Shy Wolf grew out of Nancy and Kent Smith’s dream and commitment to help neglected, abandoned or abused captive bred and unreleasable wild-born exotic animals. With help from Michael Kloman and Deanna Deppen, this unique facility was officially founded in 2001 with a mission to reconnect people and animals through education.
“There was a true need for a place like ShyWolf,” said Deanna Deppen, President of Shy Wolf Sanctuary. “There are a lot of places out there that will rescue big cats and bears, but there aren’t as many places that rescue wolf dogs. We focus on captive and unreleased breeds because most zoos will not take them. You can’t keep them because it’s not legal, you can’t release them, and you can’t kill them… so what do you do? The first animal that they got was from a Big Cat facility and Nancy had told them that their Black Asian Leopard wasn’t in a safe enclosure.”
The leopard shared a cage wall with a cougar and when the leopard tried to paw at the cougar through the chain link fence, the cougar amputated the leopard’s leg.
According to Community Foundation of Collier County (CFCC), Shy Wolf has rescued or assisted in the rescue of hundreds of animals nationwide. Volunteers rescue, rehabilitate and provide sanctuary to these exotic animals; build enclosures, clean and maintain the facility; as well as share their love and knowledge of the animals with surrounding Southwest Florida communities through outreach and educational programs.
“It can be a huge undertaking,” Deppen said. “Sometimes we have to catch them, sedate them, provide basic vet care, get them in crates, train them, help rescue them and find a home out of state for them. Sometimes we don’t get any help from the family; sometimes we do. Sometimes it’s an animal chained with no water in high temperatures. We get them through shelters or they escape.”
According to CFCC, the resident animals at Shy Wolf have a lifelong impact on people they encounter: those headed down the wrong path find hope and opportunity to make new decisions, scouts learn leadership skills and teamwork, and even depression and loneliness can be combatted through volunteering. Shy Wolf relates the animals to people by emphasizing a balanced ecosystem, our impact on each other and our role in their survival through rescue stories and lessons learned.
“We use the animals to relate to people and teach them life lessons like kindness, responsibility, stewardship, moving on and letting things go,” Deppen said. “If we hold onto things, we can’t move forward. The animals mirror people, they seem to have the same emotions we do. Some animals are so traumatized, but the ones who can let go of the past, can move forward, be happy and be adopted. We had a 15-year-old wolf dog who we gave some pups to raise and suddenly she had a purpose and a desire to live after that. We have a lot of people who come to the sanctuary who are fearful of dogs and animals and may not want to come in, but that holds you back from the experience. Most people realize that there’s nothing to be afraid of and let that go.”
According to CFCC, tens of thousands of guests have learned about exotic animals, both in captivity and the wild, and they leave finding that their own mind, body and spirit has gone through a transformation. Although Shy Wolf Sanctuary only serves counties in Southwest Florida, it is internationally recognized as a travel destination and has attracted guests from all over the world.
“It’s amazing,” said Kristen Weeden, who was visiting her sister from Loggersville, New York. “The animals are absolutely beautiful. We walked through and Nancy told us about the animals and their stories and how they came to her. I would recommend people coming out to the sanctuary to see these beautiful animals.”
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