Texas Traveler: St. Francis Wolf Sanctuary
North of Houston, outside the small town of Montgomery, there is a house where lobos in limbo live, the St. Francis Wolf Sanctuary. The sanctuary, a non-profit organization staffed entirely by volunteers, aims to provide a permanent home to captive-born wolves and wolf-dog hybrids that are too wild to be kept as pets, yet too domesticated to survive in the wild. Many of the animals come from backgrounds of abuse, but under the care of founder and octogenarian Jean LeFevre they're able to live out the rest of their lives in relative comfort and care.
Photos by Brittanie Shey
Organizing a trip to the sanctuary took a little perseverance. Their website is full of inaccurate information -- from hours of operation to suggested donation prices -- and the first time I called I left a message that was returned a few days later. The second time I called, the person on the phone tried everything in her power to persuade me not to come -- it was going to rain, it was going to be crowded, it was going to be a long drive. When I persisted in trying to make a reservation (which are required), she caved -- only to tell me "Oh, it's not very busy today. All those tours are scheduled for tomorrow."
Once we arrived at the sanctuary, though, the bad taste had left my mouth. LeFevre lives in a huge, modern house at the end of a country road, and the wolves live in enclosures on her large property. As we pulled into the gate I spotted several signs warning in big letters: WOLVES.
We were greeted by a volunteer who was literally wearing a Three Wolf Moon t-shirt, and not in an ironic way. My sense of adventure was piqued when she asked us to sign a liability form. Another group was there for a tour; a few adults and several children. Volunteers, including two young-looking ones, walked in and out of the enclosures, dragging water hoses, scratching the animals behind the ears, and feeding them raw chicken feet while we looked on from the protection of a double fence and a covered, wooden walkway.
LeFevre, a lifelong animal lover who worked with the spay/neuter organization The Kit Wilson Trust in her native England, started the sanctuary with two wolves, Khan and Mystery. Mystery was rescued after she's been caught in a trap and had nearly chewed her own paw off to get free. She still has a scar from the surgery to repair it.
According to LeFevre, Khan had been tied up by a man who charged kids $5 a pop to poke the wolf with a stick. Khan, who recently died at the sanctuary, was estimated to be 15 years old. The average life span for a wolf in the wild is four to seven years.
A volunteer plays with Mystery.
Each wolf has a long biography, probably embellished a bit by LeFevre, who claims that she herself was "raised by German shepherds," and that she trained with the Iroquois and Seneca, including a medicine man. But the folklore is part of the fun -- as wolves have been denigrated for centuries by story-tellers like the Grimm Brothers. St. Francis Sanctuary is surrounded by placards featuring thoughtful quotes about the majesty of wolves.