Life as a Wolf's Concierge - Katie R. Schwabe
It's so difficult to sum up everything I experienced while volunteering at a wolf preserve. It's difficult for me to compose any creditable compilation of words, to explain this majestic journey. It was nothing short of life changing, and I can't help but consider it a magical account. The magnificent animals I encountered day after day never ceased to amaze me. I can't really say what brought me to the preserve for the first time. Perhaps it was word of mouth, but deep down I trust it was the birth of six wolf cubs in desperate need of some committed volunteers to take bottle feeding shifts at all times throughout the day (and night). Being a cub feeder, for the litter born at the preserve in 2001, was an extraordinary time. In the beginning of my expedition, I spent six hours a day on constant vigil over the precious pups. I was only just beginning to learn of these animals.
Previously, I was not entirely interested in the species. It wasn't that I didn't like them; they were simply not a part of my life as a child. The cubs were clearly wild at heart. They ate their food greedily, played roughly with one another, and it wasn't overlooked that they had already begun seeking the strongest individual in their litter. The alpha was showing through already; I found it hard to believe considering how young they were. My commitment to the preserve soon won me the role of caretaker for, not only the six cubs, but also all of the wolves protected on the reservation.
I believe the most influential day at the reserve for me was, in fact, the day I stepped into my very first, adult wolf enclosure. There are no words to explain the emotions that washed over me as the large male approached me; feelings of overwhelming joy, a hint of anxiety, and inexpressible gratitude. Gratitude perhaps for the wolf's gentle nuzzles of my hand. I had gained his trust through much time spent just sitting and talking to him, restraining any loud noises or quick movements, and just being aware of what's going on around me and respecting it. The old male was absolutely enormous. I used to think they were large based only off of that which I was exposed to outside of the barrier that separated us from one another, but being right there in the middle of it all, made the wolf seem twice as large. His snout was huge, and the first encounter kept my mind narrowly focused on his set of snow-white daggers, which were lurking soundly beneath his lips. I was ever so cautious as I stepped around his well-marked territory, careful not to disturb anything. We were good friends through the tall fence, but once inside, all of that means nothing. It didn't count for anything because I was strolling on his terrain now.
After that initial introduction, things got far easier. I still had to maintain that level of respect for the land claimed by the canis lupus. But the animals became more and more comfortable with me being in their enclosure, and some had even begun to develop little games with me.
One of the younger wolves enjoyed standing against me with his large paws rested upon my shoulders as we walked together through the pen, cleaning it of all fecal material. This wolf and his brothers liked to step all over me while I was sitting with them on days I had free time to do so. This, I was taught, was a sign that they accepted me for who and what I was. They were treating me as they would treat any other being in their pack; aside from the whole rough-housing aspect (which I did in fact encounter occasionally with the younger wolves).
Another liked to play staring contests with me. The second I moved, she took off running lap after lap stopping every so often to catch my eye and wait for me to move once again. That game tended to occur from the moment I came within eye contact until I walked out of sight. When we weren't playing however, she preferred to beg for affectionate scratches behind the ears and along her colossal back.
By experiencing this time in my life, I learned the value of patience, respect for all beings, and understanding. The work was hard but priceless, in that it was such a revelation for me. Animals can teach you things that nobody else ever could. I think everyone would be better off if they would just stop and take the chance to discover all of the vital life lessons these extraordinary creatures have to offer.
Ms. Katie R. Schwabe, English and Communications major with a Media and Technology Studies Emphasis at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, wrote Life as a Wolf's Concierge. Katie's experience with animals include volunteering at a Wolf Preserve, working in a pet store and 15 years of handfeeding and breeding birds, parrots in particular. She has also been involved in research projects relating to animal treatment. You can see photos that Ms. Schwabe took while working with the Wolves in our Wolf Picture Gallery .