Connecting with Wolves

Shadowland Foundation co-founder Colette Pondella gets kisses from wolves Alaska, back, and Alaska's daughter, Tehya, front. Katharine Lotze/Signal

Shadowland Foundation co-founder Colette Pondella gets kisses from wolves Alaska, back, and Alaska's daughter, Tehya, front. Katharine Lotze/Signalmore
Wolves Cochise, left, Teheya, center, and Alaska, right, line up for a scratch from wolf handler Antoinette LaBomme at the Shadowland Foundation in Lake Hughes. Katharine Lotze/Signalmore
Shadowland Foundation pack alphas Alaska, front, and Takoda, back, sit together in their enclosure. Katharine Lotze/Signalmore
Wolf handler Antoinette LaBomme interacts with Freedom in his enclosure. Katharine Lotze/Signalmore
Freedom rolls on his back to get a belly rub from wolf handler Antoinette LaBomme. Katharine Lotze/Signalmore
Wolf handler Antoinette LaBomme gives Freedom a belly rub. Katharine Lotze/Signalmore
Wolf Freedom gets a head scratch from Shadowland Foundation founder Colette Pondella. Katharine Lotze/Signalmore
Freedom's rear paws hang off the edge of an elevated run in his enclosure. Katharine Lotze/Signalmore
The pack's identification tags hang on a fence that surrounds Freedom's enclosure. Katharine Lotze/Signalmore
Twenty-two-month-old wolf Wahkahn stands next to handler Antoinette LaBomme in his enclosure. Katharine Lotze/Signalmore
Wahkahn, a 22-month-old wolf, greets Shadowland Foundation co-founder Colette Pondella and wolf handler Antoinette LaBomme in his enclosure. Katharine Lotze/Signalmore

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be part of a wolf pack?

Mingling with the majestic creatures is the highlight of an educational tour at the Shadowland Foundation in Lake Hughes.

The non-profit organization is home to almost a dozen wolves who have been socialized with humans since they were pups.

Alaska, a beautiful grey and white wolf, is the alpha female and surveys her domain with a regal air.

After a quick sniff of a stranger’s hand, however, Alaska is ready to be petted.

Her mate and alpha male, the striking white Takoda, is similarly curious and affectionate.

Cochise, on the other hand, is more of a behind the scenes guy, observing the action from a distance.

“He’s secret service,” said Colette Pondella with a smile. “He makes sure everything is in its place.”

Founded by Pondella and her husband Paul, Shadowland Foundation was inspired by an Alaskan timber wolf named Shadow, who was rescued from a sanctuary near Denali National Park and Preserve in 2005.

Paul Pondella, a longtime arborist and wildlife rescuer, raised Shadow from the time she was 19 days old, adding a new pup, Alaska, to the pack just 3 months later.

Shadow followed Paul Pondella around just like her name until her death from cancer in 2009.

On the same day that Shadow died, the Pondellas received a call from the same wolf sanctuary in Alaska. They had more pups.

This time, the Pondellas added a male, Takoda, to the pack. He quickly bonded with Alaska and the pair produced several pups over the years, all of whom reside at Shadowland. A few more were rescued, with the pack now topping out at ten.

During a tour, Paul Pondella will line up his pack and have guests hold a treat in their mouth or on top of their head for the wolves to retrieve.

The experience is a delight for young and old.

“I love it when I leave here. I feel totally uplifted from the serenity and the beauty,” said Heather Jackson of Lake Hughes, who comes to Shadowland Foundation at least once a month.

Her four year old daughter, Evelynn, said, “I like it when they howl and they’re so soft.”

Getting people to engage with wolves is crucial to their survival, as Collette Pondella illustrated.

“It’s hard to eradicate a creature that you’ve touched,” she said.

Wolves in the wild have been under siege for quite some time, primarily by losing their federally protected status in states where they are populous, such as Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Montana and Wyoming.

Once numbered in the millions, the current wolf population is currently estimated at approximately 5,000 across the United States, according to Collette Pondella.

“To put that into perspective, there are 5,000 coyotes in Los Angeles County alone,” she said. “Wolves are the scapegoats of the wild and that will not change until this species is not held up as man-eating creatures that devour all prey.”

To the contrary, studies have shown that wolves significantly contribute to keeping ecosystems healthy and in balance.

The video “How Wolves Change Rivers” shows that when wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park 20 years ago, animal and plant species that were in decline started to thrive again within just a few years.

Concerned about wolves continuing to lose their protection was an impetus for the Pondellas to create Shadowland Foundation.

“It’s why I built this little eco-park. It’s a footprint people can see, for family and children to enjoy,” Paul Pondella said.

“We make it fun. We want to incite a passion for this creature and save it,” Collette Pondella said.

For more information, visit www.shadowlandfoundation.org or call (661) 724-0291.

This post was last modified on January 17, 2017, 10:28 am

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