Jodie knew the risk she was walking into. The wolf did not appreciate the human inching toward it. It was stuck in the trap holding it captive while trying desperately to back away from her. She stopped for a moment to catch her breath and looked over her shoulder. She was sure she had heard something like stealthy footsteps crunching in the snow behind her.
Then, as she watched, a large dark shape appeared from the woods. Then on the rise, another appeared. She looked at the wolves as they sized her up. Then, slowly, they started to approach, their breath steaming in the ice-cold air.
Jodie came from Colorado and she had always had a love for wildlife, especially canines. Even as a young girl, Jodi had always dreamed of coming face to face with a real wolf. Her love of wolves only grew stronger.
Now, after all these years she was an adult and finally about to make that dream of hers come true. However, the encounter wouldn’t go as she had expected. She thought she knew what would happen, but these wolves were about to show her their true colors.
When Jodi volunteered at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center she felt nervous. She wasn’t sure what to expect but she knew that, more than anything, she wanted to meet a real wolf.
Finally, she had a chance to not only make her childhood dream come true but to also give back and help these amazing animals. However, her first assignments were definitely not what she expected.
The first things that she was assigned to do were unpleasant. These included doing things like cutting up racks of raw meat for the animals, cleaning toilet tanks, and more. It certainly wasn’t what she had expected.
However, while she was happy to be helping these animals, this wasn’t what she dreamed of and she couldn’t help but wonder when she would finally get the chance to get to meet a real wolf. She had no idea just how real her meeting would soon be.
By nature, wolves are pack animals. Wolves have an incredibly powerful bite, which delivers an entire 600lbs per square inch. To give an idea of how powerful that is, a wolf’s bite is twice as strong as the bite of a German Shepard or a Pit Bull.
Apart from having powerful jaws, wolves are also known for their intelligence. They are not just powerful hunters but smart and able to cleverly outwit their prey. On that fateful day, Jodi was about to learn that lesson first hand.
Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center
The center where Jodi volunteered, The Colorado Wolf And Wildlife Center, lay close to the town of Divide and it had many different features. These included an education amphitheater, a visitor center, and walking trails.
The center lay on a 35-acre plot of land which also had numerous smaller enclosures for the tamer wolves and wolf hybrids, while the others lived in the wilderness of the park. These animals could only be visited under specific conditions and with the supervision of a guide. This was the true purpose of the center.
Big Bad Wolf
The hope of the center was to teach people about wolves and to dispel the many misconceptions people held about wolves. These animals have long been feared and ostracized by people. In fact, snares had even been found within the borders sanctuary on occasion.
As a result of this fear and misunderstanding, the Grey Wolf population has dwindled throughout the world. Wolves have also been vilified through time with concepts like “the big bad wolf” and being described as vicious, heartless killers. However, Jodi had hoped to change that.
In The Wild
One day, Jodi was approached by a member of the senior staff with some news. It was finally time. She almost jumped with excitement when she heard the news. After years of waiting and dreaming she was about to meet a wolf!
The guide made her follow him out the gate and further away from the visitor’s center. He kept motioning for her to follow him. They had to be cautious because they didn't know how the wolves would react to a new girl walking through their territory. However, no one could imagine what she would stumble upon.
Jodi was over the moon as she walked. The only thing separating her from the wolves was the wilderness itself. Every sound was muffled and deadened by the patches of snow and an eerie silence surrounded her.
Suddenly she started to wonder if this was such a good idea but it was too late to turn back. Behind her stretched a trail of footprints leading back to where she came from but there was nothing to see. Suddenly, she whipped her head back around and saw it.
A Wolf In Plain Sight
On the ground, in a sheltered spot, lay a lone wolf. The animal appeared to be a Timber Wolf. Although the Timber Wolf is one of the smaller wolf breeds, it still appeared gigantic to Jodi.
Her guide let out a small yell of surprise as Jodi began to approach it and told her to hold back while he called for reinforcements. However, she knew exactly what she needed to do. She proceeded to move toward the animal.
