Since 2001 a Naples not-for-profit team has worked to save hundreds of wolves and wolfdogs.
The Shy Wolf Sanctuary, just under 2.5 hours from St. Petersburg, has been rescuing animals for more than two decades. When they officially became a non-profit organization, Deanna Deppen came on board to help.
“Unfortunately, the human race actually creates a problem, and the sanctuaries fill a need,” Deppen said. “It seems like there’s a never-ending request for rescue needs.”
Some of Shy Wolf’s animals ended up at the sanctuary because their owners realized they aren’t suited for life as pets.
The sanctuary is currently home to 10-12 wolves or high content wolfdogs, meaning they have very little dog DNA; 20 wolfdogs or dogs that have been labeled wolfdogs; five coyotes; a fox; a cougar; a bobcat; 8-10 domestic cats; four tortoises; four prairie dogs and three raccoons. They’re all rescues.
The wolves and wolfdogs at Shy Wolf were all bred in captivity. Many were initially sold as pets. These animals need 10-foot tall fences with 3-foot lean-ins to prevent them from escaping, Deppen explained.
“You don’t know what ones are going to be good pets when they’re a little ball of fur,” she explained. “It’s been our experience that nature trumps nurture.”
“Be very careful and responsible about whatever pet you choose to get … Know what the breed is,” Deppen added.
Wolfdogs may bond with humans, but that doesn’t mean they will do well as pets. Domestic animals rely on humans for food, shelter and direction. That’s not the case for exotic animals.
“They’re going to be more independent thinkers,” Deppen said. “Wild animals go through the same stages we do, neonatal, transitional, socialization, adolescent and adult, and we’ve bred domestic dogs down to function in that adolescent stage of development where they depend on us.”
“Wolves, coyotes, tortoises, other exotic animals, function in their own adult stage. They find their own shelter. They find food sources,” she added. “They’re pack animals within their packs but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they consider the humans part of their pack.”
When wolfdogs end up in shelters, they’re often killed, Deppen said. That’s because shelters consider them a liability to adopt out, she said. “A lot of the times the shelters don’t even contact rescue. They automatically euthanize them,” Deppen added.
Shy Wolf runs entirely on donations, with a budget of around $200,000 per year. During Hurricane Irma the sanctuary sustained damage to fencing and enclosures. They shelter is seeking donations to help make repairs. In addition, the team would love to expand and build a new facility, as they say they are helping more animals than they first envisioned.
The sanctuary offers tours, although you must make a reservation. At just under 2.5 hours from St. Petersburg, it makes a great daytrip or piece of an overnight vacation for families.