After participating in a three-day class for Wolf Handling and Chemical Immobilization through California Wolf Center, I sincerely hoped my wolf days were not over.
I was still a volunteer at the center and tried to volunteer as often as I could. But it was never enough for me.
One of the perks of taking the class is that I was certified to help with other captures. And I was fortunate enough to be able to volunteer for two other captures after the class and before we left California.
The first capture was to aid in moving the males and females into different enclosures in preparation for breeding season and to prevent any unwanted litters or other behavior.
The second capture was for semen collection for some of the Mexican gray wolves. Since they are a critically endangered species, every bit of help is needed for the survival of the species — and that includes breeding animals that are genetically different enough.
It certainly isn’t a romantic way for wolves to produce pups, but it is necessary.
And this time, I was fortunate enough to try out a new role in capturing. I was primary y-pole. This meant that I was the first one to approach the wolf during capture.
As we closed in and created a physical barrier, I stepped away from the group and toward the wolf. My senses were on high alert. I was focused. I was ready. I watched the wolf move back and forth, alert to his movements. And when the time was right, I approached and placed the y-pole in the correct spot.
It went smoothly and I was very proud that I did not jerk away from any reaction from the wolf. I was calm and collected. Afterwards, one of the staff members complimented me and said that I read the wolf’s body language well and approached or held still at the right moments. I was elated!
Being able to experience captures outside of the class made all of it even more worth it. I knew I was doing something that was so important for the species. I was making a difference just by dedicating my time. It felt amazing to know that, and the experiences of being face-to-face with wolves were outstanding.
When we decided to leave California, I worried that my wolf days might be over, and I didn’t want that to happen. I knew I couldn’t let it happen. They’d sneaked into my life and taken hold — and they weren’t going to let go anytime soon. Saying my goodbyes to the amazing crew up there — the wonderful staff members and countless volunteers, and my two favorite wolves, Zeke and Terry — was heartbreaking.
But it wasn’t over.
As I look back on my life, I realize I should have known wolves were a thing for me. Growing up in Minnesota, I remember going up north to my great grandparents’ land and hearing the wolves howl at dusk. I was enchanted.
When Andy and I fostered two wolf-dog puppies named Ocean and River, we learned very quickly that they make terrible pets and should not be kept as companion animals.
Though they were adorable and very sweet as puppies, there were other issues that made them less-than-ideal to be kept as pets. They were moved to an animal sanctuary after a few weeks with us.
When we first moved to California and I started looking for volunteer opportunities, I was surprised and thrilled to find the California Wolf Center. Volunteering there opened up my eyes to a whole other world of conservation work — a world where collaboration and education between many groups of people was at the forefront. It grew my desire even more.
Moving back to Minnesota did not have to mean it was over, in fact, it could be a continuation. When I found out about the International Wolf Symposium, hosted in Minneapolis by the International Wolf Center, I knew I had to attend. Anyone who’s anyone would be there, sharing information about wolves.
I contacted California Wolf Center to see if they needed someone to represent them, after all, I was already in Minnesota!
I attended on their behalf and ran an informational booth. In between visits from people, I got to attend many of the educational sessions taught by people from around the world.
Hundreds of people attended, and I spoke with people from many different organizations. I learned a lot about what is going on in the world of wolves. And I got to share the amazing work that California Wolf Center is doing.
I also learned more about what is happening in my home state.
Three days of information, chatting with interesting people, and discussing wolves — it was pretty great. I enjoyed learning about how other organizations handle things and get involved. I enjoyed learning about the government side of things. I enjoyed hearing about how they are managing wolves in other countries. I really enjoyed it all, except possibly when I got yelled at by a woman who disagreed about some things — but it was all part of the experience.
I worked up my courage and even introduced myself to Dr. L David Mech, foremost expert on wolves, who may possibly be the most important person in wild wolf research, who is the founder of the International Wolf Center, and who some have referred to as the “godfather” of wolf research.
I shook his hand and thanked him for his hard work and dedication over the many years.
After attending three days filled with discussions about wolves, I knew they’d become a permanent fixture in my life. I had always known I wanted to go into conservation work, to dedicate all of my time and energy toward something that means something to me. I had been struggling with what path to take, thinking I needed to go back to school for conservation biology. Talking to others at that conference made me realize that I should use the skills I have, use what I’m good at. I am not a science person, it has never been a strength, though I find certain things fascinating. I have always been a writer. Instead of forcing a background in science to use my writing for conservation, I should strengthen my skills as a communicator so I can benefit a nonprofit in another way.
After the conference was over, I focused on my next steps. I looked at schools to complete my master’s degree.
I also applied for my dream job with the International Wolf Center, interviewed for the position, and did not end up moving forward.
Though I was more than a little heartbroken, I regained my resolve and decided to keep focusing on what I know I want.
In the meantime, I applied for a volunteer position with IWC instead, just so I can stay in the loop on everything and continue helping with a topic I feel passionately about.
I don’t know what the future will bring, but I can only hope it’ll be amazing!