Even though the park was fully enclosed, they still received a lot of backlash from farmers who lived in the town nearby who were afraid that the wolves would escape and jeopardize their livestock. Jodi knew what had happened and her blood began to boil.
Someone had set this snare here on purpose. Jodi could see that the trap’s steel jaws had imprisoned the wolf. He'd be fine -- if she could free him. But she had to do it quickly.
The Calm Before The Storm
Ironically enough, even though the animal was snared, it seemed to be completely calm. It lay completely still in the grass, as though it had just stopped for a breather.
However, the heavy breathing of the wolf indicated distress. Suddenly, the calm demeanor changed when Jodi approached. The wolf became anxious. Jodi knew she needed help. But when she reached out, the wolf grew more treacherous. Suddenly, she heard a sound behind her.
Two large dark shapes appeared from the woods. As they drew closer, Jodi soon realized it was the elusive pair of grey wolves she had heard about, Kekoa and Sakara. Drawn by the howls of their pack member, the larger of the two, Kekoa, was on high-alert.
Jodi crept toward the wolf caught in the snare as he got uneasy, his ears pricked forward in her direction as she crept closer. And then, the two wolves watching her intently were joined by a stranger.
Another wolf that Jodi didn’t recognize had joined the pair. Sakara, the female, was being much more cautious than the others. She stayed behind Kekoa, with her gaze fixed on Jodi through the trees. But Jodi had no idea how to react to these beasts.
There was snow everywhere, and the pair knew no one else was around. The wolves circled and grew nearer. Jodi and her supervisor were being driven closer to the trapped wolf as the rest of the pack closed in.
A Piece Of Wood
Suddenly, Jodi saw something that would solve all of their issues. Lying in the woods was a piece of plywood. Why someone had decided to dump it there, nobody knew. But Jodi could not have been more grateful at that moment for the spare timber.
Quickly, she picked up the board. She intended to use it as a shield to approach the trapped animal. But the wolf didn’t take kindly to this approach.
Making A Run For It
As soon as the wolf saw Jodi hold up the board, he began to go nuts. For some reason, the animal viewed the object as a real threat. Still, Jodi attempted to approach. Her guide stood close by, gun at the ready.
But this just distressed the animal further. It had no idea what Jodi’s intentions were. And neither did the rest of its pack, who were still closing in on them.
The Wolf Breaks Free
As Jodi approached the animal, she took long pauses between moves. Until she was close enough to touch the wolf’s trapped foot. She placed the board between herself and the wolf. On doing this, the wolf desperately tried to back up.
Scared the animal would hurt himself, Jodi stopped in her tracks. Slowly, the wolf became more at ease. Then, Jodi did something remarkable. She leaned forward and applied enough pressure to the trap to release the wolf's foot. He leaped up and ran off into the trees. But the rest of the pack didn't follow him.
Kekoa, one of the other wolves who had been watching her the whole time, approached her cautiously and was then followed by his sister, Sakara. Jodi’s heart skipped a beat — these beasts were even more colossal than the wolf she had just freed.
Then, something inside her told her to sit down in the snow in a non-threatening posture and wait for them to come to her. But as they drew nearer, the female wolf took the lead and did something nobody expected.
The she-wolf, Sakara, very slowly lowered her face to Jodi’s. Then, she sniffed her. Suddenly, her great pink tongue darted out of her mouth as she leaned unnervingly close to Jodi.
Soon after the rest of the pack, led by Kekoa, followed his sister’s lead to inspect the new human, sitting absolutely still in the snow. Now, Sakara was almost on top of her.
Too Close For Comfort
Sakara began to lick her face, but Jodi knew that she had to remain absolutely still and let her do what she wanted. One wrong move could prove to be the biggest mistake she’d ever make.
The wolf’s teeth grazed her neck as Jodi tried to move her head upward, away from Sakura’s intense gaze. Was she thanking her?
