When you think of wolves, you probably think of Dances With Wolves, and places like Montana. Or Wyoming. But definitely ...not Los Angeles.
But at Wolf Connection, just outside of the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, you can literally escape it all and hike with a pack of wolves. It's a rescue center and sanctuary for previously abused wolfdogs, or wolfdogs who were pets in homes that couldn't properly take care of them. Here's how Wolf Connection describes their program:
"Wolf Connection is a unique educational sanctuary and wilderness retreat center that brings people together through direct relationship with rescued wolfdogs for the purpose of empowering the next generation to become authentic leaders and stewards of the earth. With the help of the animals, at-risk groups reconnect with nature, learn to be of service by responsibly caring for another being, and work towards becoming the kind of person they want to be. The animals help them focus on their impulses, feelings and emotions in a constructive way; they learn to forgive and give others (and themselves) a second chance.
Wolf Connection's pack of rescued wolfdogs were all bred, bought and sold as domesticated pets- eventually ending up in sanctuary when their owners realized that they were not adept to meet the heightened needs of an exotic canine. "
A wolfdog, by the way, is just what it sounds like: a hybrid wolf and dog. The content levels of each animal vary - some are high content wolf (like Willow, in the video) and some are low content wolf.
Make no mistake, despite their content levels, they're all more wild than the average domesticated dog. There's an allure to owning a wolfdog that drives many people to want to own one, but they are tough to properly care for. Eventually, many wolfdogs will end up at sanctuaries like Wolf Connection.
The purpose of these hikes is to spread awareness.
When guests arrive, they’re guided through a lengthy safety discussion about how to approach the wolfdogs (slowly) and what to expect during the hike. The wolfdogs definitely know when it’s time to hike. Their excited howls start piercing the otherwise dead silence of the Angeles National Forest, where the sanctuary is located. It’s a sound that is enough to give anyone goosebumps (in a good way!).
The hike itself - easy. It snakes around the Wolf Connection property, but it’s a steady trail with no major curveballs. The wolfdogs, and the humans, love it. There are frequent pauses during the hike, during which guests are welcome to take selfies and videos with the wolfdogs.
Renee Alfero is the resident animal behavior specialist. She’s the person who manages the handling of the wolves for the hikes, gauging which wolves are best suited to join. About eight or nine wolves go out on each hike, with a large group of guests topping somewhere around 60.
But tantamount to awareness is the healing nature of connecting with a wild spirit like a wolf. For many people, hiking along side these wolves can help them overcome their own personal demons and fears. Alfero says, there are a lot of people who do these hikes specifically to overcome something. It helps that most of these wolves have overcome something themselves, so Alfero reports that most people come away feeling like they made a genuine connection with these wolves.
And for those two adventurous hours, you can easily forget that one of the world’s busiest, loudest, and most hectic cities is pulsing just a few miles away.
Here's another quirky animal adventure to have while traveling. Ostrichland in Solvang, California.