If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to hand-feed a wolf, a visit to the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, only a 20-minute drive east of Canmore, Alta., will get you as close as most people would dare.
Georgina De Caigny founded the sanctuary in 2011. Although she studied civil engineering at the University of Calgary, her life took a different course as she became more involved in animal welfare. “I’ve been rescuing dogs for as long as I can remember,” De Caigny says. “But I first fell in love with wolfdogs working at one of the local sled-dog kennels.”
De Caigny got her first wolfdog, Kuna, in 2009, and says she decided to open a shelter after realizing there was a gap in the Canadian animal rescue system. “The thing that really changed it all for me was when I found out that when it comes to wolfdog rescue resources, there was essentially nothing here in Canada.”
As the term suggests, wolfdogs are dogs that have some amount of wolf in them. But, says De Caigny, it isn’t practical to think in percentages: “Genetics does not work that way. It’s not just about percentage, it also has to do with how many generations a wolfdog is away from pure wolf parents. And when you’re dealing with rescues, especially, you have no reliable lineage.”
She classifies wolfdogs as being low-, mid- or high-wolf content. As a rough guide, however, De Caigny says a low-content wolfdog would be anywhere from 20 to 50 per cent wolf, mid-content from 50 to 75 per cent, and high-content 75 per cent and up. Two-year-old Nova, one of Yamnuska’s residents, would be somewhere in the mid-90s.
But the sanctuary isn’t only about saving abandoned or stray wolfdogs; it’s also a place for people to learn about both wolfdogs and wolves. “People get to learn a lot about wolfdogs, but also about why wolves themselves are so important in our environment, in our ecosystems,” De Caigny says. “And we try to help dispel a lot of the myths that add to that big bad wolf image.”
De Caigny says visitors also have a chance to “get up close and personal” with the sanctuary’s five permanent wolfdogs and the wolfdogs that are available for adoption — but only after they’ve been instructed on how to behave around the animals.
“We are very clear about how people should interact with the wolfdogs,” says De Caigny. “It’s best to be as calm as possible and avoid making erratic movements. People come into the enclosure and sit down in chairs that we have set up, and the wolfdogs come up and take treats out of people’s hands. One of our girls even likes to jump up into people’s laps and give kisses.”
Though you can adopt a low- to mid-content wolfdog from Yamnuska, De Caigny says people who want to adopt are often not aware of how challenging wolfdogs can be to own. “They need to know that they are not like regular dogs, that they don’t make great pets,” she says. “The ones that are high-content are not at all like your typical pets; they exhibit far more pure wolf characteristics.
“I often tell people that living with a high content wolfdog is more like living with a cat than it is living with a dog,” De Caigny says. “They only do what they want to do when they want to do it.”
Those interested in visiting can schedule a visit to the sanctuary through the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary’s website.