The Texas Rescue
The story of the North American Wolf Association (NAWA) has been told and retold over the years. Yet we still receive dozens of calls, letters and emails each year wanting to know what happened, and if the animals are safe. Most of us that were heavily involved in the situation in Conroe, Texas would much rather put the entire rescue in the recesses of our memories. However, the events are still clearly etched in our minds eye. Rather than re-tell the story time and time again I would like to share with you a different story. Not a story of the feuding over the dogs, money, prestige, power and notoriety that went on for well over a year, but one of new beginnings. A story about a new life for a group of animals.
Our part in the rescue began in late January, 2003 after a number of individuals had spent months investigating the NAWA organization and its director, Rae “Evening Earth” Ott. During this same period we are told that almost half of the NAWA resident animals had died horrible, lingering deaths due to complications of distemper. Ms. Ott lost possession of the “wolves” housed at the NAWA “Rez” for failure to pay the rent. The property owner evicted Ott and the custodial care of the animals was transferred to another individual. Ms. Ott was given 60 days to make full restitution and her animals would be returned to her. Restitution was never made and in time the animals were signed over to several parties including W.O.L.F. who later signed the remaining 8 animals over to us.
Along with personnel from W.O.L.F., we offered our services in hopes of getting the remaining animals vaccinated and vetted and on the road to recovery so that the animals could be placed in qualified homes or sanctuaries.
On February 1, 2003 we arrived at the “Rez” for the first time. We found a thick shroud of fog enveloping the swamp and a heavily rutted dirt road covered in stagnant water. We also arrived to find Jerry Mill’s pickup truck stuck up to its axel in the mud. We carried most of the supplies in through a quarter mile of sludge to find a collection of cages thrown together on the highest, driest spots of the “Rez”.
From the stories we had heard we expected horrid conditions and were relieved to see clean cages although many of the pens were full of puddles of stagnant surface water. Most of the cages were tiny 8x10, 10x10 or 10x20’ with roofs laden with leaves, pine needles and debris making it difficult to get any direct sunlight. Most of the cages weren’t more than 5’ high.
Yukon was found in his moldy doghouse with open sores Wascin & Lila Wi watching the rescuers with a great deal of curiosity
on his rear leg. He had licked at a painful hip until he had
Welela and Nahima huddle in a corner of their pen (above) while As Gaya
Dihi and Ahyoka cower behind their dog house in their tiny 10' x 10' cage
We had also been led to believe from reading NAWA’s website and pleas for help of one rescue or another that we would be dealing with wolves. Upon closer evaluation most of the animals were mid content wolfdogs at best. Some were misidentified un-socialized Siberian huskies. Pat Wendland of W.O.L.F., Cheryl Budler and I got to work as quickly as possible. We found some to be in fair health; however most of the wolfdogs were running fevers of 104-107°. Some had festering wounds. We found several to be heartworm positive. Most of the animals shared one thing in common, they were underweight, dehydrated and their blood work was all over the chart.
After several days of searching we were able to find a local veterinarian who would accompany us to the “Rez” and help with running the blood work and vaccinating them for rabies. Veterinarians determined that none of the animals were healthy enough to move, so we quarantined them at the Rez, arranged for new caregivers, changed their diet and medically treated them as the vet prescribed.
By the time we returned to TX in March, 2003 most of the animals were well on the way to recovery and ready to make the first step towards their new lives. At this time, two of the huskies were placed in a private home, two of the wolfdogs went to an experienced private owner, two of the high contents went back to Colorado with W.O.L.F., and some of the older animals went to Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary. The remaining 9 went to stay with Jerry and Donna Mills while their new home at Indigo Mountain was under construction. Max, a 10 year old died of complications of heartworm several weeks after arriving at the Mill’s. Although Max didn’t make it his last days were full of love and caring. The remaining 8 rebounded nicely and began to thrive on the new diet and care.
Pat Wendland had to dart some of the animals before they could While Cheryl tends to Spirit (foreground) Pat and Sue
be medically treated and moved monitor Wacipi
Animal Planet's Jeff Corwin joined us to film portions of the rescue The entire rescue team take a minute for a snapshot before the last
animals are forever removed from the "Rez"
Doug & Kathy's smiles tell it all as they transport the last animal off the property to the awaiting van
Meanwhile, back at Indigo Mountain our volunteers were hard at work getting the new habitats completed so the animals could finally be moved to Colorado.
Many of the holes had to be jackhammered. Diseased trees had to be removed
Poles had to be treated and stained Holes had to be dug and posts set
Groundwire was hog-ringed to the bottom of the fence Then the wire had to be covered
By August, 2003 their new home was ready and we made one last trip to Texas. We found the animals to be well on the way to recovery physically, yet they had a long way to go mentally. Without exception, each animal had to be chemically immobilized to load into a transport cage. As we darted one after the other, the vet gave them a quick physical exam and they were ready for one final leg of their trip.
