Frequently Asked Questions
We receive so many good questions about what we do as animal caretakers that we thought we should include a Frequently Asked Questions page in our portion of the website. If you have a question you feel belongs here, please feel free to submit it to Sanctuary Director Wendy Spencer or post it on our FaceBook page.
You may click on any of the questions below in order to go directly to the answer, or you can just scroll through all of the questions and answers at your leisure. Thanks for your interest!
Why are some animals not on the visitor route?
While several of our residents’ enclosures are on the public visitor route, the majority of our animals actually reside off of it. These animals are only seen by animal care staff.
Wolves by their very nature are wary of people- particularly large groups of people- so it takes a unique individual to be able to handle visitors to the sanctuary. Even for an animal that has been well habituated or socialized, it is a lot for them to handle.
Many of our animals have come to us from situations where they have had limited exposure to people. Some have spent their life in a small kennel, others tied or chained up, and others still have been neglected or abused. Because it is our intention to provide sanctuary, an animals’ needs are always foremost, therefore we would never force an animal into a situation that would cause them undue stress.
Has an animal ever escaped Wolf Haven?
No. Over the years, a couple of animals have managed to escape their enclosures. However, there is a perimeter fence around the sanctuary to deter the animals from further escape. In addition to physical barriers, we closely monitor each individual animal to ensure that they are safely in their enclosure at all times. However, if an animal escapes their enclosure, it would be quickly detected, therefore not giving them time to breach the perimeter fence.
What are some of Animal Cares’ responsibilities?
Here at Wolf Haven International, the Animal Care department has set up a system of routine tasks to ensure the best possible life for our resident wolves.
The first thing which a member of the Animal Care staff does every day is the morning walkthrough. The morning walkthrough allows an animal care staff member to get a visual on every animal to assess their physical condition, as well to check for environmental hazards such as fallen limbs or compromised fencing which may have occurred in the enclosure overnight. Some of the residents at Wolf Haven are on medication (Metacam, Tramadol, Prednisone, Antibiotics) and supplements (Fish oil, Glucosamine/Chondroitin). The most common need for medication is due to mobility issues which come with old age. Once out of the sanctuary, the animal care staff member documents their observations and medications given and received in our daily log- not only for our records but as required by the U.S.D.A.
After the morning walkthrough, Animal Care will address any maintenance needs in the sanctuary. These tasks range from changing straw in animal shelters, to building and repairing fencing or cutting grass on the visitor route.
After the maintenance tasks are complete (and in the summer before it gets too hot), animal care staff will do “Rounds.” Rounds are when the animals are fed and their water is changed. The first thing animal care staff looks for during rounds is to assess the physical condition of the wolves to make sure nothing has changed since the walkthrough. Because wolves’ systems are adapted for a “feast or famine” diet, we do not feed our permanent residents daily, but rather bi-weekly, Wolf Haven feeds roughly 20 pounds of meat per animal every week. These feedings consist of beef, chicken, road kill, turkey necks, or other whole food items. Feeding occurs from outside the enclosure (often tossed over the fence). Water buckets are then emptied and filled (splash tubs are also refilled as needed).
As previously mentioned, Wolf Haven is part of two Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs: 1) Mexican gray wolf and 2) red wolf. Under the auspices of the SSP guidelines, these wolves are fed primarily high quality kibble and road kill rather than beef or chicken. We also do routine fecal clean-ups (which occur during rounds). Once rounds is complete, the log book is updated.
At the very end of the day a member of the Animal Care staff does the PM Walkthrough. Again, animals are checked, water buckets are refreshed (particularly in the hot summer months) and any wolf that is on a twice-a-day dose of medication (medically called BID) is administered their medication. After the PM Walkthrough is complete, no one is allowed entrance to the sanctuary unless there is an emergency (if we have an evening event scheduled, we will schedule the pm walkthrough accordingly).
Do you medicate your animals?
Some of our animals are maintained on daily preventative medication such as joint support and fish oil. Other animals that have specific health ailments (i.e. wound, arthritis, etc.) are maintained on daily medications for a set period of time (i.e. antibiotics, steroids etc.). All medication is administered in various pilling media such as ground beef, hotdogs etc.
Has Wolf Haven ever had a litter of pups?
When Wolf Haven was first established they occasionally bred gray wolves. Our philosophy has since changed, and Wolf Haven no longer breeds rescued wolves because this would be counter-intuitive to our mission of providing captive displaced wolves with a sanctuary to call home. We participate in two federal captive-breeding programs, however, for critically endangered kinds of wolves: 1) the Mexican wolf, and 2) the red wolf. Depending upon the needs of the program(s) these animals may occasionally be recommended for breeding.
