They’re often seen as the big bad wolves. They’re illegal to keep as pets in most states, and those removed from such living conditions, according to a local wolf rescue group, are predictably sent to their untimely deaths. Then there are those wolves that end up on fur farms, whose sole purpose is to die for their pelts.
Wolves, like so many kids who lash out due to abuse, neglect or abandonment, are often misunderstood, said Teo Alfero, CEO and founder of the Acton-based Wolf Connection, a nonprofit wolf rescue and human empowerment center. That’s because, he added, wolves, too, have had similar experiences with abuse, neglect and abandonment.
In “Remaking Wolf Connection,” a new documentary in two parts, filmmakers share how Alfero’s Wolf Connection is saving wolves’ lives, and saving kids, too.
“Wolves are extremely generous,” Alfero told The Signal in a recent interview. “They’re very loving and accepting, very much like a dog, but even more — they’re wilder and more primal. So, the moment that kids feel part of the wolf pack, it’s a little bit like what happens to them when they become part of a gang. They become close-knit.”
On Saturday, which was International Wolf Day, the Ecoflix streaming platform premiered the first part of “Remaking Wolf Connection.” This initial installment of the film is available as part of a subscription to the not-for-profit Ecoflix service that gives 100% of its membership fees to ongoing wildlife and conservation efforts.
Zoe Sobol, a spokeswoman for Ecoflix, said the film is called “Remaking Wolf Connection” because it covers the current expansion — the remaking, if you will — of the educational sanctuary and wilderness retreat, but it’s ultimately about the good the organization does for animals and kids alike, and the need to grow awareness and expand the work being done at Wolf Connection.
“It’s telling the story of Wolf Connection,” Sobol told The Signal, “and how important these canines — these wolves — are to the rehabilitation and the support of young people who need support in a variety of different ways, and how, actually, these canines are a really good way of working with young people to get them to engage in a way that they might not have done before.”
Wolf Connection is the creation of Alfero, who was born and raised in Argentina and is the product of parents and grandparents involved in education and legislation supporting youth development there. Alfero said he moved to California in 1999 and eventually worked with various organizations as an “interventionist for families,” teaching anti-bullying and also working as a foster care advocate, among other work he did to support teens and young adults.
Of course, Alfero has always loved animals, he added, and he rescued his first wolf in 2006. In 2010, according to his website, he started Wolf Connection as a means to provide a sanctuary for the wolves that he and his group rescues, and to help at-risk youth by way of animal/nature experience workshops and retreats that build self-esteem and encourage personal growth and spiritual awareness.
In 2015, thanks to an angel supporter and other donors, Alfero’s team purchased 165 acres in the mountains of the Angeles National Forest near Acton. Then, in fall 2021, Wolf Connection received support from David Casselman, a philanthropist and the CEO and founder of Ecoflix, to expand upon the facility, offering more free roaming for the wolves, bunk houses for summer and weekend camps, a mess hall, viewing areas for the public and more.
“Remaking Wolf Connection” somewhat chronicles this expansion. The second part of the film is still in the works and should capture the completion of the project, which Alfero expects by the end of the year, though that depends on any further delays caused by rising costs for materials, he said. Still, Alfero and Wolf Connection continue their work at hand.
According to Peter von Puttkamer, the film’s director, Wolf Connection has saved more than 80 wolves.
“These are animals that come from fur farms, where they were going to be killed for their fur, and animals from the wild that shouldn’t have been pets, basically given to someone, or animals that have been tied to a stake outside a coffee shop in Alaska and people would throw rocks at them. You know, that kind of thing.”
Puttkamer, like Alfero, also has experience with helping today’s young people. He said that’s one of the reasons he wanted to be a part of “Remaking Wolf Connection.”
“In addition to my wildlife work,” he said, “I produced films with and for Native American communities for a long time in Canada and in the States. And so, I did a lot of films on youth empowerment. Sometimes it was rediscovering their culture, connecting to medicine people and finding out about parts of their culture they hadn’t seen. So, to me, this was kind of a natural move in that direction.”
Puttkamer said he admires the work Wolf Connection is doing for wolves and young people alike, and he hopes “Remaking Wolf Connection” will create more awareness and inspire more growth for Wolf Connection.
“I really wanted to convey the fact that Wolf Connection is really doing some good work,” he said. “I mean, the people in charge can see the improvements in the kids, they can see the benefit of it. So, you have a heavy investment on the part of the educational system in California.”
Alfero said that Wolf Connection works mostly with school districts and community-based programs in the Antelope Valley, offering eight-week programs for at-risk youth. But his facility welcomes other communities and individuals in the area, including those in the Santa Clarita Valley, who are interested in taking part in his program.