Getting Out Of Hand
As if taking their cue from Sakura, the other wolves and Kekoa — the largest of the three — began to sniff Jodi and paw her with their massive claws.
Growing bolder by the minute, they snapped at each other, as if each wolf was fighting for the right to be the first to inspect this new intruder who had rescued one of their kind. They jumped on Jodi’s back and snarled, but she had to keep her composure — even though her fear threatened to engulf her.
Kekoa also proceeded to lick Jodi's face, although much more thoroughly than his sister. Then, the massive wolf rolled over onto his back in a display of complete submission and trust.
Jodi was taken aback, but then it dawned on her exactly what he wanted. He wanted belly scratches — just like a pet dog!
After the encounter, her supervisor and the rest of the people at the center decided they wanted Jodi to search the park for snares and socialize with the wolves every day. They had plans to send Jodi back into the woods the very next day to see if she would be so lucky a second time.
Jodi made her way back to the woods the very next day, and everyone was excited to see what happened. Amazingly, the volunteer was accepted into the pack instantly.
Part Of The Pack
“I have always had a passion for nature and animals,” Jodi revealed on the center’s website. “These wolves have my heart and I am honored to have been accepted into their pack.”
Since meeting Jodi, Kekoa “loves to greet visitors with wolf kisses,” the center said on its website.
A Deep Bond
Jodi’s instant bond with the wolves at the center is extraordinary — and the other staff was thrilled! They promptly asked her to continue her work at the center, and she has now been working closely with the wolves for several years.
She has developed a deep connection with Kekoa, she thinks it's because he witnessed her act of kindness when another wolf was caught in a snare. And Jodi and the wolves couldn’t be happier. But what is Kekoa and Sakura's story?
This particular pair of wolves, Kekoa and Sakura, were siblings who had been adopted together in hopes that they would be a teaching tool to educate the community.
“They were both adopted from a facility in Florida called Seacrest Wolf Preserve,” Michelle Smith from the center explained. But unfortunately, this didn’t go according to plan for very long.
“We had hoped they would be ambassadors. But sadly, like most wolves and high-content wolf dogs, once they reached maturity they became very shy and ‘retired’ at the ripe old age of two,” Michelle added.
So now the wolves live in an enormous enclosure, where they can lead relatively safe lives away from the hunters that pose them such danger. But, despite trying to educate the public, the sanctuary keeps getting fuller.
Fascination With Wolves
Humans have always been attracted to the majestic and wild nature of wolves. That’s why wolf-dog hybrids are on the rise. Uneducated breeders and buyers hope to end up with a breed that is as aesthetically pleasing as a wolf, but as loyal and friendly as a dog.
But many people aren’t aware of the repercussions — both for people and the wolfdogs.
A Dangerous Gamble
Creating wolf-dog or coy-dog hybrids is risky because it’s difficult to determine exactly which traits from both breeds are going to be more dominant. The puppies could look like wolves and have the personality of a dog, or vice versa. That’s why owning a high-content wolfdog is illegal in some states.
But there are other issues that arise with these dogs, too. These issues often lead to abandonment when the owner realizes exactly what they’ve gotten into…
Nowhere To Go
Wolves, coydogs, and wolfdogs need a lot more space to run, a lot more food, and a lot more time to properly train than their owners expect — and they often become too much to handle for the average dog owner.
And since wolfdogs are too tame to be released back into the wild and too wild to be taken in by a dog shelter, they have nowhere to go. This is exactly what happened to Kekoa and Sakura.
Darlene Kobobel's shelter, Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, has seen a dramatic rise in abandoned wolfdogs since they opened their doors in 1993. The sanctuary now rescues 20-100 wolfdogs annually from all over the United States.
The sanctuary’s first rescue was a wolfdog named Chinook, who was two years of age and was going to be euthanized at the local animal shelter due to her “wolf-hybrid” label. But Darlene, despite her childhood fear of wolves, wasn't going to let that happen.
