Michelle started volunteering with W.O.L.F. in 2005 and was hired on as staff after her graduation from Colorado State University, with a BS in Zoology, in 2008. She currently is the Director of Animal Care and Educational Programs at the Sanctuary and enjoys all aspects of animal care with a special interest in the rehabilitation of W.O.L.F.’s rescues.
Welcome to the Animal Professionals Podcast, where our goal is to introduce you two amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved. This podcast is proudly sponsored by duper dot com. Do Bert is a free platform designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only place that automates local rides in transports. Now on with our show. Michelle started volunteering with Wolf in 2005 and was hired on his staff after graduation from Colorado State University with a B s in zoology in 2008. She currently is the director of animal Karen educational programs at the Sanctuary and enjoys all aspects of animal care it with a special interest in the rehabilitation of Wolf’s rescues. Hey, Michelle, welcome to the program. It’s good to be here. Thanks for having me. Yeah, I’m really excited to have you and to learn more about what you guys do. So why don’t you kick us off and kind of give us your story and how you got into this? I always wanted to work with animals very generalized three when I was a child. And as I got older, I just basically kept working toward getting involved with animals, volunteering at various organizations. I worked at an animal shelter. I volunteered in an aquarium, and when I got into college, it started actually looking at developing a career. I wanted to basically find organizations and experiences, which would allow me to pat a resume for a job later on. And I ended up discovering Bull Sanctuary. It was about 20 miles from the university. I was going to so easy to get Todo volunteer participate started on as a volunteer, just absolutely fell in love with the organization of the animals. And when I graduated, I was looking for a job. Didn’t have anything going on. So I was volunteering at the sanctuary full time and later I was looking for a job. They basically just said, You want one here. We’re looking to hire somebody, and you’d be great. That was back in 2008. I’ve been doing this full time. So my full time career since 2008. That’s almost 12 years now. Yeah, a little insane to think about your out in Colorado. Yeah, we’re located just outside of Fort Collins, Colorado, which is roughly 60 miles and We’re located in the foothills in a nice little Canyon Valley, but she’s not terribly convenient for humans, but the bulls love it. It’s a great environment for them. So it’s all about that. Anyway. I was going to say Fur will sanctuary. We don’t care if it’s convenient for you. No, no, it certainly is it. It’s definitely a challenging place to work and be We were totally off the grid. We have no electricity except we generate through Ah, diesel power generator. We have to live off of a well. We use porta potties easily. It’s pretty rustic, pretty out there, which could be kind of miserable when you get a bunch of snow in the winter and it’s minus 10 and you’re out. Use the port a potty. Wonderful bottles. They love it. It’s kind of their niche, their replacements designed to be, and so they have a great time with it. Honestly, we’re here for them. They’re not your breasts. So we’ll make it work. Yes, so tell us a little bit more about the sanctuary. I mean, I notice it’s W period. Oh, period. L a period F p right. Like what’s the name of the sanctuary give us a little bit of the story. How it came to be So Wolf is an acronym that stands for wolves offered life and friendship and your organization that rescues captive born wolves and wolf dogs that have previously been capped as pets, breeder animals, in some cases, animals being harvested for their fur, and we give them a permanent home at our facility. And we’ve been doing this since 1995. We got started. The founders had a friend who had a couple’s dogs that they met and kind of fell in love with. And unfortunately, these animals, their lives ended very tragically, and that really made an impact from the founders of the Sanctuary. So when another acquaintance of theirs was going to euthanize a 3.5 month old Bulls dog hubby because they were scared of it, they thought it was a fighter. They stepped up and said, No, we’ll take him, at least as it will go ahead. And Doc Tim started to do some research about what you need to do the kind of environment you need, the kind of you know nutritional care or veterinary here that you need to be able to take care of a wolf dog. And by the end of the year, I believe they had at least 12 other people approached them to surrender their wolf does to these people because it kind of got out into the community that they take this wolf dog and they were looking into taking terrible dogs. And that’s when they realized that this is actually a problem, that there are a lot of animals out there and they intended to just take them is kind of a temporary home while they found new homes for them and they couldn’t find homes. So they ended up with 12 wolves, dogs and, I think a duplex and basically decided this is a problem. And we’re gonna position where we can do something about this where we could try to bring awareness to this and help these animals. And they started looking for a property they incorporated as a nonprofit in 1995 and started bringing in wolves and wolf dogs, trying to find homes for them, keeping animals at our facility for the duration of their lives, and really kind of promote education about the issue and promote what’s going on with the captain. Wild let prices people keeping