It was a blindingly sunny April day in Paso Robles, and my friend Mitch and I were too distracted talking about the grape varieties growing on the vines around us that we completely missed our turn.
“Wait, was that it? So much for my keen sense of direction. The wolves will definitely think I’m a wussy human. Guess I’ll never make it as Alpha,” I said, as we pulled a U-turn.
After backtracking about half a mile, we found the side road leading to our destination: the W.H.A.R. Wolf Rescue. As we pulled into the dusty parking lot, we saw that the space was inhabited by a menagerie of other animals as the Rescue shares their property with Zoo to You, an educational traveling exotic animal program. Getting out of the car, we were greeted by a rush of blistering hot air and the screeches of birds and the snorting of a host of other beasts that we could not identify. We meandered our way past giant tortoise enclosures and a porcupine pen to the high chain-linked fence marked with the W.H.A.R logo. Opening the gate, we walked towards a tiny office sitting under a massive Live Oak amidst a cluster of covered fenced kennels.
As Mitch knocked on the little door plastered with pamphlets and stickers, I turned to scan the exclosure to my left and locked eyes with one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen. Pacing the dirt and occasionally marking his territory was a pure white timber wolf. Long-limbed with a narrow snout and blazing yellow eyes, I immediately felt an energy that I could only describe as primal, old, and definitely wild.
As I turned back around to elbow Mitch and gratuitously point, our tour guide and founder of the Rescue, Kristi Krutsinger came out to join us. The woman could not have been much taller than 5’2” and yet she had a relaxed and strong countenance that you would expect from someone who cared for giant canines. That, I thought to myself, is definitely the leader of the pack.
For the next hour or so, Kristi took us around the facility, introducing us to the occupants and relating their names and histories. The Rescue began back in 1998 when she and her husband adopted Tundra and Chinook. Chinook was a purebred Alaskan Malamute and Tundra was a Malamute wolf mix. Strangely enough it was the mix that caused the most stress, but after a bout where Kristi established her dominance, an understanding was met and a hierarchy was established. Slowly, they began to expand the property where they kept the two, and took in other hybrids and wolves. Some came from owners who could no longer keep the high-maintenance animals, others from rescues and control agencies.
The Paso Robles location is the Rescue’s second incarnation, as CalTrans had forced the nonprofit to be moved after purchasing the original space by eminent domain. Refusing to pay for the relocation, Krutsinger tapped into her background as a journalist and fierce nature as a woman who runs with wolves to convince the public and state to compensate her for the enormous undertaking. Currently, the Rescue is completely run by volunteers and sustained by tour fees and donations. Some of the hybrids are able to be adopted, although purebreds are never released as pets. The organization also takes ambassador wolves to community events such as schools or nature hikes that help to educate and dispel the myths surrounding the incredible creatures.
Tours for the W.H.A.R. Wolf Rescue are by appointment only, and can be scheduled by calling (805) 610.6109. Donations can be made through their website at www.whar.org. If you are looking to reconnect with a bit of wilderness and also support a fantastic cause, visit the Rescue in Paso Robles to meet up to 22 unique animals. After scratching the neck of a hybrid and getting a lick or two through the fence, I was elated for a good week afterwards. Hoping to run with the pack again some time soon, I am looking for any excuse to return.