A sanctuary is typically considered a safe place, a shelter during troubling times. Located in Tenino, Wolf Haven International is a special sanctuary, one which provides a permanent refuge for wolves that were born in captivity and have nowhere to go. One of the goals of Wolf Haven is to provide an environment where wolves can recover and find their wild identity once again or even for the first time. The sanctuary believes in securing the wolves’ welfare, but its restorative effect is often felt by visitors and volunteers who sometimes find themselves in the quiet acres of woods and fields surrounding the wolves’ forever home.
Traci Main is one such person. For years, she was the first parent at her children’s school to volunteer as a chaperone for the fifth-grade class’s trip to Wolf Haven. When her youngest child finished fifth grade, Main realized she needed to maintain a connection with Wolf Haven for her own sake.
“I loved the tours. The staff would explain wolf behavior, conservation activities, and the need for wolf sanctuaries. I didn’t want to leave. Each time I went on a tour, the feeling got stronger. I finally said to myself, ‘I could do that,’” Main explains.
Main had previous experience as a volunteer working with a greyhound rescue organization. But her duties there were limited to participating in the transportation of the dogs and caring for foster dogs until an owner was located. The role of a volunteer at Wolf Haven, on the other hand, is a huge job. The sanctuary provides lifetime care for the wolves. The organization expects its volunteers to follow the protocols and practices for managing the sanctuary, but most of all it expects volunteers to communicate the message of wolf conservation to the public.
Main never looked back. She took the basic training materials of information and background about the resident grey wolves, red wolves and Mexican grey wolves and developed her own unique approach, which she tailors to each of her groups. A veteran tour guide, she has led over 300 tours during the last five years.
Main intimately knows many of the 66 wolves and wolf-dog hybrids on the premises. Wolf Haven is a hands-off refuge, which means that no one — staff, volunteers, or visitors — is allowed to socialize with the wolves. Staff may talk softly to the wolves during feeding time, but no one can touch the wolves. Protecting the inherent wildness of their inhabitants is the core value of the sanctuary. Main understands the stipulations of Wolf Haven, but she confesses that sometimes she is not so sure the wolves follow the rules on their side of the fence.
“I do have a favorite. His name is London, and he is considered a victim of the film industry. People tried training him to be vicious, but he wasn’t a very good actor. That’s how we got him. He’s the big white wolf in the first enclosure on the tour. I don’t talk about him any differently, but I think he knows he is special to me,” she says with a smile.
“The wolves are fed large chunks of meat that are tossed into their areas,” Main explains. “The large black ravens sometimes swoop in and try to grab a piece of the meat. Well, one day London caught one. he caught a raven by grabbing it out the air.”
“I was trying to give my tour, and some kids were laughing during my talk. I turned around, and London was carrying the raven in his mouth and waving it towards me. He paced up and down against the fence. He was,” Main struggles with laughter as she describes, “…he was strutting back and forth showing off. I had to ignore him.”
“I finished that tour and started another one. When I came to London’s enclosure again, the kids stared at the fence and got really quiet. I turned around. London had stripped all of the feathers off the raven’s body and was carrying a bird that looked just liked a Thanksgiving turkey. I gave up. I had to laugh,” Main continues.
Main is clearly thankful for her job as a volunteer tour guide. It has given her a place to share her passion for conservation of not only wolves but also all animals in general. She is now working on a Wildlife Rehabilitation Certificate program. Upon completion Main will have the opportunity to care for injured wildlife in a rehabilitation center, create educational programs to raise awareness about wildlife, advocate for animals that cannot defend themselves and assist in the management of human-wildlife conflicts.
Madison Chase, Main’s daughter, remembers her mom’s interest in Wolf Haven during her fifth-grade field trip. “It’s really cool to learn about the populations of wolf packs from my mom. It’s cool to see her passion about them and how she thinks about the problems the wolves face. I’m happy that she has something so important to her.”
Erik Wilber, an animal care specialist working at Wolf Haven, agrees with Chase’s assessment. “Traci is the most dedicated, best tour guide we have. She is one of the volunteers who train others and has become the one who trains the public,” Wilber says.
Ultimately, that is Main’s role as a tour guide at Wolf Haven. She trains the public. By the time her groups come to appreciate her deep knowledge of wolf behavior, her love for London, the white wolf (who apparently loves her back), and her gentle, patient nature as she explains the stories that brought the wolves to the sanctuary, she has created more ambassadors to go back to the community and talk about the wolves. But sometimes, for reasons unknown to the staff and volunteers at Wolf Haven, the wolves decide to speak for themselves.
“There is no way to predict when they will howl,” Main says with a catch in her voice. “One starts and then another joins in, and soon the air is vibrating around you. The hair on my arms always stands straight up. I stop talking then. I let the wolves say everything that needs to be said.”
Visits to Wolf Haven International are by reservation only. Reserve your spot for a 50-minute walking tour of the wolves and their habitats on a Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. Ticket prices and tour times can be found at online. Wolf Haven International is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that has worked for wolf conservation since 1982.