exotics as shows in the struggles and the problems and the issues that they run into doing that. And we’ve been doing that ever since. I’ve got like, a 1,000,000 questions running through my head right now, but I wanted to start with You, said, I don’t want a common problem. It seems like it’s a bigger problem than what I recognize. It’s actually a fairly extensive problem in the United States and actually global. We’ve gotten contacted from people in believes we’ve got contacted from people into five wanting to surrender their animals to us. So it’s actually a pretty global problem. The exotic pet trade is in a very profitable industry and because it’s a very profitable industry, a lot of times these breeders will go to extreme lengths to obtain the animals, entertaining them illegally or housing them in here is words illegal, and they don’t really do any kind of betting or education to people who are looking to buy. So with wolves and wolf dogs in particular, is estimated that there are around 300,000 currently being kept in homes in the United States alone. What they think about half that number 150,000 or so are born every year to be sold into the pet industry. And unfortunately, and this is a statistic that’s true for most exotics, not just wolves, but certainly holds true for wolves and dogs. About 80 to 90% of them will be kills before they turned two years old, and that’s because we were a cute little hubby. They’re very easy to manage, but then they grow up and they grow away from the expected behaviors that people want. There’s this misconception that wolves are dogs because dogs evolved for rules. That’s no through. There’s actually an instinct common ancestor that both dogs bulls diverged from, and there’s been lots of genetic manipulation by humans. When it comes to dogs, which has changed, they’re fundamentally the way they think and the way they interact with people. So while they look similar and there’s less than 1% difference genetic difference between wolves and dogs or modern rules and water dogs, that less than 1% is significant and how they interact with their environment and how they deal with the world. People just aren’t prepared to deal with that. So right about the time they hit puberty, if you will, to three years old. People just aren’t prepared for the change in behavior that they see with a wolf. And there are not enough places out there like the sanctuary I work at that can house these animals and take these animals in. And there’s not enough experienced owners to be able to adopt these animals out. And really, the only option is, you know, to kind of like we’re having problems with the snakes down and the Everglades and people are, Well, it’s a wolf. It could take care of itself. I’m just gonna let it go. And that’s not the case or the end of users in the animal surrendering into a shelter and shelters. Most shelters cannot adopt out well, sir Bulldogs. They’re kind of like a lot of areas. Pit bulls. They’re deemed too dangerous, Bree and they don’t want to take on that liability risk, which is fair. But you know, it means that a lot of these animals are getting euthanized at the shelters because we made a mistake and we weren’t able to prepare our homes and our lifestyles to fit their needs. So it’s actually a fairly big problem. We get to the 400 calls a year from people wanting to have us take their animal or help find placement for animals. And we do what we can network with well sanctuaries and rescues all over the country to try and find places in homes and appropriate settings for these animals. But there is, unfortunately, a very high failure rate inviting appropriate placement of these animals. Do you need a simple way to capture video of your animals, your fundraisers and your events? Are you tired of struggling to get videos from your volunteers and staff in one place where you can use them for social media marketing? Do you need help editing your RAV videos into amazing video stories that get animals adopted? Then check out rescue to where we’ve simplified the process of capturing and editing your videos. Here’s how it works. Simply download the do bird app, type in your code and start recording. The videos and photos automatically upload to your do Bert dashboard so you can download them on any device. Now videos from daily walks, training sessions, foster homes and even adoption days could be easily captured and automatically uploaded in one place. Then you could either edit the videos yourself or send them to the rescue. Two professionals to curate into amazing video stories. Imagine the awareness and marketing you could bring to your organization. Learn more rescued at tube so you can start collecting videos from everyone. Now. What are the rules or laws around? Wolfson Wolf drugs. I mean, is there anything that exists that says you can’t keep a wolf captive or how does all that work? There isn’t anything nationwide. There’s a federal law or anything that is regulating were prohibiting the ownership and breeding and sale of exotic animals. So it really left to a state by state county by county, city by city type of legislative process and in some areas is illegal. Like in state of Wyoming. Owning wolves and wolf dogs is illegal. There’s never a situation room s okay, and Colorado, only pure wolves is illegal unless your permanent through the division wildlife. And of course, getting that permit is very challenging. There’s a lot of hoops you have to jump through a lot of things. You have to do in order to be able to apply and receive that hermit. But the state of Colorado considers any wild animals domestic animal hybrid. So bulls in a dog for hiding a dog or like a Savannah cab, which is a domestic cat