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Close encounters of the “wolf” kind

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wolf_Ghost5_PUColorado Wolf Adventures educates and entertains

by Patty Unruh

Gilpin County is home to a variety of animals that can delight us or frighten us: bears, moose, foxes, coyotes, and rarely, a mountain lion. Last Sunday, November 8, another seldom-seen creature — a wolf — put in an appearance at Christ the King Community Church.

Far from being a frightening encounter, the meeting with “Ghost” was utterly delightful. Children, teens, and adults alike were excited to have special guests from Colorado Wolf Adventures (CWA) visit at the church. Peggy and Dave Jehly and Ghost, their wolf hybrid, enchanted the crowd while educating them about wolves and the need for them in Colorado’s ecosystem. Following an engaging talk by Peggy, Ghost checked out his admirers at a meet-and-greet session.

Colorado Wolf Adventures is dedicated to rescuing high content wolf-dogs, Peggy explained. These animals are born in captivity and raised as pets.  Sometimes, when these pets are about a year old, the owners decide that the wolves are too much for them to handle. They end up in shelters, where they are usually euthanized. CWA members work closely with a sanctuary that is a placement network for unadoptable animals; they then evaluate and rescue, based on space available. From there, CWA socializes the wolves and uses them to educate people on the misconceptions about wolves. Although wolves are not part of Gilpin County’s wildlife population, Peggy advised that they are needed in Colorado to help control the elk and deer population.

The Jehlys have four wolves at home. They got Ghost, a three-year-old timber wolf mix, from the Humane Society in Colorado Springs, where he was relinquished by his owner. He is 99 percent dog and one percent wolf, the Jehlys noted. The other three wolves were not part of the presentation, as they are not quite the “Wal-Mart greeter” type that Ghost is.

“We don’t rescue them to stress them out,” Peggy said. The church group was saddened to learn about the ill treatment that these animals had suffered before being rescued.

The Jehlys rescued “Waya” at a year old in 2006 from a shelter in Leadville. She had been chained to a tree for her first year of life and was severely malnourished. Her original owner thought it would be neat to put a collar of fishing line with a turquoise stone around her neck. The man never removed it, and as Waya matured, the fishing line grew into her neck. Like Ghost, Waya is a timber wolf mix. “Kiowa,” a black phase timber wolf mix, was adopted in 2012. “Kalani,” an arctic tundra mix, was rescued from Canada, where he was part of a seizure of 84 dogs from an animal hoarder. Peggy got him at four months old in 2010. Poor diet had caused several fractures in his legs. Proper care, love, and patience have healed the animals and helped them to trust.

As pups, wolves are born blind and deaf and are small enough to hold in the palm of your hand. At eight weeks, their eyes open. They seem cute and appealing to raise, but their care and feeding is pretty intense, which is likely why many who try to make pets of them give up on the idea.

Wolves need four to eight pounds of meat per day, preferably deer, elk, or prime rib.

“They eat better than we do!” Peggy joked, but added that freezer-burned food was a good source. The wolves are also fond of mozzarella cheese treats.

There are other issues in raising wolves as pets. They will chew up furniture and can’t be potty trained.

“They’ll go anywhere,” Peggy affirmed. “One year, my tax accountant thought I had made a mistake when I listed over $600 in car wash bills. Unfortunately, it was no mistake!”

Peggy invited several children to join her in showing the roles wolves assume in a pack. One child was designated as the alpha, the highest ranking wolf. Another child was second in rank as the beta, followed by subordinates. The low one on the totem pole was the omega.

When the pack goes hunting, the alpha leads, Peggy said. “How do they communicate?” she asked. “They don’t bark.”

“They howl,” several quickly responded. The howling is meant to signal the pack how to divide up and work as a team to bring down a large animal, such as a bison. A bison weighs about a ton, so wolves must use their jaw power. Fifteen hundred pounds per square inch of pressure on the neck will bring that behemoth down.

When it’s time to eat, the alpha goes first, followed by the beta and the subordinates. If anything is left, the omega gets it. The omegas may not seem like VIP’s, but they play the vital part of taking the stress off the pack; when pack members are about to fight, they will take out their hostilities on the omega. In time, these bottom-ranked wolves may get tough and fight their way up in status.

Just before Dave brought Ghost in on his lead, Peggy cautioned the circled-up group, “Let him come to you. Be quiet and don’t scare him.” The children instantly clammed up and froze, eyes wide as Ghost chugged like a freight train around the sanctuary, investigating chairs, music equipment, and intriguing scents on the carpet. Finally, he noticed the crowd and drew near to be petted and “awwed” over. The kids thawed out, gently reaching out their hands to stroke Ghost’s soft fur and chuckling as he rolled on his back. He accepted mozzarella treats and even lapped water that one girl poured from a thermos into his bowl.

For the grand finale, Peggy had everyone practice their howling to see if Ghost would chime in. He looked around in mild surprise at the cacophony, then yawned and settled his chin on his paws.

Later, there was an opportunity to purchase some souvenirs to assist CWA in caring for the wolves. The thrilling session had lasted for over an hour. Finally, with regret, it was time to say good-bye to Ghost and the Jehlys. Everyone was left with a new knowledge, admiration, and respect for this awesome part of God’s creation.

The presentation was followed by a fall harvest party for the children, with lunch, games, candy, and prizes.

Colorado Wolf Adventures provides educational programs, wolf walks, and presentations for schools, scouts, and community events. For more information, call 707-290-5282 or visit coloradowolfadventures.com.

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