Once Darlene learned of the fate of the wolfdog Chinook, she took her home. That's when she learned of the issues and controversies regarding wolf-dogs and wolf-dog breeders throughout the county.
With this new information, Darlene was determined to provide a safe haven for unwanted wolf-dogs, so she created the Wolf Hybrid Rescue Center. She was horrified when, during the first year of operation, the Center was inundated with 15 – 20 phone calls every day from people who wanted to surrender their wolves. She realized that simply rescuing them wasn't enough.
Addressing The Problem
Darlene quickly realized that she needed to get to the root of the problem. She began to take her newly-formed shelter into a more proactive role: providing education about wolves in the wild and wolfdogs as pets.
Out of approximately 250,000 wolf-dogs that are born in the United States every year, 80% will probably not reach their third birthday. This is mostly due to the fact that people that cannot care for their wolf or wolf-dog anymore for whatever reason will surrender them to a shelter.
A Growing Problem
Most animal shelters and humane societies usually will euthanize wolves and wolf-dogs within 24-72 hours after they are surrendered. And, since the 1990s, wolfdogs have become the most abandoned exotic pet in the United States.
Darlene understands the growing appeal of keeping wolfdogs and wolves as pets. In the digital era, owning these animals can be extremely tempting. Adding to the attraction of owning wild animals is the popularity that wildlife owners enjoy on social media sites that seem to attract hundreds of thousands of followers. But some of these stories end in tragedy, not just for the animal, but for the owner as well.
Because wolves, coydogs, wolfdogs, and indeed all wild animals can never be tamed in the domesticated sense, the risk of major injury or even death is always present.
Until stories began to emerge in the news and educational programs were rolled out by sanctuaries such as CWWC, few people understood how potentially tragic it can be to own a wild animal as a pet. But we can make a difference.
A Plea From Darlene
"Instead of perpetuating the sale of wild/exotic pets, one might consider donating to a wildlife sanctuary, zoo or wildlife advocacy group," CWWC pleads on their website.
An excellent way to support the sanctuary, as well as get major social media props while advocating for animals, is to visit and meet the wolves who live there. Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center offers the unique opportunity to get up close and personal — and sometimes, too personal.
“Since Kekoa was raised by people and bottle-fed from the time he was born, he is very well socialized, meaning he enjoys the company of people,” Michelle said. But he loves nobody more than Jodi.
The pair can often be seen together at the sanctuary, where he will eagerly follow her around and enjoy all her attention. And, because of Jodi, the sanctuary is one step closer to sending out the message they set out to...
“This is not the same as domesticated or tame,” Smith added. “He is still a ‘wild’ animal, and he does tend to show it when he is around his sister. A wolf in the wild would not act this way.”
But people were awed by the wolf and fearless Jodi, and the video quickly went viral.
A New Perspective
The video of Jodi’s daring interaction with the wolves at the sanctuary has touched the hearts of thousands — the video of her receiving kisses from the wolves exploded on the sanctuary’s Facebook page.
Many people are just not aware that a wolf can display such affection towards a human. This has made people think of wolves in a whole new light.
Wolfdogs are often abandoned and wolves are in danger of becoming extinct because of humans’ ignorance. They are bred as "pets" and hunted and blamed for the disappearance of livestock, even though wolves only account for about 1% of these.
But Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center isn't the only sanctuary where you can visit these majestic animals. In fact, a resident of Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Florida has become the most popular ambassador for sanctuaries like these... get ready to meet Yuki, the real-life Direwolf!
Another Animal Lover
A woman named Nancy Smith loves animals so much that she also created her own animal sanctuary in an effort to help every creature she could. Her shelter not only provided a caring environment but also helped to rehabilitate animals.
Over the years Nancy had carefully searched for and hand-picked her team for the shelter. All of them were as passionate about animals as she was and as driven to help them. None of them could have known that soon they would house an animal that left them with more questions than answers.
