities to make it a hybrid. Often they’re sterile. That appears to be the case most of the time. I know there’s a few examples in nature where they’re not feral, but usually they are on. Also, hybrids tend a have something called hybrid vigor, which means that they’re bigger and or stronger, tougher than either animal. So, like a lie gir, for example, a true hydrate with a mix the line and a tiger is an £1100 you know, 14 foot animal or something like that, right? It’s massive. You know, a mule, which is the mixture of a donkey, and a horse can work really, really hard. Ah, and so those are defining characteristics of a hybrid, but a wolf. A wolf dog is actually Ah, mix of two species that are very closely related. So a war and the dog, the only difference Indian A between them is between their own 0.22 There a point. There are 4% Indian a dinner. So I mean, it’s almost not right. So, in essence, in some ways they’re almost the same animal except for one really big difference. And that is that The wolf is a wild animal, whereas the dog is a domesticated one. So the domestication is obviously a biological and behavioral process, so you end of removing certain traits out of the animal overtime and fostering others. So the wolf, the wolf dog, is basically an animal, a k not of the same species that has stopped in between a spectrum of being somewhere between wild and domesticated. So the best way we have discovered with currently available tools to define. What we’re dealing with is by a content scale. So we start off with pure wolf, and then we have high content made content, low content dog So high heart had slaves, mostly wool characteristics in terms of its physical features and behavioral attributes, and a low content that the opposite is the offices Sleep mostly dog with a little bit of water. And then when you get to hire a stream like an extremely high content, are extremely low content. It’s kind of irrelevant because at that point you’re practically dealing with something that is a wolf or something that is a dog. So now do the residents that come to the sanctuary. I mean, do they ever leave the sanctuary? They were adopted out? Uh, no. Uh, generally not. We have adopted out to dogs since I’ve been here that were mistaking for Wolf Dog’s, um, and so, yeah, they were living here and then we found him homes because they were Malamud’s mixed which hockey or something like that, Um, and they were There was no real reason for them to be here other than we gave him a home for a while. Sure, but but no. Yeah, we give a lifetime sanctuary. Thio. What? Randall comes here. Okay. And then So obviously taking care of the animals is your top priority. But then education is something that’s really important to you guys as well. Tell us a little bit about that. Sure. Yeah, well, but Wolf, we like to say that the wolf is perhaps the most misunderstood animal in the world. Uh, there’s so much mythology this around the wolf. You know, there’s other animals out there that are misunderstood, but they’re they’re not as a smashed in popular culture and mythology as the wolf office, right. The wolf had taunted mythology around a ton history that’s projected onto it. It’s all mostly wrong. Um, and it’s hard to really identify wolves. You know, you’ll see wolves on movies. You’ll see them in art. You’ll see them in paintings. And a lot of times you’re seeing is dogs, right. Maybe we’ll stop when you actually get down to the actual characteristics of what you’re looking at. And so there’s a lot of misinformation that way. They’ve been demonized, and there’s the big bad wolf idea out there. And there’s also the idea that in some way that Wolf is like a big dog. Um, something like that. And so there’s just so much misinformation out there that we feel is important to clear up. So we give educational programs a schools, and we also do educational forced on property where we cover some of what we’ve been talking about already talked about why the bad idea own wolf or will drop test. We go over how to identify wolves accurately and how to tell them apart from dogs, Um, we Yeah, we just start with miss all that. Sort of all that stuff like a popular one, for example, is the blue eyed wolf. You know, um, and you see blue eyes in art TV posters, T shirts, tattoos, uh, and yeah, and it’s actually a lot Won’t never had a blue eyed like that. That blue light thing is a husky treat. Um, the only time that I won’t have blue eyes, perhaps, is when I first opened his eyes, like even human Children, that sort of state was being night blue Dark, grayish color, right with great wise is totally a husky train on this one small example. You know, I actually had a detective here. At one point, I used to work in New York and he loved wolves and he had a blue eyed wolf tattoo. Pulls him having my door. He took off his shirt and showed it to me. And, uh, yeah, I mean, like that, You know that. Define double. You know, you look at the lion and it’s pretty obvious that it’s a lion, Right, But you won’t get a canine, and you’re not sure for sure. I’m asserted if what you’re looking at it the wolf or dog, Um, without genetic testing or being able to female type, Um, you know, being able to determine without so without training. Yeah, you just don’t really know. Yeah, that is really interesting. And as you said it, they’ve got a place in mythology and thousands of years of, you know, stories and things. And some of these myths have now become folklore legend, right? That’s what people actually think Israel. So that’s it’s interesting that you chose that one in particular to focus on, because that’s something I’ve heard as well, interesting that it turns out to not be true. Um, it’s just a lot of stuff that’s not sure about them. And, uh, that’s why we feel as though they’re just a very, very misunderstood animal on we. That’s why we feel the education piece is important. And also you can’t set policy and you can set regulation and you can create laws. And that’s just important, no question about it. But in the end, education is one of the best ways to get people to alter their behavior. Yeah, it’s shedding a light where there was once darkness in a sense and helping people see a little bit clearer what’s actually going on. And hopefully with that they make better decisions down the road. Yeah, absolutely, very, very well stated. Well, Ramon, it’s really been a pleasure to talk with you today. So is there anything else you wanted to share with our listeners before we wrap things up? Well, uh, you know, we like to say that one of our models here’s the wild animals are not pets, and I think that if people can take that to heart and share that and not exploit animals for their own personal gain or their own ego and respect the natural world and how and honor how important it is. Then you know, I think it will benefit everybody, including the humans. Yeah, now very nicely stated. And I appreciate you sharing that with us. So thank you very much, Ramon, for coming on the show today. It was great to have you. You’re walking crazy. A pleasure. Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. If you’re not already a member, join the air p A. To take advantage of all the resources we have to offer. And don’t forget to sign up with do bert dot com. It’s free and helps automate the most difficult tasks in animal rescue.


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