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Wolves and Florida seem like an unlikely pair but in Naples, there’s a special sanctuary for wolves and wolfdogs. In addition to touring the facility and learning more about the residents, meditation sessions are sometimes available at Shy Wolf Sanctuary.
Growing up, fairytales of “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Three Little Pigs” taught me to fear big bad wolves. Fortunately, I’ve learned to appreciate them. I attribute that to my time working and living in national parks and appreciating the power of Mother Nature.
Wolves. Yellowstone. And Me.
I worked in Yellowstone when gray wolves were re-introduced in 1995. The federal government’s intention was to right the wrong of eliminating them in the 1920s under government control programs. Removing a predator from an ecosystem upsets nature’s natural balance and so does reintroducing one. I distinctly remember ranchers outside the park’s boundaries fearing that damage wolves would do to their livestock.
During that summer, President Bill Clinton visited Yellowstone with his family. They visited Lamar Valley and a wolf pen where I heard the intention was for the First Daughter Chelsea to feed the wolves. I envisioned her standing with her arm extended and offering a wolf a giant turkey leg. In reality, the First Family left meat for wolves in a pen then observed from a safe distance as part of the pack entered.
After that summer, I had a renewed respect for wolves. This immersive historic moment (the re-introduction of wolves, not the Clintons feeding them) made me more aware of their place in the ecosystem and the importance of reintroducing and protecting them.
Sidebar: I managed the Canyon Lodge Front Desk that summer and housed some of the Clinton’s Secret Service detail. Although I didn’t get to see the president, I did see snipers in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone keeping an eye on the First Family. I did meet another former president in Yellowstone.
Do Wolves Make Great Pets?
Although majestically and mysteriously gorgeous, owning a wolf as a pet, or even a wolfdog, has never been on my radar. Yes, domestic dogs are descendants of wolves, but a wolf belongs in its natural habitat.
However, wolfdogs do exist, and I hope they are with loving owners and bred responsibly. Sadly, I met some that weren’t cared for properly.
Thankfully, the Shy Wolf Sanctuary provides care, patience, and love they need to live out their lives. The facility is home to more than 50 animals. In addition to wolves and wolfdogs, there’s a variety of other species like a cougar, a bobcat, gopher tortoises, exotic foxes, and others.
And yes! Wolfdogs can make great pets and the sanctuary facilitates adoptions!
Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Naples
One spring Sunday afternoon, I drove through a Naples neighborhood and thought I made a wrong turn somewhere. Sure enough, Google Maps guided me to where I wanted to be, Shy Wolf Sanctuary.
I had registered for a meditate with wolves session, specifically, a session in yoga nidra. Honestly, I had no idea what yoga nidra was. So, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would this include performing a downward dog position next to a wolf in child’s pose?
Well, it didn’t matter what it was because I was looking for something new to celebrate my birthday. Although I’ve participated in yoga, I’ve never participated in a guided meditation. And, I’ve never been close to wolves. This was one of several activities planned for the weekends before and after my birthday. Whatever I’d be doing at Shy Wolf Sanctuary, I knew it would be special.
Prior to the meditation session, a small group of us were introduced to the sanctuary including its history and future plans of building a new facility in a new location. Impressively, the new 17-acre campus includes a hurricane shelter for pets of first responders.
I have a storm role with my company which places me in a local emergency operations center in the event of a hurricane. Unfortunately, I cannot take my dog or cats with me. Being able to place my dog in something that Shy Wolf Sanctuary is building would bring me more comfort knowing my pets are safe. I can appreciate how first responders who will place their pups in that facility will have peace of mind and can concentrate on their job at hand.
Meeting the Wolves
After the introduction, it was time to meet some of the residents. Kept in large, clean pens, each resident’s name and photo was posted for visitors to read along with a personality trait and percentage of wolf. Other signs cautioned volunteers, like one reminding them to remove all items from pockets before entering the pen. An inspirational one read, “To help animals is to touch a piece of heaven.”
Some resident wolves seemed curious about the human visitors. Yardley, an almost white wolfdog, was born a tripod with a shrunken front leg, and seemed curious about everyone. He was also very communicative.
Others were shy, almost fearful and kept their distance. Each one had their own personality and I just wanted to go in, sit down, brush my fingers through their thick fur and give them a big hug to assure them everything will be alright. The sanctuary brings in animal communicators and I imagine they can better communicate my message than I can.
Meeting Other Residents
I wondered if living in Florida was odd or uncomfortable for them, especially with all that dense fur. But thanks to Google, I learned Florida Black Wolves and Red Wolves once roamed the Sunshine State, before it was called the Sunshine State. Thick fur can also keep dogs cool and protect them from the sun, so I imagine the same’s for wolves and wolfdogs.
During the tour, which is an abbreviated one from the standard tour, we met several resident gopher tortoises, an animal I love and respect. There is also Bob Lea, a bobcat living in a pen with domestic tabby cat named Boomer. The reason is, the bobcat was surrendered to the sanctuary and soon after, the facility noticed he wasn’t eating and seemed depressed. They learned he lived in a home with three domestic cats and suspected he missed feline companionship. The solution? The largest cat at the local shelter was adopted and placed in his pen. Bob Leo and Boomer are best buds, a win-win for everyone! They went to a shelter and found the largest cat they could.
But, it turns out he had a Thiamine deficiency. His diet’s been adjusted and he’s living a happy life with Boomer.
Meditating with Wolves
We returned to where we started and began the meditation session of yoga nidra. It’s a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping. As I learned, it does not include any movement, other than closing your eyes and breathing. Hence, the yoga pants I wore weren’t necessary.
Some participants chose to sit on the benches while others, like me, sat on the concrete patio. Although unnecessary, I brought my yoga mat which made sitting on the concrete a bit more comfortable. I intently listened to the instructor’s soothing voice to reach a relaxation state until Apollo showed up.
Apollo is one of the resident wolfdog ambassadors. He’s deaf because of ear infections and subsequent surgery removing his ear canals. But, this doesn’t seem to stop him from being happy and a good boy.
Although he was leashed, he was free to roam about as he wished. He went from person to person and when he approached me, I opened my eyes to admire and pet him. Doing so was just as calming as listening to the meditator instructor.
The yoga nidra session was about 30 minutes and I did reach the optimal chill state for a little bit. Exactly how long, I’m not sure, but having practiced it on my own recently, a short time in that state is powerfully restorative.
Last Wolf Standing
After the session, I lingered around to purchase a bright pink shirt which read “wolf life” along with a bumper sticker for a coworker (the wolf is his “sign.”). Decades of traveling has taught me to wait for the crowds to thin out because you’ll be rewarded. Being the last one there, I heard something the others didn’t, a bevy of howling wolves.
The volunteer guide took Apollo back to his pen and as he did, several resident wolves and wolfdogs howled. I stood in silence listening to this eerily beautiful sound emitting from behind the bushes. I looked around and appreciated being the lone wolf gifted with this special moment.
Will wolves ever roam wild and free in Florida again? With the pace of development and rising sea levels, I doubt it. Havens like Shy Wolf Sanctuary are important to remind us to respect our environment and all creatures and find ways to cohabitate. The sanctuary is also a reminder of the power and importance of love. And these days, the world can use more love.
Nuts & Bolts About Visiting Shy Wolf Sanctuary
Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Naples, Fla., is located in a private residence and visitation is by appointment only. Because of demand, most dates are booked about a year in advance. Meditation events are occasionally available throughout the year. They also rely on the dedication of volunteers. Learn more their programs, how to volunteer, and how to donate by visiting the Shy Wolf Sanctuary website, shywolfsanctuary.org.