Do you ever sell or give away your wolves?
Once we take an animal into our sanctuary, we offer care for that animal’s physical and mental needs for the rest of his or her life, no exceptions. Wolf Haven also participates in two federal Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs. The wolves involved with these programs are on loan to Wolf Haven from the United State Fish and Wildlife Service. They are not permanent residents of Wolf Haven and are occasionally moved between participating facilities, depending upon the needs of the program.
Do you only accept pure wolves?
While Wolf Haven’s mission is to provide sanctuary for captive, displaced wolves, there have been certain circumstances in which Wolf Haven has taken in wolfdogs for companions to some of our current residents. We work closely with reputable wolfdog rescue organizations and refer most of the wolfdogs that we are contacted about directly to these organizations. Wolf Haven also currently offers sanctuary to two coyotes.
Do you ever introduce a wolf with another animal that has lost his/her mate?
Most canids are very gregarious animals, in the wild or in captivity. We try insure that all their needs are met, this includes companionship for each animal. Introducing an animal to another that has lost his/her mate is handled strictly on a case by case basis. There are many variables to think about before introducing new animals. Some considerations are age, temperament, health, activity level, enclosure and size/layout.
What do you do with your animals when they die?
We are privileged to have an on-site cemetery where we can lay our friends’ bodies to rest. We bury them at least 4’ deep, and cover their graves with pea gravel. We then hand pick a large piece of slate to cover their grave. Their grave is outlined with large rocks. A ceremony is held in which volunteers and staff are welcome to join and pay homage to our departed friends.
Are wolves prone to the same diseases/disorders as domestic dogs?
As previously mentioned, wolves tend to be very healthy animals. However, wild wolves are more prone to the viruses that we vaccinate our dogs against (i.e. parvo, rabies and distemper). Wild wolves are also highly ecto and endoparasitized. Captive wolves tend to be very healthy, in that most live in “closed” environments and receive veterinary care; however they are by no means impervious to the same diseases or disorders that afflict domestics. We often see degenerative conditions like arthritis and spondylosis, as well as the occasional cancer. We have also seen cases of Addison’s, Diabetes, and Epilepsy.
How does the care that you offer the animals involved in the SSP program differ from the “non-SSP” animals?
The animals that are part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs are managed very differently from the other residents at Wolf Haven. The SSP animals are managed strictly hands-off so that they don’t become accustomed to human interaction. Socialization would not be conducive to the goals of the program, although we are required to enter their enclosures on a daily basis for fecal clean-up. Wolf Haven is a pre-release facility for Mexican wolves and we do not want them to become habituated to the presence of humans. Occasionally, some individuals who exhibit interest in their caretakers must be aversively conditioned in order to reinforce their innate wariness of people. All program animals are givenwhole food items such as road kill deer and elk, turkey necks, etc
Pre-release wolves are also given road-killed deer and elk carcasses. If fed a carcass, they are fasted for a number of days afterward, depending upon the size of the carcass. Remote viewing cameras are installed in the enclosures that house SSP animals. The purpose of the cameras are to obtain visuals on the wolves, without having to physically enter their enclosure. This mitigates stress on the animals and once again reduces the amount of human presence around them. Another reason why cameras are utilized is to allow is to witness behavior that is unaltered by the presence of humans in close proximity to the wolves. The behavior that we witness could be classified as natural behavior (even though they are in a captive setting).
How do you transport your animals?
If it is necessary to transport an animal to the vet, the animal is usually chemically immobilized for transport to reduce stress. Prior to transport he or she is caught up and injected (either by hand or syringe pole) with an anesthetic agent. Once the animal is anesthetized, he/she is crated and prepared for transport. Two staff members are always required for transport- one to drive the vehicle and the other to constantly monitor the anesthetized animal’s vitals.
During driving rescue operations, we do not utilize drugs for a variety of reasons. The journey is long (sometimes up to 30 hours) and it would not be safe to keep an animal drugged for such and extended period of time. Also, often we do not know the medical history of the animal and want to avoid a potential adverse reaction. Should an animal “crash”, we would not have veterinarian support readily available to tend to critical medical needs. If the wolf is being transported via air travel, we do not utilize drugs. The animal remains unattended for hours at a time, so there is no one to monitor his or her the condition.
What do you do in the case of an emergency?
Each situation is evaluated on a case-by-case basis and handled accordingly. If possible we will treat the animal on-site. If the animal cannot be treated on-site he/she will be immediately transported to the clinic for emergency care.
What is the protocol for administering non-emergency veterinary care to our animals?
