By Karen Feldman
It’s a tranquil morning — no traffic, no kids playing outdoors on this residential street in Golden Gate Estates. Perhaps that’s because a rain shower has just ended, leaving the air steamy and thick.
Yet on this street resides a host of mystical creatures.
Unless you are looking for it, you wouldn’t know the Shy Wolf Sanctuary and Experience Center lies behind the private home of Nancy and Kent Smith, as it has since 1993, although the 2.5 acres are more well-populated now than when the big-hearted couple took in their first exotic animal that had nowhere to go. Michael Kloman, now president of Shy Wolf, heard of the Smiths’ good works in 1999 and together they formed a nonprofit organization in 2001.
Today there are about five dozen residents — wolves, wolfdogs (a cross between a wolf and a dog), coyotes, prairie dogs, foxes, a panther, a bobcat and assorted other animals — each of whom comes with a heartbreaking story, a victim of man’s avarice and ignorance, the two major forces that drive the trade in exotic pets.
There are chubby little prairie dogs like Ernie, who enjoys having his tummy rubbed. He was abandoned at an East Coast pet store when it closed.
There’s Cimmaron, a tawny Florida panther, who lived in a facility where he was played with roughly as a cub then, as he grew, was hit on the head with a lead pipe when he tried playing the way he’d been taught. Shy Wolf took him in four years ago and, despite the pain he experienced at the hands of humans, he now approaches people who come up to his enclosure and offers his back for scratching, purring loudly in response.
Luna, a wolfdog with gold-tipped white fur, belonged to a woman who used her in a backyard breeding business. When the woman was arrested on drug charges, her son stopped caring for the wolfdogs and they were sent to a shelter, from which Luna escaped. It took $100 of deboned fried chicken, but the volunteers captured her and brought her to Shy Wolf, where she now lives peacefully with Yiska, a large black male, who came from the same place and with whom she is closely bonded.
And then there’s Tien, a full-bred wolf seized at three weeks old by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission after a report of dead animals on the property on which he lived. He and his siblings arrived sick and undernourished. Today, he’s big and furry, healthy and happy. He lives with his brother, Chocowa, and sister, Indy.
Most of these animals arrived injured or diseased, emaciated and depressed. Shy Wolf’s 200 volunteers, with the help of board member and veterinarian Randy Eisel, patiently nurse them back to health. More....