and circle. Or, you know, wild horses, tennis courts, anything. They consider that to be domestic. So there is no statewide legislation on the ownership, and it’s legal to remove dogs in the state of Colorado. Now there are different cities and ordinances that seo You can’t own it in this city, or you can own it in this area. Or you have to have a license for having an animal. In this county, there’s really not any kind of over our Jane legislation to regulate the ownership of exotics. It varies based on state. It varies based on breed. There are some places where you could legally own an African elephants and a bangle type. There’s no laws or been there. There are other places where even mentioned, you know, wanting to go see one in a zoo, and people are like, Wait a minute, that’s not okay, right? Right. It’s all over when it comes to any kind of regulation on ownership reading sale of exotics, especially when it comes to those Bulldogs. Hence the problem we have, right? Yeah. And, you know, making it illegal is not necessarily or doing something like that is not necessarily the answer to the problem, because we’ve seen this with lots of other things that need regulated making smoking illegal for people under the age of 18 21. We have kids smoking all the time, making it legal to drink under the age of 20 wanting. We’ve got people, so just because it’s legal doesn’t fix the problem. So our belief in the sanctuary is that education is key. We to educate people that this is happening, that if you want a wolf dog, if you want to own a wolf, this is what you’re gonna need to do. This is the kind of problems you’re going to your face and hopefully your education. We can reduce demand for these animals through the head industry, and we can reduce demand than the animals that are out there. One will be better care for because people will be better prepared and two fewer people will be impulse buying and leaving these animals in situations which are totally inappropriate for them. Bull the animal in person. So it’s really kind of a tricky balance to figure out. How do you do that? You know, these animals are out there. And how do you regulate? How do you address the issue In a way that’s gonna be the most effective, Very interesting. And I like that perspective of really educating people. I mean, that’s the right way to go, right, so that they understand. And you think it’s cool. Like you said, You get all these cute is a little wolf pop, right? And you just don’t really think about what’s gonna happen after they grow up and hit purity. Yeah, they’re ordinary man or memory when it comes to growing up there, a challenge. You know, a lot of people ask me this question. They’re like, well are dangerous. You know that people are getting rid of all because they’re attacking you or the dangerous ring. I’m like they’re not any more or less dangerous than any other breed. About time, really is all going to entirely depend on how their race, where they socialize well, where they abused you. All these different nurture factors will influence what nature gave them and, you know, so that I don’t feel that there any more or less dangerous than any dog. But they are different from dogs. The way I try to relate it to people is when you’re thinking about a dog you want always kind of have this mental picture of a puppy, this really outgoing, curious individual who’s looking to humans in many respects for guidance and answers and problem solving. And when you look at a wolf, you want to kind of mentally picture them as a cat, so they’re very independence. They’re curious that they’re often very skittish. They’re easily startled. Their first reaction to danger or stressed is going to be a runaway on live to fight another day. Basically, he’s kind of feral philosophy. They tend to be really good problem solvers, so they’re not looking to us. They’re not looking to humans as a source of survival. They’re looking at themselves. They’re saying, If I need this, I have to figure out how to get this and a lot of people who want wolves are not cat people, so they end up with a cat in a dog’s body there going. This is not what I wanted. I didn’t want a very independence animal who could care less if I come home or not out and they could be social, they could be friendly. They’re social animals and pack animals. But a lot of times, you know, you will walk into an enclosure, the sanctuary, and Wolf will walk up to me like I’m so excited you’re here. I’m so excited. You’re here again. We’re done. But you can leave now. I had my human sex you didn’t bring me who so worked on specialization. I’ll walk off your like Well, what about me? You know? No, Come back in five minutes and maybe I changed my mind so very mercurial that way. And people aren’t really prepared for that. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are extra dangerous. And a lot of people have that idea. You know, we have Hollywood and lots of myths and stories to kind of blame for this impression that we get that wolves are just these violent, vicious, man eating monsters. Right? And that’s really not the reality of the situation. I’m not trying Thio also make them steam like they’re safe. Cuddly little you know, little fluffy bunnies that couldn’t hurt anybody. They are Catania. Oh, canines are capable of causing injury or harming you or other pets or other people. I don’t want people to come away from this podcast thinking. Well observed wolves. They’re just this little fluffy bunny who wouldn’t hurt a fly. But I also don’t want them to sit there and continue to have this. This conception that the only good wolf is a dental. Certainly I feel they belong in a while. That’s their role. That’s what they’re designed to