Fortunately, we do not have a lot of medical emergencies, but there are certainly times when medical attention is required. Each situation is assessed on a case-by-case basis. Even though we see our animals every day, and are familiar with their “normal” behavior, wolves are very stoic animals. Often by the time they present with clinical symptoms, it warrants some type of treatment.
Animal Care first consults with our attending veterinarian in an attempt to determine a course of action. Animal Care staff will provide as much detail as possible, including emailing digital photos, if that helps formulate a course of treatment. We also provide any samples needed to help our veterinarian better diagnose. We opt to treat as conservatively as possible, due to the stress that the animal would incur during the catch-up process. If it is a specific aliment that we have previous experience with and already know the best course of treatment for, our veterinarian will recommend a course of medication (i.e. antibiotic, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, or oral steroids) that would be best suited for that ailment. However, usually the animal must be in hand in order to make an accurate diagnosis, which means transporting the respective animal to the clinic.
What does your program of veterinary care entail?
All Species Survival Plan (SSP) animals receive annual vaccines, de-worming, and physical examinations (including blood collection and analysis). All other residents are given prophylactic parasite medication twice a year; however, we do not perform annuals on our rescued, non-SSP residents. They are treated for medical issues on an as needed basis.
Why and how often do wolves shed?
Wolves are highly photoperiodic and shedding is correlated to their endocrine system which is in turn correlated to the duration of daylight. They shed once a year, usually in late spring. It has been our experience that older wolves tend to shed later than younger wolves, and often males shed out before females.
What is a false pregnancy?
All non-gravid, intact females undergo a pseudo or “false” pregnancy. In most of the females, the symptoms are more covert than overt; however, with females that experience overt pseudo pregnancies, symptoms present much like an actual pregnancy. Symptoms range from pulling belly fur, swollen nipples, lactation, den digging, and localizing either in or just outside the den. In severe cases, we have observed females regurgitating their food or gathering pup-sized rocks and tending to them, as well as obsessive-compulsive self-nursing or worrying at their bellies. They are often short-tempered with their mates, and again, in the more severe cases, they behave in a more stressed or anxious manner. Pseudo pregnancies are thought to be caused by elevated levels of prolactin, and once hormone levels return to normal, symptoms disappear.
Do your wolves dig dens?
Both males and females engage in den digging. Den digging is not just a preparation for whelping, as we see them actively digging year round. However, during metestrus, both gravid and non-gravid intact females will almost always dig or modify an existing den in preparation for pups.
How do the wolves stay cool in the summer?
Because wolves are highly photoperiodic, they have already shed out their thick winter coats before summer arrives. Activity levels wane during the hot summer months and often we find them taking respite from the heat by either lying in shady day beds or sleeping in their “deckpens,” which have a concrete floor that stays cool in the summer. Occasionally some of the wolves opt to sleep in their natural dens. In addition, each enclosure has a 50-gallon splash tub which many of the animals will splash around in. Some will even sit or lay down in their tubs to cool down. Sprinklers are also set up at several enclosures, though any cooling benefit is probably lost because they exert so much energy chasing the oscillating stream of water.
How are your enclosures constructed to keep the wolves from getting out?
Wolves are notorious escape artists, so it is imperative that our enclosures are designed to be as “wolf-proof” as possible. The enclosures are constructed from heavy 9-gauge chain link fabric and consist of an 8’ vertical fence, with a 3’ “tip-in,” and a 3’ ground skirt. The tip-in angles 45 degrees into the enclosure. The ground skirt is attached to the vertical at a 90 degree angle and then covered with several inches of gravel. The chain link fabric is not taut between posts, nor is there a header bar attached to the tip-ins, allowing for some give; if one of the wolves were to jump or try and climb the fence, they would not be able to get any purchase.
How large are your enclosures?
The enclosures vary in size, ranging from a 1/3 of an acre to 2.7 acres depending on the number of animals and the lay of the land. Most animals are housed in mated pairs and their enclosures are approximately ½ an acre. Pre-release enclosures are an acre each, and our largest enclosure (which is utilized for family groups) is 2.7 acres.
What do you do for enrichment?
Enrichment comes in a variety in forms- everything from food, to auditory, to tactile and scent objects.
Some examples include:
- Scent enrichment (extracts or essential oils)
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Sheep pelts
- Popsicles (tuna, sardine, herbs, blood-sicles)
- Cow’s hooves
- Canine-safe baked goods prepared by Wolf Haven staff and volunteers
- String cheese
- Used cat litter (from a known, healthy cat- usually a staff member’s cat)
- Roasted garlic cloves
- Fresh herbs
- Pumpkins at Halloween
- Watermelons in the summer
Certain criteria must be met before handing out enrichment. If the item is deemed safe and the animals respond well, then we consider the item a success.
