After days of double shifts and little sleep, Rebecca Bose says she has the greatest job in the world and wouldn't change it for anything. Bose, along with her trusty sidekick Kai, her 5- year- old German Shephard, has begun the four- month socialization process for wolf pups Zephyr and Alawa. The two five- week- old wolf pups are being raised as the future Ambassador Wolves of the famed Wolf Conservation Center in Pound Ridge.
Bose has been working at the Wolf Conservation Center for nearly 11 years and is now officially the curator of the education and conservation facility. The center is home to enclosed natural habitats for a few captive wolves where observation of natural behavior is possible. Their mission is to teach about wolves, their relationship to the environment, and the human role in protecting their future. The center is also the preeminent facility in the eastern United States for the captive breeding and pre-release of endangered wolf species.
Bose, who is also a veterinary technician at the Pound Ridge Veterinary Center, is in charge of the intensive socialization process which involves the help of 14 staff and volunteers. These animal handlers are all trained to handle wolves, and will be making sure that the pups have 24/7 companionship until the end of August. The pups will then 'graduate' to a larger outdoor wolf habitat enclosure and begin being treated more like wolves.
HF: What are some of the unique challenges of socializing a wolf?
RB: First, they'll never be like dogs. Kai's instinct is to please me. We'll socialize and play with Zephyr and Alawa for months, and they were handled since they were born. But they'll never have that instinct to try to please us. They are wild animals. They don't like being restricted. Atka, our Ambassador wolf now, is unique in that we can lead him around for public events. He was very carefully socialized by the founders of the WCC. And he enjoys his job. Hopefully these guys will too.
HF: So how do you socialize them?
RB: First, we have people with them at all times for a few months. These people are all trained. They can't discipline them. But they have to discourage them from chewing on people already at this age. And soon I'll begin getting them used to the car by taking short car rides and then for little outings to the post office and to get ice cream and see other humans. Just getting them comfortable with things.
HF: How does one discourage without disciplining? I feel like I should have asked this before raising my own children!
RB: Substitution. If Zephyr starts to chew on my hand, I'll suggest chew toy instead. Constant and immediate subsitution and suggestion.
HF: What else?
RB: We want them to accept collars and leads. We're doing this very carefully. For now we just have the leads laying around their room and sleeping areas. Soon we'll begin laying the lead across their backs casually. One of our goals is that we'll be able to do basic 'vet' care like pulling a tick off and checking wounds.
RB: Those Mexican wolves that are here are totally wild. They'll be released back into the wild so they'll never be socialized. To do vet care they have to be caught and sedated.
HF: How will you feel about them growing up and not being so cuddly any more?
RB: What is great is that they will move out of the house, but just next door! And I'll be proud to see them start to play the role we are raising them for. This is all very exciting. There haven't been pups here in a bunch of years. It's a big decision for the WCC to raise these new Ambassadors. We are about putting wolves back into the wild in natural habitats, not about breeding more into captivity.
The next animal handler arrives for his shift. It is Alan Petre, the leader of the Lewisboro Boy Scout Troop 1. Petre has been volunteering at the WCC since 1998. Zephyr sniffs him then wanders over to take a nap as Petre settles in for his socialization hours with the wolf pups.
For news about the pups and to schedule a tour: http://www.nywolf.org and on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wolf-Conservation-Center/117336407634
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