“Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!” ― Bram Stoker
The first time I heard that line was from the lips of Gary Oldman, playing an incredible Dracula in the movie by the same name, back in 1992. I was a child back there, if a 21-year-old can be considered one. Not only that became one of my favorite movies, but that line got stuck in my head for years to come. How could the howling of a wolf’s pack sound like music to anyone, regardless of how undead they were? That scene both gave me the chills and aroused my curiosity at the same time.
Throughout the years, whenever we’ve been outdoors in a cold or mountainous location, I’ve been attentive to that sound. Hearing it would mean that, in a split second, I either had to learn how to climb a tree, run faster than any of my companions or play dead. Thankfully, that never happened. I was living my life with the confidence that a wolf would never cross my path.
That was until my brother and sister-in-law came to visit a couple of years ago. My sister-in-law loves dogs. Seriously loves them, like Agnes from Despicable me loves fluffy unicorns. If she finds 10 dogs on her way, she will stop and pet them all. The best part is that dogs love her back. They succumb to her charm; whether they are shaky Chihuahuas or fearful Rottweilers, they become Jell-O at her touch.
She calls me beyond excited a few weeks before their arrival saying that she had found a place in Naples, FL., called Shy Wolf Sanctuary where they took care of stray wolves. Stray wolves? Is there such a thing? In any case, being that wolves are big dogs, she had made reservations for us to visit, if that was ok with us. I have a soft spot for my siblings and I consider her one so, despite my allergies to anything with hair, we acquiesced. Those wolves would be in cages, I imagined, so we would be safe among the children of the night.
The day of the visit we jumped in the car and headed out to Naples around 6:30 in the morning. Being awake and functional at that time is always a challenge in and of itself; why was I doing this to be around wolves?
Two hours later, we were driving through a neighborhood of small ranch houses, when the GPS indicated that we had reached our destination. We had just stopped in front of a house with a large parking space, which made me double check the address to make sure we had it right. I was expecting some sort of zoo, not a regular house in a regular neighborhood.
Signs indicated that the entrance was on the left side of the house. After ringing a bell located on a wooden wall, we were greeted by a smiling face who opened the door for us. I couldn’t help but smile the moment we stepped in. As if by magic, that regular neighborhood home transformed into some sort of forest, not only with wolves but with other wild animals peacefully roaming in their homes.
Before the tour began, we were given an introduction of the place and of how those animals ended up there. Shy Wolf Sanctuary is a non-for-profit organization dedicated to the rescue and care of wolves, wolf dogs and other wild animals that are often acquired by individuals or families as pets. Not able to care for these unusual mascots, they are abandoned and brought into the Sanctuary, who takes donations to provide for them. The Sanctuary was officially created in 2001 by Nancy and Kent Smith, it’s located in 1.5 acres of private property and all employees are volunteers.
After we all gave our donations, one of the volunteers lead the tour. The first few enclosures housed lemurs, foxes and raccoons. Then, we met the wolves, those terrifying, growling animals, with exposed teeth and frightened howls, the children of the night. Only that they weren’t like that at all; they were majestic, kind animals, many of them craving human touch, docile and playful. Bigger than a regular dog, but just as lovely. Some of them shared enclosures, with the grumpy ones living in an enclosure all by themselves. Our tour guide called each one of them by name, knew their origin, their personality and their likes, making the bond between them and her clearly visible.
Part of the tour included walking into the enclosures of some of the friendlier wolves, to pet them while the tour guide gave us their information. For the first few, I stayed outside with the excuse of “my allergies”. After all, these were still wild, unpredictable animals that could turn at any minute. But after seeing once and again how they approached everyone just to be caressed, my curiosity won me over and I decided to risk it.
It was one of the bigger enclosures, with three wolves in it. I stepped in slowly, hoping they would pay attention to the rest of my party. We all sat in some trunks, with the wolves walking around us, smelling us, and ultimately demanding to be touched. One of them was so excited to see us there that he would quickly walk from one person to the next, as if deciding which one of us was worthy of petting him.
I had tuned out our tour guide because I was mesmerized at these alluring animals, but I did hear when she asked us if we knew how wolves communicated. We all started howling like little kids.
“Yes, but you have to do it like this” was her answer, followed by a loud, powerful howl.
That’s when it happened. On cue, the wolves in our enclosure joined her, followed by every other wolf in the Sanctuary, until the whole place was engulfed in their sound. The energy around us shifted, every hair on my body rose and at that moment I understood Bram Stoker and his Dracula: they do make music, beautiful and magical. It wasn’t the chills that I felt, it was pure emotion.
I blew off my apprehensions and my allergies, and went on to pet the wolf closer to me, the one that couldn’t decide who was worthy. He stayed there, letting me enjoy his soft fur, until the tour guide indicated that it was time for us to move on.
We visited a few more enclosures, finishing with a dingo and a panther. After that, we washed our hands, grabbed some water, bought some t-shirts, said our thanks and headed back. We left the place beaming, energized by the experience, with the purpose of coming back soon. If it’s true that hearing howling in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere would still be nerve-wrecking, I now have a new appreciation for these animals. They are beautiful creatures, that despite being wild, still need our protection and our care.