LIMINGTON — A woman who has kept wolves on her property for 22 years will be questioned by Maine Warden Service investigators today for operating without permits.

The warden service learned Tuesday that Brenda Foster lacked permits after The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram went to her wolf sanctuary to do a feature story.

Wolves are an endangered species in every state in the continental U.S. except Minnesota.

In Maine, anyone who keeps a pure-blooded wolf must have a state permit and must have educational or rehabilitative purposes for keeping the wolf, said Christine Fraser, animal welfare veterinarian for the Maine Department of Agriculture.

Foster opened her Runs With Wolves Sanctuary in 1988 and has devoted the past two decades to helping wolves that she says were found living in captivity and neglected or abused.

She collects donations of raw meat to ensure that the wolves have a high-protein diet and sells photographs of her pack to help pay veterinary bills. She also offers tours to the public.

“It’s my life,” Foster said Monday.

On Tuesday, she said the sanctuary has operated without a federal permit because of the costly process of obtaining one.

“Why we have nothing is about money. We can’t raise an awful lot of money. It’s such a problem supporting these animals. We pay their medical bills, and they could not be healthier,” Foster said. “We had to look at the health cost and feeding them.”

It was unclear Tuesday what fines or punishment the warden service might give Foster because wardens had not investigated her case.

A district game warden and a regional biologist have known about Foster’s facility but thought she had a permit. Maj. Greg Sanborn of the warden service did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

Foster has five pure wolves, including one named Timber that lives in her house.

She said her wolves have come to her from places where their quality of life was unhealthy, but provided no other details other than one wolf was from Vermont.

Four of the wolves live in large cage pens, with a male and a female sharing one pen where they play and bound around. Timber comes out of Foster’s home on a leash to meet visitors, though it is wary and pulls back.

Foster said she takes in the wolves to rescue them from situations in which they might be used to breed for wolf-hybrid kennels.

“All you have to do is look in Uncle Henry’s to find wolf-hybrid breeders. It’s a popular trade. And they get good money, from $800 to $2,000,” Foster said.

Fraser, Maine’s animal welfare veterinarian, said Maine is one of the few states that allow wolf hybrids to be kept as pets without permits. She agreed with Foster that there are problems with wolf hybrids in Maine.

“They’re a rabies risk,” she said. “A normal shelter is not going to take a wolf hybrid. They’re not an adoptable dog.”

Good intentions aside, Foster’s sanctuary for wolves requires oversight from the state, Fraser said.

The owner of an educational wolf sanctuary in Ipswich, Mass., was shocked to hear that Foster was operating a wolf sanctuary without permits. “The state is remiss,” said Joni Saffron, owner of Wolf Hollow, which has operated since 1988.

Saffron said her facility has three permits that are renewed annually.

“I’ve never heard of anyone having pure wolves on their property without a permit,” she said. “We have an exhibitors permit, so people can visit. We have a federal permit from the USDA. I respect the work she’s putting into it. I’m totally surprised she is unlicensed.”

 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: [email protected]