Wolves work in the wild, not in the backyard
Her eyes – a bright copper against her black and silver-flecked coat – intensely observed children, loose mittens and crinkly plastic retail bags.
She and Shunka, a timber and Arctic wolf hybrid, are residents of the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center in Florissant, whose representatives brought them to Breckenridge Sunday to educate people about wolves as pets.
The organization advocates wolves in the wild, not the backyard.
“People have wolves as pets because they think they get closer to nature, or that they’ll make a good guard dog,” said Kaleena Watkins, a volunteer at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center. “But they’re very individual, very strong-willed. They’re completely nontrainable.”
Throughout the centuries, wolves have been revered and hated. Fairy tales warn children about the animals’ “lying and thieving ways.” Movies about werewolves further promote the reputation.
Mika – her name means noble princess – and Shunka, whose name is Cherokee for wolf, look friendly enough – even jumping on a few members in the crowd outside Mountain Java or vociferously licking the faces of others.
But they’re unpredictable, Watkins said, and that’s why they don’t make good pets.
“They leave their scent mark on things,” she said. “They tear up your furniture. They’ll kill other dogs without thinking twice. And a screaming, crying child? It looks like prey to them. We have heard success stories, but we’ve heard too many bad ones, too.”
Additionally, wolves cannot be housebroken. They need five to seven pounds of meat each day and they have a natural tendency to roam.
Most veterinarians won’t take a wolf as a patient, most kennels won’t allow them in their facilities and insurance companies will often drop coverage for a homeowner with a wolf on the property as the animals are considered dangerous.
Mika and Shunka were 3-weeks-old when Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center director Darlene Kobobel rescued them from a sanctuary in Puget Sound, Wash., where a wolf became pregnant.
They have rescued others from college dorm rooms, Hollywood “photography mills” and a small crate at a gas station where the animal was kept.
“There’s no limit to the amount of cruelty humans can go to,” said Mary Molter, a volunteer with the organization. “They’ve all been rescued from bad situations.”
An estimated 80 percent of wolves held in captivity as pets don’t make it to their third birthday before the owners decide to euthanize them when they realize how difficult they are to handle.
They can’t successfully be released into the wild because they’ve never been taught by a pack how to bring down large prey. Also, by the time someone’s ready to get rid of their wolf or wolf hybrid, the animal has become used to being around people and won’t run away if approached by humans.
“They find out how much trouble a wolf is, how much responsibility it takes to keep one and they get tired of it,” Watkins said. “Once an animal doesn’t make a good pet, the owner has nowhere to go.”
The Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center is one of three legal wolf sanctuaries in the state, with 12 animals on six acres of the 280-acre ranch.
Kobobel says she receives about five phone calls and e-mails each day from people trying to find their pet wolves a new home – and another 300 wolves are on a waiting list. But their facility is full, as is every other wolf sanctuary in the United States, she said.
Colorado hasn’t seen a wolf in the wild in 60 years, Watkins said. But efforts to reintroduce them in other states are starting to pay off, despite complaints – and killings – by ranchers protecting their livestock and hunters who view them as predators on their way of life.
Molter disagreed with the ranchers’ view.
“A healthy herd is maintained by natural predators. Wolves belong in the wild,” she said.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or