do. They shouldn’t be kept in our homes. But we don’t need to fear wolves. We need to respect them. But we don’t need through that. Yeah. So tell me a little bit more about the sanctuary. How big is it? How many residents you have? How does it work? And I know you said you don’t have running water electricity, so I’m just picturing this wide open space. A lot of people kind of get that. I had some people go. I was thinking, you know, we have our animals are kept in small groups of two, maybe three individuals per group. Like I said before, they’re social animals. But whenever you keep a social animal in captivity, if you over crowd, you’re gonna get fighting and you’re gonna get problems occurring. We see this in chicken coops. We see this inhuman prisons. We see this all over the place. So the sweet spot for wolves tends to be about 2 to 3. That’s where they’re most comparable, most happy, and they get along. The best are groups are generally male and female pears, or we will do male male pears. It’s very rare that will do. A female female pair of it tends to be a little bit more catty with each other insisted inviting. They each have their own habitat, which ranges from about 1/4 of an acre to a full acre in size, depending on the group, depending on kind of their physical needs and mental needs for where they where they need to be the most comfortable. And right now we have 30 animals, the maximum number we can care for at any one time. That’s what we’re physically capable of doing. We love in future to be able to care for more there so many more out there that need our help. But at this point, very is what we’re comfortable caring for anyone. Time and we keep them until they pass away. We don’t do any kind of adoptions were not a rehabilitation and release program. The animals that come to us are pretty much all wolves, dogs. And you see, a lot of people are like, Well, couldn’t you release them into the wild? You know, wolf populations are recovering and sort of Should this be a good idea, that is really not. These animals have been raised by people who have been bred in captivity, so they don’t understand how to live in the wild. Yes, there are a certain set of instincts which come with the package. You know, this chased by kill pathway is kind of building. You see that in dogs? We see that in wolves. We see that a lot of those predator animals, however, is a lot of warming that goes on that people don’t really think about because chase fight kill squirrel is very different from chase by kill elk strategy, sure, for hold of those different animals. So there’s a very good chance of these animals would not be capable of surviving very well on their own. There’s also the very good chance wolves. They’re extremely territorial. Do you think about it? Their territories, Their home is their job is theme music part. It’s the grocery store, all of it all wrapped into one of their territory. And if you have some random stranger walking into your territory, that’s threatens your livelihood, it’s the same as if you were to go home and find a stranger in your house. That’s a direct threat to your safety and your livelihood in your ability to survive. And unfortunately, you know, wolves don’t have a police force that they could call. Somebody should deal with this problem. We have a deal that themselves. So it’s very unlikely that you were to release one of these animals into a wild area, that they would be accepted into a pack. They would most likely be chased off or killed, which it would again impact our survival. And if they were accepted into a pack, there is the problem with genetics. A lot of these animals are wolf dogs, and if we were to allow them to go out into the wild population. Certainly we allowed them to grow up in tax into a wild population. We could actually be genetically colluding wolves, and that would be ecologically and ethically on sound. So there’s a number of reasons why we don’t participate in reintroduction with any of our animals. All of our animals are from captivity. We don’t take the animals from the wild and the rehabilitation and release. We’re not licensed for that. That’s not kind of our focus. So we’re focused on those Captain animals that need a place to live. They never asked to be born intake, actually, that I never asked to be kept as a pet, and they never asked to be put in a situation where that failed. But because they’re here, they deserve a decent and good life. And that’s what we try to provide for them. No, that’s really interesting. And I appreciate that perspective. Like you said, you could be polluting the genealogy, right? And that’s not the goal. So that’s something. Yeah. Obviously we don’t want to do so. How many sanctuaries like yours air there across the country? A lot. I actually don’t have a number for how many sanctuaries there are. I know that in Colorado, I know of five wolf sanctuaries that just specializing rules. There are other sanctuaries. There’s a reptile sanctuary that deals live reptile exotics kept as pets, alligators, crocodiles, boa constrictors, these types of animals. There’s another sanctuary, the deals with pretty much any exotic animal you can think of. They’ve got over 400 or 500 animals that they’ve taken from all over the world. Bears, tigers, lions, camels. You name it. They probably haven’t. So there’s lots of them, and that’s just in Colorado. So we work with probably 35 or 40 difficult sanctuaries across the nation that you trying to network with and to find placements and help save these animals. And I’m sure there are many more that we are unaware of that we have yet to meet or reach out to out there. So there’s a lot of people involved in this issue. There’s a lot of people