LIMINGTON – The wooden flute Brenda Foster began playing on her back deck in the woodlands of western Maine was for her own inner peace. But what next surrounded her brought an even bigger smile.
“They started singing,” she said of her pack of five wolves.
Since 1988, Foster has kept pure wolves that she found in unhealthy domestic situations. She said wolves should not be made pets or used for breeding, which is why she said she’s saved them.
However, last week the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife discovered Foster was operating her wolf sanctuary for more than 20 years without the proper permits.
Now she possibly faces fines and the cost of upgrading her facility, which could be significant. State wildlife biologist Judy Camuso in Gray said the Warden Service may help “walk her through” the process of permitting.
That would be a happy ending for wolf fans and Foster, who has built a life around her pack.
Wolves are endangered in 47 of the 48 continental states. But wolf-dog hybrids are legal to keep as pets in a few states, Maine being one. That’s the reason Foster’s Runs With Wolves Sanctuary exists.
By educating the public about wolves and taking in those she said had been kept as pets, Foster hopes to discourage the selling of wolf-dog hybrids.
She said the cult following behind wolf-dogs has resulted in too many sad stories of abused, abandoned or poorly cared for animals that are not appropriate as pets. They’re too wild.
Christine Fraser, the Maine Department of Agriculture’s animal welfare veterinarian, who is in charge of permits for wolf-hybrid breeders, also said it’s not a suitable pet.
“It’s not an adoptable dog, even if it’s 80 percent dog. They have nowhere to go but a shelter. So I guess it is a problem,” Fraser said.
Apparently, it is a relatively low-profile problem. Fraser said pure-wolf sanctuaries like Foster’s are rare.
The nearest one, in Ipswich, Mass., exists for the same reasons as Foster’s, but it is licensed.
“It’s a way of life doing this. I respect the work she’s putting into it. I am totally surprised she is unlicensed,” said Joni Saffron, director of the similar but permitted facility, Wolf Hollow.
Foster maintains she was not trying to operate outside the law, only provide a good home to her wolves, which share with visitors “their own energy.”
She said after the care she gave her pack she couldn’t afford the permitting process.
“We can’t raise an awful lot of money. It’s been so costly. We’re not a shelter. We don’t take them in and adopt them out. We just give them a life,” Foster said.
The three wolf pens at her sanctuary are on a 25-acre woodlot with shade and stumps and rocks and the natural features found in wolf country, such as Minnesota, Canada and Alaska.
Three of Foster’s five wolves are affectionate and playful, jumping up like puppies, rolling over for a belly scratch and nibbling a stranger’s chin, as the canines do in a pack.
The other two pace, hop and act otherwise aloof and reticent toward humans.
Their thick coats of varied hues, intense eyes and commanding glances make it easy to see how desirable a wolf mix could be as a pet, from an aesthetic viewpoint.
But in an instant, Foster’s domesticated wolves can revert to their naturally wild ways, and she said that’s the danger in creating a wolf mix.
A male named Timber that was rescued from an apartment and only had known inside living was paired with the female Tazlina that resides outside.
But volunteer Danielle Adams said once outside, the male showed a different, perhaps more innate, behavior.
Taking raw meat off the ground, Adams said, Timber was ready to fight for it, as the wolf would in a wild pack.
“They rolled in a wolf ball and you could hear them,” said Adams, of Parsonsfield.
The wildness of these wolves is what the sanctuary’s devoted volunteers love.
“I need my wolf fix,” sanctuary vice president Christina Fossum said with a smile.
As it is now, the future of Runs With Wolves Sanctuary hangs in the balance as the Warden Service sorts through the unique case of the longstanding facility and its surprising lack of permitting.
“I know the USDA requires (a certain) cost per animal. We still had to look at the cost of keeping them healthy and feeding them,” Foster said.
“We never had the funding. Here we are between a rock and a hard place.”
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: