Visiting the Wild Spirit Pack

Welcoming Wolf

A while back, our friend Melissa Jackson suggested that we plan a road trip out to Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary in Ramah, New Mexico.  Jim and I had been out a couple times before, but we hadn’t visited for several years, so we were eager to go.  But one thing led to another, and we never quite got around to making plans.

However, as I started working on the newest Firekeeper novel (working title, Wolf’s Search), the urge to see some wolves up close and personal became very strong.  I spoke with Melissa and we firmed up plans.   Last weekend – in company with Rowan Derrick and Cale Mims – we made the two-plus-hour  drive out from Albuquerque.  (For those of you who might want to visit from out-of-town, estimate a drive of two and a half hours from the Albuquerque Airport.)

Wild Spirit has a spiffy new website that explains its mission in detail, but it can be summed up by their slogan: Wild Animals Are Not Pets.  This is a message I’ve tried to share via essays prominently displayed on my website.  I’m fully aware that lots of us – me included – would love to have the sort of relationship Firekeeper and Blind Seer share, but I’m also very aware that what I’m writing is Fantasy fiction, and that such relationships are more likely to end up in tragedy – and often with the wolf or wolf-dog dead.

That’s what makes going to Wild Spirit so special.  The wild canines there are not expected to perform for humans.  Even those on the tour trail have places where they can retreat if they don’t feel like company.

Jessica’s Pal Flicker

The basic tour is very affordable and includes a slow ramble with a knowledgeable guide.  On this trip, our guide was a relatively new volunteer named Jessica.  Jessica had only been at Wild Spirit for a month and a half, but she knew every one of the many wild canines on the tour trail by name, as well as some tidbit of personal history.  It was evident that the wild canines knew her, too, and considered her a friend.  Several came over to say “hello” with no other incentive than a chance to greet Jessica.

All the pictures featured here were taken by my husband, Jim.  He has a nifty new telephoto lens that enabled him to focus past the chain link fence, so you’re actually seeing the wolves without the impediment of the barrier.

Although every enclosure was a delight, there were a couple encounters that will stick with me for a long time.  One was when we stopped to see wolf hybrid, Koda.  Koda is a magnificent creature whose great size actually comes from his dog heritage, not his wolf.  He was up close to the fence (which is why Jim couldn’t eliminate it from the photo) and seemed to be posing.  At one point, he did something incredibly cute that caused all the humans in the group to coo “aww…”  Immediately, he snarled.  Apparently, Koda doesn’t like “baby talk” one bit.

Koda: Don’t Babytalk Me!

Another encounter was more personal.  Any of you who have gone to my website have seen the picture of me with a very large wolf puppy named Dakota in my lap.  I’ve retained a fondness for Dakota all these years.  In fact, I’ve been one of his sponsors for most of his life.  I didn’t expect Dakota to remember me, but I did hope we could see him, since I hadn’t for a good many years.  As Jessica brought us to the enclosure where Dakota lives with two of his childhood buddies, she said, “This is where Dakota lives.  He doesn’t usually come down when I do a tour but…”

She trailed off because Dakota was making a beeline for the fence, his nostrils flared, intently sniffing.  Maybe I’m just indulging in a sentimental moment, but it seemed to me that he remembered me and Jim perfectly well, and was coming over to say “Hi.”  Yeah.  Melt…

(I don’t have a picture of Dakota here because he was so close to the fence and so active, we couldn’t get a really good shot, but you can see him on the Wild Spirit website.  He’s grown up to be a very good-looking fellow.)

At the end of the tour, as we were viewing the Nola Pack – a group of very wolf-like dogs, Wild Spirit’s director, Leyton Cougar, came wandering out with a tub of a new, very green, health food he’d been making up for some of their residents.  He offered me and Jim a taste, and we took the dare.  It was actually quite good – like dense scrambled eggs with a dandelion tang.

After our trail tour, we had arranged to have an “extra” – a private educational lecture.  This was conducted by the Assistant Director, Crystal Castellanos, and her husband, Research and Development director, Ramon Castellanos.  Crystal and Ramon told us they had a new presentation on the Canine Continuum they’d like to try, and asked if we would be their first audience.  Needless to say, we were thrilled.

Me and Leia at the Educational Talk

The focus of this talk was about the connections between different types of wild canines.  We began with three of the resident New Guinea Singing Dogs, moved to the wolf/ wolf-dog, then moved to the dingo.  For each part of the presentation, Crystal brought out a leashed representative.  The educational encounters are “hands off” with the caveat that if the canines are interested in looking at the humans, and the humans welcome the chance connection, then this may happen.

We five humans sat in a row on the bottom of the bleachers, ears, eyes, and hearts open.  We were very lucky and had a chance to get closer to our canine hosts than we had dared hope.  The most out-going was Leia, the wolf-dog, who at two is still young enough that she is inclined to trust.  Ramon and Crystal’s talk was very informative – even for me, who is something of a wild canine junky – which is a high recommendation, indeed.  I’d happily listen to the same talk again, just to soak in more.

As you probably can tell, we had a wonderful time.  Many thanks to Josh who helped me with reservations; to Tina in the gift shop, who helped us in many ways; as well as to Jessica, Leyton, Crystal, and Ramon.  We’ll definitely be coming back, and we hope to encourage many of those who are reading this to visit as well.

Come and See Us!

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4 Responses to “Visiting the Wild Spirit Pack”

  1. King Ben's Grandma Says:

    Beautiful animals! It *would* be nice to have the kind of relationship Firekeeper and Blind Seer share, but none of us possess the magical ability to speak to wolves that Firekeeper has and even with that ability, you clearly show how our frail human bodies respond to wolf play. I think observing from a distance is just fine 👍

  2. Pati Nagle Says:

    Sounds wonderful! Glad to hear Dakota is well!

  3. Dawn Barela Says:

    I would love to go there. The animals are so beautiful. One of these days I will. but I need to save money to do the photography tour. That would be amazing. Dakota is so gorgeous!

  4. Monthly Howl – April 2018 – WSWS Monthly Howl Says:

    […] it and considered it to be an excellent presentation. Jane enjoyed her time here so much that she actually wrote a blog post about her visit! Thanks for visiting us Jane! It was wonderful to host you and your […]

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