trying to make a difference in this issue. The problem is, is that it’s bigger than any one of us is capable of dealing with, and unfortunately, the issue is bigger than the number of us out there to be able to deal with it is that where education is really important now is to help people understand that, you know is cute. Yeah, Wolf is acute. Wolf Dog can be. Your friend could have a bull’s dog. That’s the best animal they’ve ever had, and it’s an amusing animal. But you really want to realize that that’s the exception most of the time, rather than the rule. The people that go out there and just kind of participate in this industry. They’re not bad people. But a lot of times go doing it because my friend had a wolf and it was the prettiest animal I’ve ever seen. I want one with a lot of this impulse. They don’t do the research first. They don’t look in, said so the requirements of the animal or the requirements for themselves. And that’s where we end up in the situation that we are at the same sure working with trying to get these animals placed and rescue, you know, dealing with law enforcement, confiscating them in areas where there were illegal or people voluntarily surrendering because they just don’t have the time and energy and finances to take care of the animals more. It is a big problem, unfortunately. So I’m curious. I mean, as you look back, I mean, it’s been 12 years. Is this how you thought things would turn out for, you know, I was going to be a Dolphin trainer single? We’re going for a long, long time. I also was really passionate about big cats and only work with big cats. Anything I’m working with Bulls was not anything that I expected to do. And it was just kind of stare into this accident that I ended up here. And like I said before, I love it. I think it’s great, obviously doing it for 12 years. So there’s something he could be there, and it’s a It’s not where I expected to be. It definitely isn’t. But I’m glad I’m there. Sure. What have you learned about yourself throughout the 12 years working with wolves? That I’m really tolerant of being dirty? Okay. And I’ve also learned that I’m capable of achieving a lot more than I originally thought. The rules that I have been placed in working at the sanctuary, the different activities and jobs and things you know I’ve had Thio continually grow and learn and expand upon my knowledge of, you know, working with animals, working a business, working a non profit. And it had been a total growing and learning experience from the get go. And it’s never stopped and just kind of that capacity to continue to learn and grow and change and adapt. That’s something I did not expect to be able to do it and don’t even think I ever really thought about it. To be honest, I was gonna go into this career and this is what I was gonna do. And that was the end. And I’m like, Wow, I’ve done so much more than I ever thought I would be trying to work in this industry And there’s still so much I don’t know so much toe learnin experience. Just capacity for growth, I guess, is probably one of the biggest things I’ve taken away and the tolerance of dirt. I definitely love the tolerance of dirt, right? I mean, it’s something that I wouldn’t have expected you to say. As you said when it’s minus 10 in your mother in a porta potty out in the middle of nowhere, right? You’re kind of like, Why am I doing this? There’s some days where you’re like that. You like, Really? I could be comfortable. Yeah, I’m sure that must be really cool to be able to do that. So this has been really fascinating to talk to you, Michelle, And to learn more about you and what you guys were doing then, is there anything else you want to mention before we wrap things up today? I would say if people are interested in or they’re intrigued by what we’ve talked about today, please reach out and learn more about the issue. It’s an interesting topic for sure. The biggest thing that’s gonna make a difference in the biggest white people can help both our sanctuary and wolves and bulls Dogs in the wild and in captivity is to educate yourselves and to educate others, learn about the issue and start promoting it or being an advocate for it. You don’t have to physically get involved with the sanctuary. You don’t have to go out in minus 10 weather and pick up who. The biggest thing is is to create an awareness about the issue and to be an advocate. I would definitely encourage people if you’re considering getting an exotic animal, whether it’s a snake or a wolf or a tiger. So really think about it hard and really do your research. And ultimately I would I would welcome the company conclusion that it’s not for them and they don’t want to do that, but definitely learn about it. Learn what needs to happen, learns what needs to be done to care for these animals and certainly know anybody who’s considering it, help them learn about it helped him become educated about it. That’s how we’re gonna stay these animals lives. That’s how we’re gonna make a difference in the future or these animals. But certainly if you want to learn more about, well, feel free to check out our website. It’s full sanctuary dot net, and you can learn about all the animals we have learned about. We are what we do, how we do it, why we do it. And we’re certainly happy to talk to people. Send us an e mail in vote will sexually dot net and we’re really happy to try to be there as a resource perky who might be interested well That’s great. Well, thank you for all that information, and I really enjoyed talking to you, and hopefully we’ll have you on again in the future. It will be fun. Thanks, Michel. Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. 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