The private Shy Wolf Sanctuary is now closed to visitors for the safety of all including volunteers according to Deanna Deppen, Executive Director. The following article covers a recent visit before any awareness of the coronavirus pandemic.
We could hear the wolves howling as we arrived at the Shy Wolf Sanctuary, parking off the highway on a grassy area. The sound only increased my anticipation, as I’d been curious to see them for several years. Every time family members from the north would visit, I’d check the availability of space at Shy Wolf and none were ever available. This time, I’d signed up months ahead of time with the Environmental Committee of League of Women Voters.
Once everyone in our group of eleven had arrived, our greeter led us down a path to a patio area surrounded by benches. We were formally welcomed there by Deanna Deppen, Executive Director and her companion, a singing dog named Seger, who is also a member of the dingo dog family. She explained that the sanctuary is a haven for injured, abandoned, or neglected wild and captive-bred animals including foxes, prairie dogs, coyotes, wolves, wolfdogs, bobcats, gopher tortoises and cougars. She explained that many of the animals are sociable, saying we could choose whether to interact with them. Seger, who is only a year old, is often taken to schools where children can pet him while a staffer presents educational aspects about animals. Although Seger didn’t sing during our visit, I learned later that he is a one-note singer while wolves sing on various notes when howling.
All the animals live on 2.5 acres, the property of founders Nancy and Kent Smith who in 1993 began taking in animals that were not accepted by county domestic shelters or zoos. Their first rescue was a black Asian leopard named Moondance. Now, there are generally between 60 to 70 animals at any one time depending on the sociability of the residents. If sociable, two or three animals can be in one cage. If not, only one, which keeps the numbers down. To date, Shy Wolf has rescued over 1,260 animals and provided educational experiences to tens of thousands of human visitors.
Since their current facility has reached capacity, Deppen talked about expansion plans on a 17-acre facility at the corner of Golden Gate Boulevard and Third Street Northwest. The contract is pending finalization of a commercial rezoning expected in the Spring of 2021. The property is ideal according to Deppen as its five existing houses can be used by the facility at a significant cost saving. A new Welcome and Educational Center is part of the plan with a classroom that can be divided or opened accommodating additional participants such as school field trips and groups. Also, part of the plan is a new animal care building that will be built to shelter animals in a category 5 hurricane. With the sanctuary’s animals locked down, extra animals can be sheltered in crates in the center of the facility. Deppen said emergency workers who can’t evacuate in a hurricane will have a place for their animals as will owners of animals not taken by local shelters such as birds, reptiles and goats.
Owner Nancy Smith, who also welcomed the group, shared about volunteers who give so much love and care to the animals. According to the website, volunteers give 61,000 hours per year caring for and feeding 60 to 70 animals 52,000 pounds of meat. The primary protein source is chicken that’s purchased through a partnership with another sanctuary by the trailer load. Supplemental protein is always being sought and comes from stores removing expired meat or hunters cleaning out their freezers.
After we all had a chance to connect with Seger, we were off following our guide and animal interpreter, Peg, a snowbird who comes back frequently to see the animals. She joked, “I drank the Kool-Aid and now I’m hooked.” She explained the various numbers on the door of each enclosure are for the volunteers. After 25 volunteer hours, they can go into the level two animal’s habitat—those most sociable—with more hours needed for levels three and four. A cougar named Cimarron is a level five with no one permitted into his area. Additional training requirements like FEMA courses, animal handling, safety training and quizzes are also required for volunteers to move up at each level.
When asked about the domestic cat sleeping in the bobcat’s enclosure, Peg said the bobcat, whose name is Bobleo, was familiar with cats because his former home had one. So, to help him get adjusted, they asked for the meanest domestic cat from a shelter. And what they got was one named Boomer. Once Boomer arrived, Bobleo settled down and they co-exist quite happily.
We saw several raccoons that—according to volunteers—are really funny, but also quite gamey when cleaning up after them. There were also foxes, several gopher tortoises, and then what I was waiting for—wolves and wolfdogs.
We were introduced to the Queen of the sanctuary, Luna, a white wolfdog who howls from the roof of her shed when she hears cars and who acted out her grief when her mate died. Now, some months later, she flirts with a big dog named Treasure. While Luna will walk with him, she doesn’t want Treasure in her space. No wonder she’s called Queen.
We admired two white wolves and were able to pet another through her screen. Her name was Chatima, and while her coat was still showing some color, it seems to be turning white as she ages.
Best of all, we were being able to go into Mahan’s cage, which he shares with Dancer, but only if you were comfortable doing so. Mahan’s DNA is known along with most of the other animals and it is posted on each cage door. Mahan is 49.4% wolfdog, 31% shepherd, 13.7% husky and 5.9% malamute. He was also big, furry, very calm, liked being petted and seemed not a bit fazed by having eight individuals in his cage; some of us were howling when he howled. Like Seger, Mahan often goes to schools with volunteers who speak about animal traits and how to advocate for animals that can’t speak for themselves. Shy Wolf staff participates in 312 educational events during the year including partnering with non-profit organizations to provide hope and healing to at-risk youth through the Healing Hearts program.
After reluctantly leaving the animals, we were escorted back to our cars. There we heard a guide tell of a neighbor’s welcome tour and how he and his wife enjoyed being introduced to the animals. Asked if he minded hearing the wolves howl, he said, “No, I really like hearing them. It reminds me of the real Florida.”
As we left to drive back to civilization, I thought I could hear bird calls from my lanai, and I wondered wouldn’t it be great if occasionally I could hear the wolves howling too?