Refuge shows wolves to raise awareness

Durango Herald/STEVE LEWIS

$PHOTOCREDIT_ON$Oakley, a 1-year-old wolf and resident of Wolfwood Refuge, appears to take an interest in a stuffed animal just outside his pen on Saturday afternoon at the 5 Branches Camper Park on Vallecito Lake.$PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$

By Jordyn Dahl
Durango Herald

Light golden eyes stared out of a narrow face at the children and adults who came to marvel at the large creature. But rather than shy away, the wolf went right up to the hands reaching in to give him a pat or a scratch on the head.

Oakley — or “Big O” for short — is one of the wolves of Wolfwood Refuge from Southwest Colorado brought to show attendees at its sixth annual event to educate people about the wolves and raise money to support the refuge.

Big O is one of the “Alaska 9,” a pack of wolves rescued from a breeder in Alaska, said Paula Watson, co-founder and director of the refuge.

While Big O is only 1-year-old, he looks like a fully grown wolf. Most male wolves weigh 95 to 105 pounds, but Big O lives up to his name at 120 pounds.

“He’s exceptionally big and tall,” Watson said.

About 20 people attended the event that was held at the 5 Branches Camper Park on Vallecito Lake. A previous event held at the lake raised about $1,500 for the refuge, which receives no federal or state assistance. The refuge is located in Ignacio.

“This is our first time seeing the wolves, but we’ve always been curious about them,” said Lynn Ford, who attended the event with her family. “We’ll definitely come again next year.”

Wolfwood Refuge takes in all wolves and wolf-dogs. Big O, a pure-blooded wolf, was accompanied by four wolf-dogs, including Trinity, who Watson said has a high percentage of wolf in her.

In a presentation to attendees, Watson discussed how she determines the percentage of wolf in the animals based on physical and behavioral characteristics.

Trinity has the majority of physical characteristics. She has the distinctive golden brown eyes, the scent gland on the back of her tail and her tail touches the ground in the winter so she can curl it around her nose to keep it warm. But she is missing one key feature: a thin summer fur coat.

Trinity is considered the rock star of the group and makes frequent outings to schools to educate students about the animals, Watson said.

The refuge currently has 73 wolves and wolf-dogs, but it can hold 85 animals. The largest expenses currently facing it are medical bills and a pen to hold the Alaska 9.

Destiny, a 4-month-old wolf-dog that accompanied Trinity and Big O to the event, originally was taken to the La Plata County Humane Society to be put down by the breeder who couldn’t sell her because she had an injured eye.

The refuge took her in, repaired her eye with two surgeries and is working on pairing her with an older wolf.

The wolves are cute and seem friendly, but Watson warned attendees that wolves do not make good pets.

“People think they’d be good guard dogs and protective because they’re big, and they’re not,” Watson said. “That’s why they’re abused. They do not make good pets.”

The majority of animals Watson takes in have been abused. They cannot be released back into the wild because they have had too much human contact and don’t know how to hunt.

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