Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck
She approached very gingerly as I sat on the edge of my seat. I was ready to pounce and shower love in the form of pets, smooches and treats, but knew any such sudden movement would scare her off completely. Kaya came close enough to sniff my arm. She softly licked my glove and then retreated.
That was as close as she would allow me. As a medium-content wolfdog, Kaya has no motivation to please humans, as dogs normally do. The wolf in her is shy and protective, anxious and very careful.
The higher the wolf-content, the further away the wolfdogs stayed. Zeus, Kuna and Nova kept their distance, coming close enough only so that we could toss the treats they were so eager to snack on. Then they would withdraw behind a tree, a building, back to the farthest corner of their fenced enclosure.
It’s their elusiveness that brought them to the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, under the care of their keeper, Georgina. Their beauty entices the unknowing pet owner – wanting the looks of a wolf with the behaviour of a dog – backyard breeders rise to meet the demand. Soon, disappointment for the owners sets in when that fantasy is not realized, and the wolfdogs are often abandoned. Here, with an owner that understands their behaviour, they are cared for and safe.When no one else is around, they silently compete for Georgina’s attention. Kuna, the dominant high-content female, sleeps with Georgina at night, establishing dominance over the pack because as the purveyor of sustenance, Georgina is obviously valuable to them all.
Zeus is the alpha-male of the group, intimidating with his jet black fur and piercing hazel eyes. Any new wolfdog to the pack has to win Zeus over first which can take anywhere from one to three months. “And we really hope any new wolfdog is submissive, it makes it much easier,” Georgina said with a laugh.
The long-term hope, of course, is to not have the need for such a sanctuary. But currently there is more demand then they can handle – the sanctuary will soon be moving to a space with eight massive enclosures. Calls for rescue have unfortunately been turned down, but where possible, low-content wolfdogs are placed with new owners. 45 such placements have occurred in the past two and a half years.
For others, Zeus, Kuna and Nova, this is likely their home forever. They will continue to shyly take treats from strangers and accept love from their one-and-only Georgina. And in the meantime, hopefully teach us humans that wolfdogs are not dogs, and not the pet that one would expect.
yamnuska wolfdog sanctuary
The Sanctuary, located just outside of Canmore, Alberta, also has a secondary location in Cranbrook, British Columbia. Contact the Sanctuary directly to arrange a visit.
where we stayed
We breathed a massive sigh of relief when we walked into the Solara Resort & Spa in Canmore. We were so in love with our apartment that we curled up on the sublime leather couches in front of the fireplace and wiled an entire evening away doing nothing but enjoying the coziness. We love having the comfort of a suite every once in awhile along our journey, and Solara was an incredible pleasure to stay in. Also, you just can’t beat those mountain views.
Special thanks to Canon Canada for the invitation to be part of the ambassador program and lending the 70-200mm f/4 lens to test out.