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Mission Wolf

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Once upon a time there was a big bad wolf. It terrorized three little pigs and little red too, at least, that’s how bedtime stories tell it. But most wolves share a different story.

in the 1960’s wolves were despised by the public. The government encouraged the wolves’ slaughter in efforts to protect farmers and ranchers. The price per skin ranged from 20-50 dollars, making them prime targets for hunters. Consequently, the Grey Wolf faced possible extinction. They have only recently been removed from the endangered species list thanks to programs implemented in the 1970’s. But still, more than 4,200 wolves were killed from 2011 to 2016 in only 6 states (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan).

According to the Western Wildlife Outreach, “In North America, where there are about 60,000 wolves, two human deaths have been attributed to wolves in the past 60 years.” For comparisons sake, they also explain that a person is more likely to die from a domestic dog attack, or even a bee sting. Despite these facts, wolves are still heavily feared.

Their image and true nature are perverted by classic bedtime stories like the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood. Movies like Twilight and TV shows like Teen Wolf glamorise wolves as violent beasts. This reputation leads to two common fates. Either people kill them on sight, or they are crossbred with domestic dogs. Neither scenario has a positive outcome.

The presence of wolves has proven to benefit the ecosystem in many ways. For example, when they were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, trees and streams were restored. This is because the elk population was too rich compared to the number of predators. They were browsing on willow trees, stunting their growth and ability to survive the winter. The domino effect continued as the unhealthy trees were unable to shade the streams, causing them to reach temperatures uninhabitable by fish. Of course the decrease of fish had negative effects on algae and other animals like bears. So when wolves were released into the park, the elk population was decreased, bringing a halt to the chain reaction.

While wolves are not nearly as violent as people assume, they are still wild animals and are unfit to be kept as pets. Unfortunately, people still try to crossbreed them dogs hoping to create something with the looks of a wolf and the behavior of a dog. These expectations are usually not met, instead, wolfdogs end up confused by conflicting instincts. They either become fearful or aggressive. Likewise, when people try to a adopt a pure wolf, results are not much different. They find that wolves cannot be trained the same way as a domestic dog, and have many more needs that most people cannot provide.

Once a wolf has been raised without the guidance of another wild wolf, in the confines of manmade cages, they cannot be released into the wild. Consequently, they either end up killed, or cared for in a sanctuary like Mission Wolf.

Mission wolf is a nonprofit organization located near Westcliffe, Colorado and it shelters wolves that will never be able to be released into the wild. They accept visitors primarily because they aim to inform the public about the true nature of wolves, but they do abide by a moral policy: no wolf should be forced on display. Each enclosure provides enough space for their wolves to hide and seek comfort. They pride themselves in prioritizing their wolves’ wellbeing above public fascination. The volunteers form a community, and their effectiveness relies on the resilience of a common cause. They are close nit and naturally, tensions may manifest, but their mission presides above any political, religious, or strictly personal clash.

There are many other sanctuaries like Mission Wolf scattered across the United States. A multitude of them were established long before wolf crossbreeding was popular; initially organizations like the United States Wolf Refuge were created to help compensate for the mass slaughter in the 1960’s, hoping to prevent extinction. Thankfully, the future of wolves is looking brighter. Public perception is beginning to change and wolf populations are increasing.

Once upon a time there was a wolf, it helped forests grow, and brought the streams back to full flow. At least, that how the history books tell it.

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Mia Gilbertson, News Staff

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