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Loki Clan Wolf Refuge offers its wild canines a place to roam

The howls heard in Chatham are truly calls of the wild

Eleven-month-old Chochise and Fred Keating are nearly the same height, though Fred likely outweighs the 90-pound animal. Chochise shares his pen with 15-year-old Ishta, who had been lonely and despondent after losing her mate, Atlas. (Courtesy Photo). (click for larger version)
April 08, 2010
It's an exciting sound to hear in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, different from the yips of the wild coyotes that have spread throughout the Northeast. It's a sound so closely associated with unsettled wilderness that one can, for a moment, believe that this turf has not yet been claimed by European settlers.

It is probably this allure, the call of the wild, which spurs people on to think that if they have a wolf as a pet they can capture some of that spirit for their own. It is a mistake, though, because most people have an imperfect understanding of the responsibilities of owning a wild animal. To be wild means to be independent, which makes wolves and wolf-dogs hard, if not impossible, to train.

It's not that they're not smart enough to take directions — Keating says they are as intelligent as human teenagers, as compared to domesticated dogs, that are about as smart as three-month-old babies — it's that they really don't want to take directions.

"These guys can think, they have personality, they can blow your mind," Keating, founder of the Refuge, says during our recent visit to the Refuge.

What they really want to do is roam, and though the chain-linked fences at LCWR don't open to the miles of New Hampshire and Maine woods, the pens are larger than the situations from which they were rescued. And they want to socialize with other wolves within the hierarchy of a pack. The large pens at LCWR allow them to do that, too, with rescued wolf-dogs put into a transition pen before they are placed with a pack.

The transition pen is important, because, as Keating points out, "In order to work with the animals, you have to be able to touch them."

Keating's interest in wolves goes back to the late 1960s, when he studied Native American Culture. "Most of your nomadic tribes learned from wolves," he notes. In the mid-'80s he started his first pack with three wolf-dogs in his three-acre backyard in Center Conway. He worked with the State of New Hampshire on regulations for owning and keeping wolves and wolf-dogs, eventually becoming a well-known expert on how to care for them, and in the process outgrowing his three acres, as agencies that took wolf-dogs out of bad situations discovered that Keating had a place for them.

"I had never planned to be in rescue," he comments. It was through a friend of a friend that he acquired the land in Chatham, growing from three, to 30 and now 70 acres. The Refuge has over 20 enclosures now, and at one time housed 100 refugees, which Keating says was a bit too many. The Refuge has 82 wolves and wolf-dogs now. Each one is neutered, gets its regular yearly shots and has an identifying microchip under its skin. Once a year someone from the state comes to make sure everything is going okay.

Before the animals are accepted by the Refuge they must first be checked by a vet in the state from which they are being shipped. As one of 35 wolf rescue facilities across the country, LCWR gets calls from all over, some from new owners inquiring how to take care of their "pet"; others who can't handle their new family members and are looking for a more suitable place for them. Still other calls come from agencies that have taken wolves and wolf-dogs away from people.

The Refuge houses a pair from a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn and other wolf-dogs from the Southwest. In many states it is illegal to own wolves as pets, and illegal to breed wolves with dogs, but that doesn't stop people. Asked how people get their hands on these animals — aren't they illegal? — Keating replies, "Drugs are illegal, too."

Two of the wolves came from a Chicago suburb, where they were kept in the backyard of a woman whose husband had wanted them for pets. The man died, leaving his widow with the pair. The pair was put on a plane and sent to Loki, and when Keating picked the crate up in Boston it had a note attached to it saying, "Female may be pregnant." The happy couple is now a family of four.

Keating doesn't take care of the wolves alone. Dan Hazlett lives on the property, too, doing much of the daily maintenance and the feeding. The Refuge is also a non-profit organization, complete with a board of directors and many contributors and volunteers. From June to October the Refuge holds work parties, when volunteers can come and help. For many years that help meant building new pens, but that has slowed down now and the work is mostly maintenance.

The wolves are fed raw meat from East Conway Beef and Pork. In a week, the Refuge goes through about 2,500 to 3,500 pounds of meat, with each wolf getting about 20 to 40 pounds every two to three days. With no fillers or preservatives, the waste that comes out the other end of the animal is much more biodegradable than is a domestic dog's. It breaks down to a fine chalky lump that quickly disintegrates into the ground.

"Their metabolism is so fast; they're moving all the time," Keating says. "It's like they're saying 'I gotta move, I gotta move!'" They do slow down for awhile after eating, though, becoming, as Keating says, "food drunk" — groggy from their full stomach.

It's not just their behavior that differentiates wolves from domestic dogs. Wolves have narrow chests and long legs and when they sit their big feet splay outward. "The eyes are a big giveaway," Hazlett says of the wolves' mostly yellowish-brown eyes. Wolf prints differ from domestic dogs, too, with longer toes and a more oblong shape. In the wild, wolves live to be around 6 to 8 years old.

Hazlett's day at the Refuge starts around 6:30 a.m., when he checks the pens. "I make sure everybody's where they're supposed to be," he says. In the winter, or after bad weather, checking the pens also means looking out for downed tree branches across the fencing, or birch or pin cherry saplings bent over the fence tops.

"You can't really work a plan; you kind of have to pencil it in," Hazlett explains. The pens are a minimum of 30 by 40 feet, with nine pens an acre or more. "We got big ones, we got little ones," he says.

Hazlett and other volunteers give tours of the Refuge. Among those who have taken a tour are school and environmental groups. In the summer, college interns help out with chores. A husband and wife from Scotland come to stay and volunteer at the Refuge for a month every summer, Keating says.

The Refuge is largely supported by donations, raising funds, too, from the annual sale of a calendar with close-up photos of the magnificent wolves. Keating takes no salary, using his Social Security to cover what little personal expenses he has. "I've got a house to live in, I've got food to eat, I'm happy," he remarks.

Near the end of the visit Keating's phone rings. After hanging up, he says it was a woman from New York who had just gotten a wolf pup. He shakes his head a bit.

Wolves aren't meant to live in domestic settings; they aren't meant to heed the call of man, but people will keep waiting for them to obey their commands. And Loki Clan Wolf Refuge will keep offering a wild sanctuary to those wolves handed over by those who wanted to tame them, but simply couldn't.

Littleton Chmber
Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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