PHOTOS: A Sanctuary for Wolves

The Washington State refuge presents an arresting lesson in survival and what it means to be wild

Something has put Lonnie, who has lived at Wolf Haven for six years, on alert. Wolves can smell an odor a mile away and hear another wolf howl across four miles. “I see them as who we were, or should be,” Musselman says. “We should be more in touch with our senses and our surroundings.” Annie Marie Musselman
In the wild, wolves tend to live with up to 15 members of an extended family. But at the sanctuary, where few animals are related and many were previously abused or neglected, they don’t form packs. Riley, a timid gray wolf who died last year, came to Wolf Haven after his rescue from a backyard kennel. Annie Marie Musselman
The sanctuary, opened in 1982, has also housed red wolves, coyotes and dozens of wolf dogs. Annie Marie Musselman
Like most of the animals in the sanctuary, Shadow, a 5-year-old gray wolf who lived with a high- school security guard, is neither tame nor wild. “They’re caught between two worlds,” says Wendy Spencer, director of animal care. “Some of them cannot find a balance.” Annie Marie Musselman
Gray wolves and dogs are both members of the species Canis lupus, and when they mate, their offspring are fertile. Lonnie (left), a gray wolf that was found roaming a cemetery in Los Angeles, shares an enclosure with Meeka, a wolf-dog mix from a rescue center in the Mojave Desert. Although Meeka is spayed, “they are lovers for sure,” says Musselman. Annie Marie Musselman
Unless, of course, a raven lands in an enclosure. Annie Marie Musselman
Rocco, a gray wolf, was raised as a pet in Seattle before arriving at Wolf Haven. Annie Marie Musselman
Lonnie, a gray wolf, was found at a young age wandering around a cemetery in Los Angeles, California. He arrived at Wolf Haven International in February 2009. Annie Marie Musselman
In what seems to be a gesture of affection for the photographer, Caedus, a wolf dog, raises a paw to the fence. Annie Marie Musselman
Two gray wolves—Jesse and her partner, Shilo—play in the evening sun. Annie Marie Musselman
Situated on 80 acres in western Washington, Wolf Haven has rescued close to 170 gray wolves that belonged to breeders and roadside zoos or had no home. Annie Marie Musselman
“It’s weird to say,” observes Annie Marie Musselman, who has photographed the canids for several years, “but they are gentle.” Annie Marie Musselman
Two gray wolves—Jesse and her partner, Shilo—play in the evening sun. Annie Marie Musselman
London, a male gray wolf, stands in the moonlight at Wolf Haven. Annie Marie Musselman
An endangered Mexican Gray wolf pup is vaccinated and released back into an enclosure with his parents and siblings at Wolf Haven. Three litters of Mexican Gray pups were born this spring—the first batch since 2009. Annie Marie Musselman

There is no recess of the human consciousness that doesn’t have a canid lurking in it somewhere. In the Northern Hemisphere, wherever humans showed up, some version of the wolf was already there, challenging and informing us, shaping our perception of the world. Banded together like early humans into small, mobile clans, with similar appetites, a soulful intelligence and an organizational style that has been favored (or was it imitated?) by hunting parties, guerrillas, platoons and street gangs across time, wolves have alternately fascinated and alarmed us. How could they not? Sharing landscapes and prey, along with a capacity for appalling savagery, we kept an eye on each other, and our ancestors were struck by the similarities: In addition to working collaboratively, wolves sing and often mate for life. Recent research reveals that they can be more cooperative than dogs, they follow each others’ gaze and they communicate with facial expressions. They also scare the daylights out of us.

In all these ways, the wolf functions as a kind of companion consciousness, a wild and stealthy cousin so different from us in appearance and yet so like us in character. Annie Marie Musselman’s photographs—portraits, really—capture this duality. Seeing them makes it easier to imagine how, long ago—before agriculture, the written word and organized religion—some of these creatures were invited to cross the threshold between shadow and firelight and enter the human sphere. With that invitation, according to one scientific hypothesis, humans were able to out-hunt the Neanderthals and thus came to dominate the planet. Still, no one could have predicted the depth and empathy of our alliance with the wolf’s domesticated kin. Genomic evidence reported this year shows that domestic dogs split from wolves as early as 40,000 years ago (around the time we started making art, and thousands of years earlier than some people had thought), but the lines are still blurred in a number of breeds, including Siberian huskies. Today, the canids remain our closest link to our prehistoric selves. Our ambivalence toward them (those eyes, those teeth) resonates like an echo of that dangerous, formative time. Wolves are also a mirror; communal and bloodthirsty both, they reflect our own double-edged nature. As the saying goes, “Man is a wolf to man.”

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