Mary Kindred has a birthday coming up, and her co-workers are whispering among themselves as to what to get her. Mary gets wind of the whispering and puts an end to the speculation: “I’d rather you get something for the animals.”
When Mary, director of Wolf Run Wildlife Refuge in Nicholasville, opened the facility in 1994, she was told she “couldn’t save the whole world.” Since then, she has spent every waking minute—and every dime she has—proving them wrong.
Wolf Run is an educational facility, open to the public, that rescues abandoned, injured, or confiscated wildlife. Residents here run the gamut, from exotic animals—monkeys, lions, fallow deer, llamas, cougars, and wolves—to rabbits and chickens.
With her hair hastily shoved off her face and an old barn jacket on, Mary darts from cage to cage checking on her special charges. It’s not an easy job meeting the physical and emotional needs of so many different species. Between a lioness who eats 20 pounds of fresh meat a day, a wolf puppy who demands a belly rub every time someone walks by, and an injured animal hooked up to an IV drip, well, there’s no such thing as free time.
But it’s worth it to Mary, who says, “It takes special people to do this kind of job—not everyone can find tenderness in their hearts for a cougar! But we should realize animals are gifts to us all, and we all must step up to the plate.”
The special people Mary refers to are the volunteers at Wolf Run. Unpaid and willing to work in any kind of weather, Mary gives them the credit for the successes of Wolf Run, saying, “No way could this be done without them.”
But the work is its own reward, says Beverly McChesney, a volunteer at Wolf Run for six years. “This is the last stop for most of these animals, they will live out their lives here. They all have a story, and we want to share those stories.”
The white-tailed deer at Wolf Run are one such story. Many of these deer were injured and brought to Wolf Run to be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. Other deer are blind and have other physical disabilities, and will remain at the sanctuary.
It was these deer that began a new goal for Wolf Run, to make the grounds handicapped-accessible. Children with handicaps are captivated by the blind deer, empathizing with them, and finding comfort in animals who are also handicapped, yet lead a happy, satisfying life. And of those deer too shy to approach an adult, many of them will make a beeline for the kids who come to see them.
If you visit Wolf Run, you’ll have no trouble picking out one particular deer, Piglet. He’s the one pushing his way to the front of the line to be patted. Piglet will never be released in the wild: “He just likes people too darn much,” Mary says with a sigh.
The volunteers at Wolf Run cannot help but have their favorites. Shannon Ferguson, who’s been with Wolf Run for seven years, turns quickly at the “Wah!” sound coming from a nearby cage. “That’s Kenya, begging for attention,” she says, smiling. “She’s made an incredible comeback since she’s been here.”
Kenya is a South American puma, or cougar. Kenya had been kept for years in a garage as a pet; she was declawed, her teeth purposely broken off, and severely malnourished from a diet of nothing but canned cat food.
While Kenya will always be a little smaller than normal, she has put on 30 pounds since arriving at the sanctuary, regained the luster in her coat, and purrs voraciously at the sight of Shannon.
Wolf Run can boast many of these success stories, like Nibbles, a rabbit given up by her owners. She had been kept in a bird cage, and came to the facility moth-eaten and thin.
In the monkey cage there is Kaysie, a guenon monkey who was raised on a bottle by Mary; and Beta Marie, a stump-tail macaque who has lived to a very old 36 years at the sanctuary. And we can’t forget Squeakers, the young mountain lion rescued from an abusive roadside petting zoo.
Others are success stories in the making. A large, black, dignified wolf named Sage is a prime example for the existence of Wolf Run. Sage came to the sanctuary abused, neglected, and malnourished. He had lived for years on a heavy logging chain—the collar later had to be surgically removed—with his only food being scraps some kind neighbors gave him.
Incredibly, after all his suffering, Sage is still able to trust people, showing a quiet affection for those who care for him. Sage’s rescuer, Karen Hendren, also a Wolf Run volunteer, has a special affinity for this large wolf : she and Sage enjoy a bond not often found between animals and mankind. Even his two wolf roommates recognize he is special: when they include Sage in their rough-housing, they are gentler, and mindful of his injured leg—Sage was recently diagnosed with bone cancer.
Then there’s Holly, a 4-month-old wolf hybrid that charms everyone with her exuberance and love of life. She’s also the epitome of why keeping wolves as pets is a mistake.
“Wolf hybrids do not make good pets—they’re wolves, plain and simple,” Beverly says emphatically. The playfulness and energy of a wolf puppy is easy to fall in love with, but that will change in time. As the wolf puppy grows up, he will become more aloof, possibly aggressive, and unhappy at being confined. Too many people find out the hard way that a wolf is no pet, and have to give them up. If these animals are lucky, they will be placed in a sanctuary where they can be cared for properly by a trained staff. But they can never live as they were meant to: in the wild.
When you’re running a 13-acre facility full of needy animals, funds are a constant nail-biter. Currently, the refuge is raising funds to buy a used van to transport animals, and to build roofs over the new cougar runs. And there is a never-ending need for basic medical supplies, tools, fencing, volunteer labor, and fresh fruit, meat, and vegetables.
Ever on the lookout for ways to fund the sanctuary, Mary is nonetheless quick to note the generosity of people. Two large cages were recently donated anonymously; and two visitors were so taken by Beta Marie, the macaque, they donated the funds to build a new primate habitat with a large yard. “We’ve absolutely been blessed,” say Mary. And she can’t say enough good things about the vet who helps them all he can.
Visit Wolf Run and you’ll find as many characters as there are animals. There’s Sam, whose life-saving operation was funded by emergency donations in the community; Tubby, the pot-bellied pig; R.B., the truck-riding rooster (“and the meanest thing on the place,” Mary says wryly); Noah the llama, who insists on personally greeting all who come here; Sicilian donkeys; and La Mancha goats. Some are only visiting. Others will always be in the care of Wolf Run.
A visit to Wolf Run is a journey to a world most of us don’t get to see. But once you’ve been there, you’ll never forget the love and care that’s so abundant.
Just look out for R.B.
How You Can Help
Volunteer: This is the place for you if you enjoy animals, the outdoors, and physical labor. Not only do the animals need to be seen to, there’s always fencing to be replaced, repairs to be made, and yard work.
Buy the Book: Wolf Run has compiled a comprehensive cookbook, Chicken Poodle Soup, that can be purchased from the sanctuary for $16.00 plus shipping and handling, or contact them for places that carry the book.
Financial Donations: If you are unable to volunteer time or labor, financial donations are greatly appreciated. Wolf Run is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization; donations are tax-deductible.
Donate Supplies: Wolf Run is always in need of cleaning supplies, towels and blankets, lumber, yard tools, hay and sweet feed, fresh meats (no pork, please) and vegetables, and power tools.
Have a Look: As an educational facility, Wolf Run is a great place to view animals you may not otherwise get to see. The staff are happy to tell you about each animal, and answer any questions. The sanctuary is open, weather permitting, on Saturdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., or weekdays for groups of 10 or more; admission is $3 per person.