What is enrichment?
The definition of enrichment is ‘to add greater value or significance to something’. The purposes for enrichment at Wolf Haven are to mitigate boredom, encourage natural behaviors (i.e. exploratory or foraging), and provide opportunities for the animals to make choices on their own. Enrichment helps keep the animals’ mind and body stimulated, which in turn helps them to be well balanced and less neophobic.
Are volunteers allowed to interact with the animals?
Volunteers are not permitted to directly interact with the animals. Wolf Haven has an incentive program, however that allows volunteers to contribute items for enhancement opportunities for our resident animals.
Do you ever allow visitors to touch the animals?
Visitors are do not have physical contact with the animals.
How do you catch-up your animals?
There are many factors to consider when we catch up our animals which help us determine a strategy. What is the purpose for catch-up? How tractable is the animal?
What is the layout of the enclosure? How will the animal’s enclosure mate behave? What is the age of the animal? What is the ambient temperature?
For many of our animals, catching them up can be a very stressful experience. Most are not tractable, so we try and employ strategies that will make things as easy on the animal as possible. Over the years, we have developed and modified (and continue to modify) methods in an attempt to accomplish this in the least invasive way.
Our present method involves hanging sections of 5’ tall nylon canvas strategically in the enclosure to cut down on space as well as to as to “funnel” the animal into either a shelter or deckpen. Several staff members, equipped with “Y” poles enter the enclosure and form a line, and moving as one unit, the “line” drives the animal into the desired location. The “line” moves slowly and quietly, giving the respective animal time to consider his/her options and make choices. The calmer we are, the calmer the animal is. At no time do we “rush” the animal, for that would only serve to further agitate the animal. Ideally, the animal chooses to run into the deckpen and the guillotine gate is lowered to seal the animal in. Once the animal is in the deckpen (or desired location), the animal needs to be physically restrained.
Two staff members enter the area with “Y” poles and then one member of the team safely restrains and head covers the animal. Depending on the goal of the catch up, the second person performs the required procedures (immobilization, vaccinations, blood collection).
While the above method works for most of our animals, it does not work all the time. Rather than choose to utilize a deckpen or shelter, some animals will just lie down and “hunker”. In those instances, the “line” will slowly advance and when close enough, one person will safely restrain with a “Y” pole. We then proceed much the same as above.
When other options fail, we occasionally have to resort to netting an animal. Staff forms a line in the enclosure but rather than each person having a “Y” pole, the people on each end have large nets. We assign a person with a “Y” pole to each netter, so that once the animal is in the net, the other person can safely restrain with a “Y” pole to reduce the animal’s desire to struggle. Again, depending on the purpose of the catch-up, we proceed accordingly.
How do the animals behave when you enter their enclosures?
Periodically it is necessary for us to enter the enclosures, whether it is for cleaning, maintenance or catch-up. Human and animal safety is paramount, so generally two staff members enter at a time, and we always carry at least one “Y” pole. Regardless of what the goal of entering the enclosure is, one person is always charged with the task of maintaining a visual on the animal(s) at all times.
For many of our residents, it makes them uncomfortable when staff enter their enclosure. Most will move to the opposite side of their enclosure and pace nervously. Just as we maintain visual on them, they too, keep a constant eye on us.
Occasionally those animals that have been well socialized to humans can be overly curious, and may attempt to approach in order to investigate what we are doing and this behavior is usually discouraged. Conversely, there are a few animals who will attempt to “bluff charge,” and that behavior is also discouraged.
Does Animal Care staff socialize with the animals?
Because the animals come to us with varying degrees of socialization, many of them do not solicit human attention. It is our intention that the animals thrive in an environment that is conducive to their physical and mental well being, and for some, that means limited to no interaction with us. However, a few of our animals are highly socialized to humans and do desire some interaction with us.
Do you do routine maintenance on the animals’ enclosures? If so, what?
Periodic maintenance is required to ensure that the enclosures are up to our specifications. Some common maintenance requirements include ensuring that the ground skirt is covered with gravel at all times, ensuring that all locks/gates/hardware are functional and secure, and ensuring that the structural integrity of the enclosure/deckpens/shelters is not compromised. Occasionally we do some landscaping inside the enclosures (planting trees or groundcover). If an animal has dug under the ground skirt, the hole may need to be filled in – this is handled on a case by case basis. Due to inclement weather, some unforeseen damage requires immediate attention.
How often do you have to clean out the animals’ enclosure?
