Wendy Spencer expected to see considerable debris and destruction when walking into work in late January, after a snow and ice storm had ravaged Thurston County.
What the Wolf Haven International animal curator didn’t expect to see were wolf footprints in the snow. The cyclone fencing for one of the 27 enclosures had been flattened, and its two inhabitants were nowhere to be found.
“Moving around, I could hear growling in the back part, which isn’t normal when you walk in,” Spencer said. “All the wolves were focused in that direction; then I saw the tracks. I just had to figure out who escaped and where they were.”
It happened to be Lonnie and Meeka, a pair of wolves who found their way to an area that could be blocked off while staffers franticly patched the enclosure.
The Tenino-area sanctuary, which is home to 51 wolves, reopened Saturday after more than two months of cleanup work.
Executive Director Diane Gallegos said 20 inches of snow fell over Wolf Haven International during the storm, mixing with heavy ice that broke off trees limbs, damaging 24 of the enclosures. The perimeter fencing was undisturbed, meaning no wolves could have escaped.
“Huge oak trees that stood for decades were split like little match sticks,” Spencer said. “Walking through was just so overwhelming.”
Staffers patrolled the sanctuary as more and more limbs cracked and fell, ensuring the wolves did not escape. None of the wolves was harmed.
Gallegos said the facility generally closes in February for breeding. That process became more complicated this year with the cleanup effort.
“We typically try to keep people out and keep things quiet during that time,” Gallegos said. “There was such significant damage that we worked with the fencing folks and arborists, and had them both there at the same time.”
Gallegos said they bred a pair of red wolves and a pair of Mexican gray wolves as part of what’s called the Species Survival Plan. They won’t find out until April whether the added stresses affected the animals’ breeding success.
Crews from South Gate Fence came in twice a week along with arborists from Moore Trees on Mondays to clear pathways and fix enclosures. About 100 volunteers pitched in over the weeks, including a crew from The Home Depot that helped repair cedar fencing and repair wolf shelters.
“To have to close those weeks in January and additional weeks in March – that was rough for us,” Gallegos said. “We did get some donations, and that was really nice. We had folks from all over send in checks that enabled us to pay bills for the tree removal and fencing.”
Gallegos said the storm caused $50,000 in damage.