By Mary Ann Baron
I was privileged to take a trip recently to the town of Lititz, Lancaster County, to experience the Speedwell Forge Wolf Sanctuary of PA., the home of the “Speedwell Wolves” and of Levi, the much-publicized wolf-dog (gray wolf-Malamute, who has been renamed Liberty) who recently ran away from his home in Northeast Philadelphia in March and was found in Pennypack Park on July 3. Levi was sent to the sanctuary because his owner, Kasey Lyons, did not have a permit for the hybrid, which is required by law.
The Darlington family has offered refuge on 22 acres to wolves who have found themselves without a place in the natural world for 32 years. The late William H. Darlington, founder and executive director, oversaw the creation of the sanctuary with his wife, Barbara, and ran it from 1980 to 1998. William died in June of 1998 at the age of 72. It is now run by their daughter Dawn, now the president; caretaker Darin Tompkins and Mrs. Darlington, the director and behind-the-scenes advisor. The nonprofit sanctuary is licensed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The last wild wolf in Pennsylvania was sighted more than 100 years ago. The sanctuary, first created as an educational facility, has allowed wolves to choose their mates. Over 40 wolves are currently cared for with no financial assistance from government or corporations. The only income comes from donations, tours and educational programs. The wolves are never given away or sold; they all live out their entire lives in the sanctuary. According to an internet search, there are at least 40 wolf sanctuaries in the lower 48 states, but Speedwell Forge in Lititz is the only one in Pennsylvania.
“Each wolf is treated as an individual but not as a pet,” explained Dawn. “Each animal has its own name because it has its own personality.”
The tour I went on had a very knowledgeable guide who led us through the sanctuary, stopping to see
face-to-face the different wolf packs, each of which has its own large enclosure in which to run, eat and live with other members of the pack. During our tour some of the wolves came very close to the enclosures to see us humans, and others stood farther away.
The tour lasted about one hour, and we were able to see the wolves in a very intimate setting. The sanctuary caters to families, and guides take time to answer questions. The sanctuary also offers occasional special events such as a music and art event that was held in May, 2011. Wolf biographies are listed on their website, so you can become familiar with them before you come on a tour.
As our nation is again killing wolves in Idaho and other states, and their numbers are decreasing rapidly,
most of us may never have an opportunity to see wolves except in movies, zoos and on TV. In January, 2012, Congress voted to remove the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List in the northern Rockies, which threatens the future of the gray wolf.
The Wolf Sanctuary in Lititz gives us a rare opportunity to see and experience the lives of wolves. I encourage everyone to take a trip to Lancaster County for the day to learn more about these beautiful, misunderstood, courageous animals.
What does the Wolf Sanctuary need most of all? ”We need money!” insisted Dawn. “Fencing is not cheep, and we need to keep growing to provide homes for incoming wolves. Every week we get calls, and we want to help as many as we can, but we need enclosures, we need ponds and buckets and sand piles to play in, trees to siesta under….
“We also need manpower. Are there any companies out there willing to donate time and energy to help? We have such great plans, but it takes an army, and we are but a few.
“And we need frozen meat. Each wolf needs a minimum of five pounds per day. Yikes! We are very grateful to all those who have emptied their freezers and to the restaurants in our area that donate their scraps.”
In addition to the wolf enclosures, a beautifully restored bed and breakfast, The Speedwell Forge Bed and Breakfast, located on the sanctuary property enables one to visit the wolves on off-tour times on a more personal level throughout the day into the early evening. “You don’t get to go in (to the enclosures) and interact with them,” said Dawn, “but you can sit there are watch all day if you want.”
I would highly recommend a weekend visit. You can read more at www.wolfsancpa.com or contact the sanctuary at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their mailing address is 465 Speedwell Forge Rd., Lititz, PA 17543.
Mary Ann Baron, a Chestnut Hill resident, is co-founder of Philadelphia Advocates for the Deer (PAD).