Paws for Effect

Sam Green/Cortez Journal Members of the crowd used their cell phones to take pictures of Trinity, one of the wolves.

By Rachel Segura Journal staff writer

Ninety-five pounds of animal covered in reddish brown fur saunters around the crowd. Slowly sniffing at a child's feet before settling onto the floor, Trinity looks around, calm and quiet, as 10 small hands caress her fur.

Trinity is a high percentage wolfdog - more wolf than dog. She loves attention.

Traveling from Ignacio, Trinity and her handler Paula Watson, appeared at the Cortez Public Library on Saturday, Jan. 25 to give a presentation on wolves and wolf behavior. Watson is the proprietor of Wolfwood Refuge, one of the largest wolf enclosures in the western United States. The refuge is home to 68 wolves and wolfdogs who come to Watson because they were abused, injured or close to being euthanized.

At 3 months old, Trinity came to Wolfwood having been born with hip complications. The bones of her hind legs did not fit into her hip sockets, the result of bad breeding, Watson said. They waited as Trinity grew older, to see if the problem would correct itself. One of her legs fused correctly, the other did not.

Trinity has had several hip surgeries. The latest had her leg bone cut in half with muscle wrapped around the bone to hold it in place. It will take six months to a year for the muscles to fuse around the leg. The wolf was a little shaky on the leg as she visited with the audience at the library, becoming spooked only once by loud clapping. As Watson spoke, Trinity made herself at home, looking for children to make friends with.

"Trinity is an exceptional animal, which I knew immediately when she arrived," Watson said. "She loves just about everybody and we often take her to preschools."

Trinity is an ambassador wolf, meaning she travels with Watson and a crew of volunteers, to events, schools and libraries around the Four Corners area. There are at least five wolves who work as ambassadors. Trinity is one of the newer ambassador wolves of Wolfwood. Even though she has medical problems, it has not affected her patience and tolerance for people and crowds.

From May until October, ambassador wolves are usually out of the refuge once a week, with one weekend event scheduled a month. The refuge also holds tours, field trips and other events during their busy season.

"They have to be able to tolerate large crowds and new situations fairly well," Watson explained. "They have to be patient, tolerant and leashed. Some of my animals like people, but they hate the leash. Or they like people to visit but they do not like to travel. It takes a lot of practice, mutual respect and understanding on all our parts."

Trinity's low-key demeanor and sweet disposition made her a good candidate for wolf ambassador. Her hips cause a little pain and sometimes she has to have pain medication. She gets tired more easily, but she is attentive.

Less than one-sixth of the animals at the refuge do not seek human touch or contact. Watson interacts with all of her wolves at least once a day. Whether she is showing them affection, feeding or cleaning their enclosures, she is present. "We try to socialize them as much as possible but they are not domestic," Watson said. "That is something completely different. Trinity is an exception."

It is the animal's well being that Watson is most concerned with. She and the volunteers at Wolfwood encourage the animals but they do not want to overwhelm or stress them. Many of her wolves have come from harsh circumstances, and she is compliant with their trust issues.

Situations of trust don't seem to be a problem for Trinity, but there was an extra wolf on hand that day who was content with being out of the spotlight.

Oakley is 120 pounds and six-feet tall on his hind legs. He is all wolf. Hailing from Alaska, Oakley is one of eight wolves that live together in a pack at the refuge. They came to Wolfwood in dire need of a safe place. Their breeder was being prosecuted by the Attorney General who did not want them to end up being evidence in a court case. This group of pups was the largest rescue effort Wolfwood has participated in. The largest enclosure Watson and her volunteers ever built belongs to Oakley and his brethren.

"People with kids know that two is a pair but nine is a gang," Watson said.

Oakley is brand new at being an ambassador. He loves affection from Watson and the other volunteers, but would only allow friendly pats of others from his cage. Approaching 2 years old, Oakley is being assimilated to his new role. As of right now, he does not like walking into buildings so he comfortably watches Trinity and Watson work the crowds.

By default, Oakley is the alpha male of his pack. His large stature, compared to the other wolves, placed him at the head. However, Watson said he's not very good at it.

"If he has food and is happy that's all he cares about," Watson said. "The rest of the pack could be running amok behind him."

Oakley is pure wolf compared to Trinity but Watson stressed that doesn't make her life any less important. Many breeders strive for a certain percentage wolfdog, which Watson said is impossible. In their eyes Trinity may have been a disappointment, but to Watson she is a blessing.

For 20 years Watson has been rescuing wolves. She knows how to interact with them and she has a different relationship with them all. She can receive five to 15 wolves at the refuge in a year, and although they used to adopt out, they have since stopped. All the wolves currently at the refuge, live there permanently with Watson

She is right at home with her wolves. She has found her pack.

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