A healthy Nahima ready for the move to their new mountain home Lila Wi watches from her cage at the Mills' as we prepare to
load the animals for their final journey to Colorado
Cheryl darts the four pack one last time prior to the move They are loaded into the transport cages and the veterinarian monitors them until it is time to load them
After a long 19 hour trip Ahyoka and As Gaya Dihi were the first to be carefully removed from the transport vehicle and carried into their new habitat. Ahyoka’s cage was unfastened first, and then Dihi’s door was opened. They each hesitated briefly, took several cautious steps and then burst away from the cage. We all sat and watched as they ran full speed around their new home, and then trotted in large circles. They leaped over felled trees, and curiously investigated the stock tank full of fresh, clean water. They climbed in and on top of their new house and only after deciding they were safe, secure and at home they laid down in the shade of a pine tree and watched as we moved on to release the rest of them.
Lila Wi and Wascin were next. Lila Wi leaped from her transport cage immediately and continued to lope up and down the hillside for quite some time while her sister, Wascin made a beeline for the stock tank. She leaped into it, splashing and dancing in the water and then leaped out to follow Lila Wi. It didn’t take Wascin long before she hollowed out the dirt under an old tree stump and laid down to rest.
Next came the final four, Yana Usdi, Welela, Aiyana and Nahima. The four transport cages were set side by side in the shade. As each cage was opened the girls looked to Yana for guidance. As he nudged the door wide open and trotted down the hill, the girls followed. They packed together for security for quite some time as they investigated an outcropping of boulders at the bottom of their new habitat. Then they began to run the fence line to the top of the hill and stop to look at all the volunteers gazing at them. They no longer had the scared, confused look in their eye.
In the days that followed their release the animals continued to grow calmer and more at ease in their new surroundings. They quietly listened to the rest of the Indigo Mountain residents as they serenaded the new pack. After several days they each tentatively tilted their heads back and joined in the chorus.
Ahyoka As Gaya Dihi
At the time of this writing all of the animals have settled in and seem to be thriving and happy. Wascin was diagnosed with glaucoma in 2004. We attempted to treat the painful condition but eventually, she lost her eyesight completely and the veterinarian recommended removal of both eyes to lessen the painful pressure. Wascin is doing very well. Her senses of smell and hearing have become even more acute since losing her sight. With a little special care, a lot of peppermint extract sprinkled on the corners of her doghouse and obstacles in her path she has learned to maneuver very well.
Lila Wi has found herself a mate. Taza, a high content wolfdog has been an excellent playmate and has helped Lila Wi learn to trust again.
As Gaya Dihi is no longer found huddling in the corner of his 10x10’. He happily resides with Yepa and Shamus. They can be found chasing one another throughout their habitat. Still wary of some humans Dihi prefers to watch caregivers from a distance, yet readily greets us at the fence for his chicken each night. When Yepa is belly up in Sue's lap, Dihi often approaches for a quick pet or lick. He has become more social as time goes by.
Yana Usdi no longer bluff charges at people or stands guard over his harem of girls. Instead, he lazily watches as we play with Welela. Always the hummingbird flitting around teasingly. Aiyana fulfills her role as alpha of the pack. Always keeping order. She is intrigued by her human caregivers. She comes close enough to sniff a hand, yet doesn’t invite one-on-one attention as of yet. Nahima desperately wants to trust humans, yet Aiyana always keeps her sister just out of reach.
Sadly, Ahyoka suffered a stroke in April, 2007. She rebounded throughout the next few months and received the extra care she needed, but soon she seemed to be disoriented more often and her health began to decline. In mid July, 2007 she suffered another debilitating stroke. This time there was no recovery and we made the very difficult decision to euthanize her.
Each day is a new adventure to each of the Texas animals. They have put their past behind them and are clearly on the road to trusting humans again.
Anyone involved with the rescue of animals will tell you it is a roller coaster ride full of painful headaches and giant rewards. The NAWA rescue was full of both. It tested each and every one of us. It pushed us to the limit emotionally and physically. It consumed the better part of 2003 and opened many eyes to the plight of sanctuaries across the country. It was also a very painful reminder of the lengths that some will go to in their exploitation of animals and illustrated perfectly the greediness of the human race.
Regardless of everything we all went through, we kept our promise. The animals are safe, happy and healthy and teaching us something each day.
As Gaya Dihi passed away in December 2011
In 2013 we lost Nahima (at 13 yrs old), Lila Wi (at 14 years old), Welela (at 14 years old) and Aiyana (at 13 yrs old)
The following year Yana Usdi passed away just a few months short of his 15th birthday.
Two years later Wascin passed away at 17 years old