One of these hand-picked team members was Brittany Allen. Brittany had been working at the shelter for ten years already but this new creature was the most intimidating creature yet. When she came face to face with it, it both scared and fascinated her.
She felt a strange connection to the animal and hoped to help it as best she could. However, once she learned the history of their latest rescue and the truth about it, she became livid. This was entirely unacceptable to her.
The day before Nancy’s fateful trip to Florida’s east coast, she had received a very strange phone call. The man on the other end of the line didn’t want to disclose his identity but informed her of his urgent need to surrender an animal.
As she drove to the Browen Animal Shelter to collect the animal she thought about the strange call. According to the man the animal had become “much larger” than expected. At least that’s what he told her when she asked why he was giving the animal up.
Caught Off Guard
During their conversation, the man stated that he had believed he knew what he was getting into at the time. According to the man he had done his research, became familiar with exotic dog breeds, and read what people said about these animals.
Furthermore, he’d made sure he had all the necessary items like a bed, collar, tag, and more. He had felt ready and prepared for the commitment he would need to make. However, that all changed when the creature simply kept growing, outgrowing everything. Then something happened.
Although the man had expected Yuki to grow up to be a large canine, he wasn’t prepared for just how large he was getting. At 8 months old, he was already five feet tall – much larger than even the breeder had anticipated.
It wasn’t long before Yuki was too big to live inside the house. The man built him a makeshift shelter in the yard. But, of course, simply moving him outside didn’t make his problems go away.
Yuki grew at such a rate that his owner started to become scared of him. As a puppy, certain things had been less obvious but as the dog grew, so did these features. Huge teeth, combined with large claws and the overall size of the animal became intimidating.
As the dog grew, the man became frightened of it and was scared of being around it. Eventually, the ill-prepared owner knew he needed help. was becoming a little frightening to be around him. That’s when he knew he needed help and called Nancy.
Nancy listened to the man’s story and felt sympathetic, however, the shelter was full so she promised to call him as soon as there was space. The anonymous caller wasn't satisfied with that, however.
He told her that the animal had been bought by a “friend” of his who soon discovered that the animal was too much to handle. However, there was nothing Nancy could do. The next day she received a startling call from Broward Animal Shelter.
The Broward Animal Shelter staff were no stranger to all manner of creatures as they had taken in hundreds of different animals over the years. However, when they saw the enormous beast tied up outside the house, they knew they were in over their heads.
When they realized that they too were out of their depth they called Nancy as well. They begged her to come as quickly as possible. They knew they needed to get the animal to a safe environment.
A Giant Animal
When Nancy reached the shelter she saw something that would haunt her forever. There, alone in his cage the huge beast paced up and down, hot breath steaming in the air as his claws clicked on the concrete floor.
Seeing the size of the animal’s head and teeth caused even her to recoil for a moment. She looked at this animal, who was over five feet tall. The only thing she knew for certain was that it wasn’t a dog or a wolf. Then a staff member spoke to her and what they told her left her ears ringing.
After speaking to the staff, Nancy found out that the enormous creature had been tied up outside the shelter and had been recorded as a “stray.” And she knew who had done it — it couldn’t be a coincidence. Her thoughts immediately flew to the strange call she had received the day before.
The man who had wanted to surrender his “dog” had clearly decided that he couldn’t wait for Nancy to call back. So, the irresponsible owner had dumped him at the nearest animal shelter.
Nancy felt pity for the creature. His owner had obviously not done his research on hybrids before getting one as a pet. And now, the poor animal would have to pay for it. With her blood boiling, she loaded him into the van.
The first thing she had to do was a DNA test to confirm her suspicions. Then, she could hold him accountable. But when the results came back, even she was incredulous.
The Direwolf-like creature, named Yuki, was brought to the shelter and was in reasonably good health compared to a lot of the animals that ended up in the sanctuary.
Surprisingly, he had a very outgoing personality and loved to greet people. Despite his terrifying appearance, the team even considered him for ambassadorship at one point.
