Friday, August 11, 2006

Turnaround at Wolf Haven- Controversy of 2005 gives way to new director, goals

By Megan Wochnick

TENINO - A year-and-a-half after a controversy surrounding Wolf Haven International, Executive Director John Blankenship has plans to turn the sanctuary around, providing more education to the public on the wolves. Blankenship was hired a year ago after Susan Sergojan resigned as executive director in February 2005. Sergojan reportedly interfered with a veterinarian's decision to euthanize Akela, a 15-year-old terminally ill wolf.

Even though it prompted an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, no instances of animal cruelty were found, and the research and care center maintained its operating license. "It's a 180 (degrees) from what it was a year ago," Blankenship said of the changes. "It's not because of one individual; it's because of the staff."

The nonprofit Wolf Haven organization has 12 staff members and more than 50 volunteers. The majority came on after Blankenship took over. "Internally, the staff has worked around the clock to basically get all the memberships and adoptions up to date, and that was part of the old problem," said Mison Bowden, vice president of the board. "John has personally called donors and members, just acknowledging their existence and to let them know we appreciate their support in the past and the fact we are still here and thriving."

Wolf Haven relies mainly on private funding, with two grants from the Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of Agriculture. The organization plans to go to different businesses in and around the community to develop partnerships and offer them opportunities to see what Wolf Haven does, Blankenship said.

"We're trying to make connections through Rotaries, meetings with educators and a lot of other conservation groups," Blankenship said. "We want to show them we are reliable, we are cleaned up and the wolves are in great shape. We're responsible and scientifically sound."

The animal rescue and sanctuary is home to 47 wolves, four hybrids and three coyotes from all over the nation. Wolf Haven plans to breed Mexican gray wolves this winter, as it's one of two facilities nationwide authorized to do so. Mexican gray wolves are native to the Southwestern United States, and their numbers are dwindling, with only 40 left in the country.

"(Wolves) are a strong part of the ecosystem," said Kate Joki, director of development at Wolf Haven. "If you eliminate them, it's a domino effect. It's a wild animal (and) deserves the right to survive."

Known as one of the top wolf sanctuaries in the country, Wolf Haven puts a strong emphasis on informing the public, especially children, about the wolves' habitat. "We want kids to understand what (wolves') roles are in habitat," Blankenship said. "It's a long ways we'll have to go before we get there."

One of the main programs offered is Howl-In, which received more than 200 visitors Aug. 5. The family-oriented event includes scavenger hunts for kids, making paw plaster casts, American Indian storytelling and howling contests.

"Wolf Haven started nearly 25 years ago just as a sanctuary," Blankenship said. "Emphasis is about education, just as it is on the sanctuary."

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