Tucked up in the woods of Montgomery, Texas is a special sanctuary for wolves. Most of them have been rescued from cruel and abusive situations. Now the sanctuary is teaching others about what special animals they really are.
The wolves are singing at St. Francis Wolf Sanctuary. It's music to the ears of Jean LeFevre. The founder of this oasis just seems to have a way with wolves.
LeFevre immediately introduced FOX 26 News to Tayla, whom she calls the "Grace Kelly of the Wolf World."
"She was running loose. People picked her up on the bayou. Decided it would be lovely to have a wolf as a pet until at night, she did $2,000 in damage, another neighbor said the same thing. It's very difficult. They don't make ready pets because they're free spirits. It's as easy as that," explains LeFevre. Her journey with wolves began eleven years ago, when she accepted two injured ones into her home.
"The first one I found, someone had burned all four paws just for the sake of burning them and couldn't walk or stand without acute pain. I took him to the house just for a while and got an urgent call asking if we would take a pup and take care of her? She's still with me," says a smiling LeFevre.
It's illegal to have a wolf in Texas without a federal and state license, so Jean quickly got both, and named the sanctuary after St. Francis, who was known for his love and dedication to animals.
One of Jean's missions is to change the reputation of wolves.
"When people think 'wolf,' they think about Little Red Riding Hood. I don't know how many people can't tell the difference between their grandmother and a wolf, and they have a real problem if they can't. Our mission out here is to help people not judge, but to understand. That's what we want to do. These are wonderful animals. They are highly intelligent, as you can see, once you give them your trust, they're quite amazing. They have deep feelings," says LeFevre.
I, personally, witnessed how deeply wolves and wolfdogs can care, and how gentle they can be, by the love they showed my children. I couldn't help but be nervous with a wolf around their little faces, but these wolves are called "special ambassadors". They have been trained to be around people and are used to help enhance the lives of people with disabilities, the elderly, and children from abusive backgrounds. You wouldn't believe the stories LeFevre tells about how wolves have helped people. One little girl's dying wish was to meet a wolf. She got to go into one of their enclosures with a wolf, and it placed its head in her lap. It gave the child so much joy, she was overwhelmed, as were her parents, who stood by and witnessed it in awe. A blind woman had always loved wolves and was sad she'd never seen one. Soon, she was hugging a wolf, with tears in her eyes that she "saw" one finally through touch and emotions. Another elderly woman made her way to the ground and had a wolf lying on her, giving her love. Stories like this are what makes the volunteers at St. Francis come back, day-after-day.
While there are several wolves who have always done well with humans, 100 percent of the time, other wolves have been "red tagged" and are never allowed around anyone, except specially-trained volunteers, like Christy Stryk, who is the assistant manager at St. Francis.
"There are always a little bit of nerves there. It's important that before we go into any enclosure, we take a deep breath, slow our heart rate down and be calm before we go in. They're going to be a mirror of what you're feeling. If you're really excited, they are - if you are sad, they are too - if you're really nervous, so will they - if you're fearful, they will too. It's important to be calm and collected when you're working with them," explains Christy. She used to work with wolves in Alaska and found peace, when she was back with the animals she loves, at this safe haven. "It's incredibly rewarding. The loving bond you can form with the wolf is far different than dogs or big cats or other animals - they're different. There is a connection to your soul that you can form with them. They're very intuitive. A lot of times they know how we feel before we do, which is really incredible," says Stryk. "If the wolves act nervous when you're around them, then you need to take a look at yourself," she goes on to say.
LeFevre learned how to communicate with animals from the pros, when she trained and was certified by Native American Indians in the 1970's. Her house must always feel safe, with two guard dogs, one of them a wolf, sleeping by her side, although she says "they" think she's sleeping on "their" bed.
You can visit the sanctuary by appointment only. There is no charge, but they do accept donations, as it is a non-profit organization. They do not breed or sale wolves or wolfdogs, but provide a stable home for these animals, for the rest of their natural lives.
For more information, visit http://www.saintfrancissanctuary.org/.