A DNA Test
Nancy and her team at Shy Wolf Sanctuary conducted a DNA test on Yuki, and Nancy’s worst suspicions were confirmed. The results of the DNA test confirmed what Yuki truly was.
Yuki was 87.5 % Gray Wolf, 8.6 % Siberian Husky, and 3.9 % German Shepherd. He was a high-content wolfdog — a breed that is illegal to own or breed in Florida.
As with Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, Nancy’s shelter, Shy Wolf Sanctuary, has also experienced the most dramatic increase in abandoned wolf hybrids since they opened 20 years ago. Even though the sanctuary’s first rescue was a 3-legged leopard, they take in more wolfdogs than any other exotic animal.
But before Nancy could even think about trying to track down his previous owner, something happened that changed the wolfdog’s life forever.
Change In Behavior
Shortly after arriving at Shy Wolf Sanctuary, Yuki was roaming around the outdoor space when he suddenly caught his leg on a palmetto which opened up a wound on his right rear knee. This wound ended up taking a total of 5 surgeries to finally repair!
It was during this time that the team noticed that Yuki had started to become cage aggressive.
Despite his injury and subsequent aggression, Yuki’s personality started to develop. And soon, he had a very small group of women that he trusted and would allow them to come into his den. Among this group was Brittany.
But, little did the team at the sanctuary know, Yuki was about to become an internet sensation.
One day, Brittany decided to post a picture of Yuki on the sanctuary’s Facebook page. This photo showed Yuki’s size — he was a giant compared to 5”4 Brittany, who was also in the photo. Soon after the photo was posted, it went viral.
Nobody could believe that the wolfdog was so enormous, and many claimed that the photo was photoshopped.
But Britney hit back at the claims, stating: “It’s just his fat angle guys. We all have one”. It wasn’t long before the photo was shared and commented on by Facebook users all over the world. Everyone was fascinated with Yuki.
“They definitely are creatures that demand respect. It would be a much different encounter in the wild than what I do with these guys. The animals I work with have never been in the wild and never will be, so they are more socialized,” Brittany explains.
Educating the Public
“We show off their adorable moments in the hope of helping people identify with them at least and maybe change their fear response into a healthy respect through education,” Brittany continued, “… And also giving an animal a chance at a decent life when otherwise they would be euthanized.”
Despite the delight that the photo brought to fans, some bad news would soon make its way to the sanctuary.
For a while now, Yuki hadn’t been himself. He wasn’t eating that much and his excited attitude seemed to slowly fade away. Even when one of the team members played with his favorite toy, Yuki was not interested in the slightest.
He seemed to mope around his enclosure, occasionally engaging in a bit of playtime. The team knew they needed answers.
It turned out that Yuki had cancer that, unfortunately, was terminal. While the team had dealt with that particular cancer before, they knew Yuki was a fighter and would hopefully persevere through it as long as he could.
Yuki had been fighting cancer for a while, so the team made sure that they would make the best of their time with their favorite wolfdog. But Yuki had already made his mark…
Making His Mark
Since arriving at the shelter back in 2008, Yuki has definitely made his mark. His outgoing and cheeky personality is what made him a favorite with the guests and staff.
He’s been at the sanctuary for 12 years and won a lot of hearts along the way. But Yuki also did something monumental for Shy Wolf Sanctuary and other rescue centers like it.
“Today, Yuki is one of the most interesting animals in the sanctuary. He is not an easy guy to get to know, but he does have a small number of volunteers he has bonded with,” said Jeremy Albrecht. “He has gained the nickname “Woowoo” because when he sees any of his chosen volunteers that is the noise he makes, beckoning that volunteer to come spend time with him.”
And, since Yuki’s photo went viral, the sanctuary has seen a massive increase in support and visitors. The two sanctuaries, Shy Wolf Sanctuary and Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, continue to raise awareness about the plight of wolfdogs everywhere.