Leader of the pack

Art auction to help Wolfwood Refuge

Paula Watson, founder of WolfWood Refuge, pets Oakley, the leader of the Alaska 9 pack. Oakley will be at tonight’s WolfWood Art Auction at the Durango Discovery Museum. Enlarge photo

Rory Chapman/Special to the Herald

Paula Watson, founder of WolfWood Refuge, pets Oakley, the leader of the Alaska 9 pack. Oakley will be at tonight’s WolfWood Art Auction at the Durango Discovery Museum.

The deep, soulful howl of the wolf hasn’t been heard in these mountains for more than 70 years – except at the Wolfwood Refuge near Ignacio. The nonprofit rescue, which has saved hundreds of captive wolves and wolf-dog hybrids from abuse and neglect for more than 20 years, is pairing with local artists to help these oft-misunderstood animals at the first ever Wolfwood Art Auction.

The auction, to be held at the Durango Discovery Museum, will include work of artists from across the Four Corners. Inspired by the animals at the refuge, many of the artists – including Miki Harder, Elizabeth Kinahan and Bradley Kachnowicz – have incorporated wolves into their work.

“I think the best work humans can do is try to repair the damage that other humans have done,” Kinahan said.

Wolfwood Refuge was founded by Paula and Craig Watson. It currently houses a little more than 70 animals in large, wooded enclosures. The often sick, injured and mistreated animals, rescued from abusive breeding situations or from people who no longer want them as pets, would be euthanized if they didn’t end up at Wolfwood.

“Humans breed them and then don’t want to keep them. They become problem animals when that happens,” Paula Watson said. “It’s important they have somewhere safe to be. There are a lot of good places for cats and dogs, but there are very few places that deal with wolves and wolf-dogs. Their only other option is death.”

The refuge’s most famous rescue in recent years has been “The Alaska 9” – nine wolf puppies rescued last summer from an Alaska breeder where they, and 30 other wolves, were malnourished and kept on short chains.

Now, the happy, healthy pack is nearly fully-grown and awaiting its new enclosure, which will be completed after the auction. Oakley, the largest male of the pack – standing more than 6 feet tall on his hind legs and weighing 120 pounds – will accompany the Watsons and Trinity, a seasoned “ambassador” wolf-dog, to the auction.

“We don’t get any funding from any government organization or any grants. It’s all from private donation,” Watson said. “All of the proceeds from the art auction will go directly to animal care. It will go towards vet bills, pen building and supplies needed for the animals.”

In addition to physically rehabilitating rescued animals, the refuge attempts to heal them mentally and emotionally.

“(I love) watching Paula’s interaction with these animals. She is mama wolf, their pack leader,” Kinahan said. “She’s created a safe environment where they can be wolves. She’s changing their path.”

The refuge’s second goal after rescue is to educate people about wolves. It hosts at least 25 youth and community service groups each year.

“We try to teach kids they’re not vicious animals, but they’re also not Disney animals,” Watson said. “We work very hard at education. We really try to dispel that myth and misinformation.”

Wolfwood gives educational seminars at schools, state parks and to the general public throughout the area. Part of the mission is to use education to overcome the prejudice many people have toward wolves.

Tonight’s auction will help raise awareness about Wolfwood while attracting a new audience – art lovers. Admission includes food and beverages, supplied by multiple local sponsors.

“I’m just overwhelmed by the positive response we’re getting from artists and sponsors,” Watson said. “The event is going to be amazing.”

The event is outdoors, so bring a jacket.

Margaret Hedderman is a freelance writer based in Durango. Reach her at margaretyh@gmail.com.

Willow is one of WolfWood Refuge’s “ambassador” animals who travels to schools and educational seminars. Enlarge photo

Rory Chapman/Special to the Herald

Willow is one of WolfWood Refuge’s “ambassador” animals who travels to schools and educational seminars.

– The WolfWood Refuge outside of Ignacio rescues and rehabilitates wolves and wolf-dog hybrids. Enlarge photo

Rory Chapman/Special to the Herald

– The WolfWood Refuge outside of Ignacio rescues and rehabilitates wolves and wolf-dog hybrids.