Behind the Scenes: Walking with the Wolves of WHAR

I walked into our first project assignment day a little nervous. We were getting placed into the groups we’d spend our entire quarter working with and pitching story ideas for our first project.

We grouped up and Candice Kelchner and Lauren Pluim joined me in my corner. Alejandra Garcia was unavailable that day, but regardless, we jumped right in.

To be honest, I didn’t think any of my own ideas were that impressive, but after our group ice breaker and we went around pitching ideas to each other, my WHAR Wolf Rescue story stood out. I was a little concerned about Alejandra’s missing voice in the decision, but who wouldn’t want to hang out with wolves? Overall, the idea went over well with the entire group and the professor.

So  off we went, taking care of our initial tasks. Mine being reaching out to the owner of WHAR, Kristi Krutsinger to ask if we could do the story and establish a relationship with her.

She was very open to the idea and provided me with lots of tips and instructions as well as some preliminary information about the wolves and hybrids.

“Great!” I thought to myself. “I love it when things fall into place. This will go so smoothly.” And it did…for the most part.

I continued on with my background research, gaining the community’s perspective through face-to-face conversations and social media and stalking their facebook page’s comments. I came to the conclusion that most people have no idea this place exists, much less that it provides tours and opportunities to interact and feed the wolves and wolf/ dog hybrids. And if those I asked did know about it, it wasn’t much.

Four days into our project, on Friday,  we head up to the location. We had not been able to reach Kristi to let her know we were coming, so we were a little hesitant. As it turns out, the rescue was closed, but luckily Kristi came out to talk to us and rescheduled for Monday.

Another thing we were concerned about was the donation that Kristi had mentioned a few times prior. While we respect the rescue and all it’s doing and would love to do what we can to help them out, we knew that providing money to the subject of a working story is unethical. We were worried that if she did not understand our ethical restriction, it may harm our opportunity to talk with her.

I attempted to call Kristi to clarify this before we returned but never got a response, so we decided to wing it and hope for the best. Come Monday, we all pack our equipment, bought some raw chicken drumsticks and headed up to the rescue.

We walked up to the outer gate and were met with a large, beautiful white wolf who was staring at us contently from his large, grassy pin. We waited a while and no one came, so we opened the outer gate and walked in around the gated area that held the white wolf. There was another in there with him, but much smaller and a lot less wolf-like. We began documenting the animals while we waited for Kristi, who came out a few minutes later.

The tour was amazing. We went pin to pin of each of the nine wolf or wolf/ dog hybrid and got the overview of each. Watching the wolves interact with each other, react to us, and respond to Kristi was such a cool experience. Seeing wolves up close is such a rare opportunity, and WHAR provides the opportunity as well as the education that the public needs to better understand these creatures.

After meeting the wolves and hybrids, we were able to feed them the raw chicken legs we brought.  Garcia and I volunteered to do the feeding. Garcia went first, the brave soul. She fed the alpha, a hybrid named Shiloh. He was so well-behaved and received the food very politely.

Then I got to feed Chiefy, a full blood Timber wolf and man could he JUMP. I was able to step up on a little platform, raise my right hand up to the top of a 6 foot fence and Chiefy lept up and clung onto the fence, reaching his nose through the chain link and taking the chicken from my hand.

We continued feeding the rest of the pack while Pluim and Kelchner had their camera going the whole time. Pluim was recording video and audio, getting the whole tour and a stand up interview at the end. She was able to get great nat sounds and awesome shots of the wolves and wolf/dog hybrids.

“Going into this project, I wasn’t sure what angle I was going to take with the video,” said Pluim. “Kristi presented us with a lot of good material to work with so it was difficult but ultimately I decided to talk about how wolves are unique from dogs and the unique personalities of the wolves from the shelter. The editing process went smoothly, the only really challenging part was picking out and finding the quotes.”

Kelchner was taking shots for her interactive aspect of the project, documenting each wolf and hybrid as well as all of our interactions with them.

“When we visited WHAR, I knew going in that I wanted to capture the relationship between Kristi Krutsinger and the full blood and hybrid wolves that she cares for,” said Kelchner. “I tried depicting this through close up shots and wider framed angles to illustrate the love and dedication she has for her job. Additionally, each full blood and hybrid wolf has their own story and I knew that I wanted a picture of each of them to share it with others,”

Garcia was our written word role. She recorded the audio for the whole tour and asked some questions toward the end.

“This story has been both exciting and challenging to piece together,” said Garcia. “There is so much great and resourceful information and it’s difficult to pick through it all and decide what needs to be relayed to our readers.”

Overall, this story was an opportunity for us to go out of our element and spend some time with beautiful animals that sometimes get a really bad reputation. But that’s the whole points of WHAR, to educate the public and show just how intelligent, civil and respectful they are. But it’s important to remember that they are still wild animals.

“These animals are amazing if you put the time in with them,” Krutsinger said. “But they’re still wild animals, or part wild animals and they can do unpredictable things and you cannot blame them for that. They have to be able to be themselves or else they’ll be broken. And a broken animal becomes a dangerous animal.”