By John R. Platt
The fictional direwolves in HBO's Game of Thrones and in author George R.R. Martin's novels may be pretty deadly, but it turns out the writer has a soft spot for wolves in the real world. Martin has launched a crowdfunding effort to benefit the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary in New Mexico, which itself is in dire need. Donors who support the campaign can receive signed books, personal video thanks from the author, or—for just $20,000—the chance to be killed off in Martin's next "Song of Ice and Fire" novel.
“At this level, you'll get the incredibly exclusive opportunity to have George name a character after you,” according to the fund-raising pitch. “You can choose your character's station in the world (lordling, knight, peasant, whore, lady, maester, septon, anything) and you will certainly meet a grisly death!”
The crowdfunding campaign launched on June 5 with an initial goal of $200,000, which would be split between the wolf sanctuary and the Food Bank of Santa Fe. That target was met in a single day. It campaign has raised more than $350,000 and now has a stretch goal of $500,000.
The fund-raiser comes at a critical time for the animals in the care of Wild Spirit Wolf, says sanctuary director Leyton Cougar. "Two years ago we rescued 10 wolves that were living in three tiny cages in Idaho," he said. The wolves had been owned by a breeder who sold the animals she raised to the exotic pet trade. After the breeder died, the wolves were to be euthanized.
Cougar and his team rescued them and brought them to New Mexico. Once there, they became known as the Westeros Pack, and Martin named them all after characters in his novels. Martin raised $7,000 for the wolves last year by selling merchandise.
"They're now in habitats 17 times larger than what we found them in," Cougar said from the road while on his way to Missouri to rescue a wolf-dog (a mix of a wolf and a domesticated dog) that had been shot after escaping her owners.
The fund-raiser will allow the sanctuary to build bigger enclosures to give the wolves room to roam and exercise. The sanctuary sits on 40 acres about 135 miles west of Albuquerque, so it had the space but not the funds to complete the construction. The wolves need to be kept separate from the sanctuary's other animals, which include a few additional wolves, more than 40 wolf-dogs, four dingoes, three coyotes, a fox, and five of the rarest canines in the world, New Guinea singing dogs. All except for the fox are rescues from the exotic animal trade.
The sanctuary is also in debt, Cougar said. "It costs about $26,000 a month just to stay in business," he said. "We're behind on every single bill." He says the fund-raiser will allow Wild Spirit Wolf to catch up, build the habitats, and have a bit of breathing room for the next few months. "It's been difficult to raise funds, so this is a major, major breakthrough for us."
Cougar is hopeful that the crowdfunding effort will attract more visitors to the sanctuary. It gets about 6,000 people a year, a fraction of the 600,000 who come to the nearest attraction, El Morro National Monument, every year. The fund-raiser has already raised Wild Spirit Wolf's profile: "Our Facebook page has been exploding," Cougar said.
Martin did not respond to an interview request, but in a blog post last week he wrote, "Every donation helps, whether large or small. You guys have made me very proud." He also said it was "the fastest-rising campaign ever launched" by the crowdfunding platform Prizeo. That's howling good news for wolves in need.