About 100 miles north of Los Angeles, 19 wolf dogs from Alaska are learning how to walk and run, without being tethered to a post.
“They all have a little bit of a limp, walking up and down the hillside,” said Dr. Lorin Lindner, who runs the Lockwood Valley Animal Rescue Center. “They are walking on different terrains, walking on rocks. Their (paw) pads will stiffen up pretty quick though.”
The wolf dogs had been on display at an Anchorage-area roadside attraction, spinning in circles on their 10-foot-long chains.
Rumors swirled like snow drifts that the wolf dogs might have to be destroyed because of a criminal investigation into Wolf Park U.S.A., which charged $5 for visitors to walk alongside the animals and take pictures.
Alaska has severe restrictions on owning wolves, and the 19 captive wolf dogs’ fate was up in the air.
Wolf Park U.S.A. told CNN the wolf dogs were well treated and no laws were broken.
“Once we learned that there were 29 wolves in jeopardy, we knew we had to take action,’ said Lindner, who runs the animal sanctuary with her husband, Matt Simmons.
The couple raised money, including a generous donation from animal activist celebrity Bob Barker, and arranged for the wolf dogs to be transported to their sprawling Lockwood Valley complex a little more than two weeks ago.
Now the animals are finding their footing at the sanctuary, a system of wire holding pens accessible by dirt road in the Los Padres National Forest.
The dogs’ new home stands at 6,000 feet above sea level. It snows in winter.
“This truly is a great place for wolves to live, and it is where they used to live,” Lindner explains. “They inhabited these areas, this national forest, places that were far from humans.”
But Lindner says the wolves were hunted out of existence in these mountains.
The Alaskan wolf dogs live with other rescued hybrid wolves, and are cared for by several war veterans employed by the Lockwood Valley Animal Rescue Center.
Gregg Hill, who fired weapons at Iraqi targets from U.S. Navy vessels, stoops down between the pine trees and drab green brush and offers raw meat to one of the wolf dogs.
“It gives you inner peace,” Hill says. “You feel really good about what you are doing, knowing the situation these guys came from, and knowing that you are working with rescued animals and making their lives better. In turn it makes you feel better about your life and what you are doing.”
Lindner, a clinical psychologist, explains the rescued wolf dogs and the war veterans are both survivors. Working with animals is great therapy for warriors.
“We are finding veterans who, after working with animals, are reuniting with families,” Lindner said. “They are reintegrating into society. They are able to maintain and sustain employment.”
Though they are too wild to become pets, many have been spayed or neutered recently.
Lindner and Simmons sat and rubbed the winter-thick coat of Danny, a shy canine who walked with his tail between his legs.
“You have to get used to all these other wolves and you’re only a year and a half old,” Lindner tells Danny in a soft voice.
“Danny will probably never be a leader of the pack, an alpha male,” says Linder. “But he will be important, an omega wolf, one that watches over others. He will be a good uncle.”
Once the sun slid behind the low-slung mountains, one of the wolf dogs cocked his head back and howled.
“Here it comes,” said Simmons. “They will all join in. It’s sort of like a roll call.”
Within seconds, more than a dozen of the wolves could be heard serenading the remote valley with their howls.
And for their new caretakers, it was sort of an unchained melody, a song of celebration for the wolf dogs and their voyage from possible destruction in Alaska.