The enclosures are cleaned on an as needed basis. While cleaning out the enclosures we will pick up feces, fallen branches, old bones/carcasses, old enrichment items, or any items ravens may have dropped in. In addition, deckpens and shelters are also cleaned on an as needed basis.
How do you provide water for your animals?
Every enclosure has at least one, 2 to 3-gallon, stainless steel water bucket. All of the water buckets have a handle that is attached to the chain link to prevent the animals from moving them. All of the water buckets are rinsed and filled at least once a day. In addition to the water buckets, each enclosure has a 50-gallon galvanized metal splash tub. This splash tub is for the animals to play in and, it also helps thermoregulation during the summer months. Buckets and splash tubs are scrubbed and cleaned as needed.
Do you accept other animals as food for your animals?
Wolf Haven does not accept food donations from private donors.
Do you ever feed your wolves road-killed such as deer and elk?
Wolf Haven has a permit to obtain road kill. Deer and elk are the only animals that we deem appropriate for our needs. There are strict criteria that the road killed carcass must meet prior to being fed out. If the carcass is deemed safe to feed to our animals we then freeze the it for a minimum of 24 hours to kill all ectoparasites. If there is any concern regarding the carcass, we respectfully and safely dispose of the it in a manner that will not endanger our animals or any wildlife located on or around our property.
Do the wolves eat all the food at once?
Usually the animals will consume most or all of the food in one sitting, but occasionally the animals will cache their food for later. Some food isn’t cached or consumed, but is just left on the ground. Generally other animals, especially ravens, will retrieve pieces left on the ground.
Do you ever put live prey in with your animals?
We do not put live prey in with any of our animals, as they are not in their wild setting but rather they are in a captive situation. The prey animal would have no chance of escape and would most likely either seriously injure themselves or die a horrible death attempting escape. Conversely, our animals could also be seriously injured. Further still, there is also the possibility that the prey animal may be used as a toy by our animals. By putting live prey in their enclosures the wolves would employ strategies that are contrary to the hunting strategies that they would utilize in the wild, so it would be counterintuitive, even for pre-release wolves.
What and how much do you feed the animals?
Most of our animals are maintained on a bi-weekly feeding, one of which is a beef feed and the other is chicken. The chicken feedings consists of whole, human grade chicken which includes all the internal organs of the chicken. The beef includes muscle tissue and any of the cow’s internal organs. On average, we feed 800 lbs. of meat per week (not including treats or pilling media), though this is subject to seasonal change. During the winter their feeding allotments are approximately 12.5 lbs. per animal to compensate for the extra calories burned to maintain their core temperature. Spring and fall feeding allotments are approximately 10 lbs. per animal. During the summer months appetites tend to wane, so portions may be further reduced. However, portions are based on individual dietary needs. The amount we feed is also subject to population density.
Can you explain your feeding schedule?
In the wild, wolves generally succeed in hunting one out of ten times. Subsequently, their systems have adapted to live on a feast or famine lifestyle. Wild wolves will often go days between meals, and in fact, there have been documented cases of wild wolves going up to two weeks without food. Here at Wolf Haven we try to mimic a wild setting as much as possible. This means adjusting their diet accordingly to simulate a “feast or famine” style of eating. We successfully accomplish this by maintaining our animals on a bi-weekly feeding schedule. We feed them less quantity, but on a more frequent basis than what a typical wolf would ingest in the wild.
How often do you feed the animals at Wolf Haven?
Our animals on fed on a bi-weekly schedule; however geriatric animals are given smaller meals on a daily basis. Species Survival Plan wolves are maintained on a different schedule. In the wild, wolves generally succeed in hunting one out of ten times; subsequently their systems have adapted to live on a “feast or famine” lifestyle. Wild wolves often go days between meals and there have been documented cases of wild wolves going up to two weeks without food. At Wolf Haven we try to mimic a wild setting as much as possible; this means adjusting their diet accordingly to simulate a “feast or famine” style of eating. We successfully accomplish this by maintaining our animals on a bi-weekly feeding schedule. We feed them less quantity, but on a more frequent basis than what a typical wolf would ingest in the wild.
How many canids does Wolf Haven currently care for?
We typically have about 50 animals in our care at any given time and most of them are permanent residents. However, Wolf Haven participates in two federal captive breeding programs for highly endangered Mexican gray and red wolves. These programs are a collaborative effort between the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). All wolves in the program are on loan from the USFWS, but are managed in cooperation with, and under the auspices of the AZA’s Species Survival Plan (SSP). We presently have 14 Mexican gray wolves and 4 red wolves in our care.