As Google Maps took us from highway to rambling back-roads, I thought, this is how Stephen King novels start out. On the way to learn all about the preservation of wolves in a quiet New England town horror and sci-fi strike! I was outlining the plot in my head when Siri blurts, “your destination is on your left”.
Welcome To Wolf Hollow Wolf Sanctuary Of Ipswhich, Massachusetts
It's a common misconception that wolves are "vicious" in an inhumane sense, but they're actually more like humans than you'd think. It's true they exhibit very clear and specific personality traits that you’d find in your best friend, or your boss, or even yourself.
For example, meet Bear and Osa. When we came up to Bear & Osa’s enclosure, Bear confidently pranced over to us, eager to meet some new people and make a good impression (imagine John Stamos if he was a wolf). Osa, however, held back. She walked along the fence at the back of the enclosure, eyeing us warily, slightly nervous and skeptical of our presence; Immediately I was reminded of the timidity of a small child peeking out from behind their parent when meeting someone for the first time.
Bear (front) and Osa (back) are just a few of the wolves that live at Wolf Hallow Wolf Sanctuary in Ipswhich, MA.
Zee Soffron, Wolf Hollow’s Director and son of the original founder Paul Soffron, has learned how to communicate with the Wolf Hollow wolves through body language. He can interpret their actions and act accordingly. Although sometimes he may not be on point. He told us about an encounter he had with the alpha male during a particularly off day…
“In 1993, upon entering the enclosure, I unintentionally disrespected the alpha male by ending a greeting instead of allowing him to do so. Without hesitation, but not without control, he put the better portion of my face in his mouth applying some of the 2000 pounds of jaw pressure. We both remained like that for what seemed like hours, but in reality was probably 15 seconds. The fact I walked out with only a sore jaw speaks volumes about their control. ” - Zee Soffron
While most would see the alpha’s actions as an act of aggression and violence, Zee assured us it was a similar gesture to a father reprimanding a son that was out of line. If the alpha male’s intentions were to harm, he would certainly have succeeded.
Why Do Wolves Need Sanctuary?
To understand why a place like Wolf Hollow exists we need to flag down our nearest Delorean and head back in time to the turn of the 20th century when Government-Sanctioned wolf extermination programs were in full swing in an effort to protect precious livestock. It’s important to note here that wolves were being corralled into hunting livestock because humans had hunted and thinned out most of the wolves natural prey in the southwest. Fast-forward to the middle of the century and a creature that was once as common in the lower 48 states as squirrels, were nowhere to be found; virtually extinct except for a few hundred wandering in northeastern Minnesota and Michigan.
Thankfully, in 1974 wolves were put on the endangered species list, once an understanding of natural ecosystems started to grow. Now the same government that couldn’t wait to pull the trigger mere decades before, was in charge of saving the species.
Paul C. Soffron, Founder of Wolf Hollow Wolf Sanctuary, Proves One Man with a Dream Can Make an Impact
Unhappy with the slow progression to improve the wolf population, Paul Soffron founded the North American Wolf Foundation (NAWF) in 1988 as a state and federally licensed 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The purpose was and always will be “to preserve the wolf in the wild, through education and exposure”.
Over the next few years the Soffron family home transformed into Wolf Hollow Wolf Sanctuary. Today it features 4 separate fenced in enclosures, a separate viewing pavilion for weekend presentations, and a gift shop... in their living room.
Before opening to the public in 1990, Joni Sofforon (Paul’s wife) and Zee, (their teenage son) took behavioral and animal husbandry training in preparation for their inaugural wolf pack. Their first wolf pack consisted of 5 wolves from 3 different litters so that a family could begin.
Paul passed away some years ago, but his son, Zee, carried on in his memory, taking over the position of Director of Wolf Hollow. Zee is one of the first living things the wolves see when they open their eyes at 12-15 days old, and as they grow older he continues to work closely with the wolves. This makes him a surrogate uncle to them and they treat him like one of the pack.
Meet the Wolves of Wolf Hollow
The small wolf pack, consisting of Grendel, Argus, Arrow, Nevaeh resides in the main enclosure of Wolf Hollow. They act like most siblings do. Grendel, Argus, and Arrow wrestle and annoy each other, while Nevaeh hangs off to the sides rolling her eyes.
All the wolves in the main pack are 5 years old. Grendel is the Alpha Male, and Neveah is the alpha female. Not going to lie, it’s a little difficult to tell which one is which. Visit the Wolf Hollow Site to get their full bios, and see if you can pick them out!
The wolves have plenty of room to roam and a pond to splash in. However, they still get curious about the outside world. Once the main pack escaped their enclosure, but they didn't go very far. Homesickness set in pretty quick and they were found just outside the perimeter.
In the second enclosure live Osa and Bear. Bear is the class clown, while Osa is the silent beauty. They are inseparable. The perfect example of yin and yang.
Osa is a timid and beautiful female wolf who is very fond of her roommate, Bear.
Bear is actually a wolf/dog hybrid. His previous owner purchased him from a breeder in California under the impression that he was a Husky (or at least that’s what he claims). He was brought to Wolf Hollow from a tiny Boston apartment, after his neighbors complained about his howling in the middle of the night.
Jelly is the oldest. She just celebrated a 16th birthday, but she doesn’t look a day over 5. We caught her running around her pen like a rascally pup. Her somewhat aggressive nature toward the other wolves has landed her in her own bachelorette pad in the back, but she doesn't mind being the lone wolf.
Linnea also gets her own enclosure all to herself, but it’s not because of aggression. Quite the opposite actually; she was being bullied. Zee said Linnea is a little shy, but we're not buying it. She came right up to the fence to say hello as soon as we walked in.
After a few minutes walking around Wolf Hollow you start to realize that all the terrifying lore surrounding wolves is antiquated propaganda perpetuated by a misunderstanding of nature and our place within it. Wolf Hollow offers the public the opportunity to face misconceptions head on in an effort to show there is nothing to fear except our own ignorance. The takeaway being that everything in this earth is connected, whether we understand it or not, and when one cog in the machine is damaged, the entire machine falls. Also, wolves are adorable.
All photographs via Daniela Maria