On a warm summer morning, my wife and I went to spend time with Uncle Frodo and his nephews, Lucas and Lincoln.
Did I mention that they’re gray wolves?
No, we weren’t on the frontier, like some latter-day Kevin Costner. We were just outside the lovely town of Lititz, at the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania.
The wolves looked pretty comfortable sleeping on the ground, but I was glad for the fence. We were told that warm, humid central PA summers are not ideal for the animals, which tend to become lethargic. They much prefer cooler weather, when they become more active.
According to Denny Binkley, a volunteer tour guide, the sanctuary was founded in the 1980s by the Darlington family, which wanted to offer a home for unwanted wolves. He said that the numbers vary, but, at the time of our visit, 47 wolves were there, a mix of full-blooded wolves and hybrid wolf-dogs.
“Lots of people want a wolf,” Binkley said. “After all, they say ‘it’s just a dog.’ But try keeping one in a condo. People can’t take care of their wolf once it grows to be more than just an adorable little pup. Fortunately, there are between 12 to 15 sanctuaries around the country that help out by taking in the wolves given up by their owners.”
Educate the Public
The Lititz sanctuary houses the “Speedwell wolves,” named for Speedwell Forge, an 18th-century iron forge in northern Lancaster County.
The forge closed in the mid-19th century. Later, the land housed a horse training area and a dairy farm. It’s been in the Darlington family since the 1940s, and portions now make up Speedwell Forge County Park and Speedwell Forge Lake.
The homestead, the historic Speedwell Forge Mansion, is today a bed and breakfast with three guest rooms with private baths in the main house. There are also two private cottages with eat-in kitchens and fireplaces.
“We bill it as 18th-century luxury with 21st-century comfort,” said owner Dawn Darlington.
Much of the rest of the original property is set aside for the wolves. Over the years, the sanctuary has grown into an extensive educational facility, offering guided tours to educate the public about gray wolf conservation.
“We also have an adoption program, so guests can support the wolves annually by purchasing a package which includes a personalized certificate, professional photo of the wolf, a letter from the wolf detailing its history, a welcome letter from the founder, and facts and information about wolves in general,” said Educational Coordinator Michelle Mancini.
The last wild wolf in Pennsylvania died around 1850. An average wolf lives four to eight years in the wild, but 11 to 18 years in captivity. In the wild, hunger can be a significant issue, but that’s definitely not a problem at the Wolf Sanctuary.
“One of the projects we are most proud of is the construction of our wolf kitchen—an indoor food storage and preparation building with three walk-in freezers containing the wolves’ meals,” Mancini said. “Food for the wolves is raw meat, uncooked and unprocessed. Many times, we get raw meat from food banks or we may even use road kill if it’s tested to make sure it’s disease-free. The meat is frozen, then sawed up into frozen chunks and fed to the wolves.”
The sanctuary is a nonprofit facility that gets no federal or state funding, so it relies on money generated by tours, events and programs. It offers guided tours several times per week to educate the public about gray wolf conservation. Once each month is the “Full Moon” event, typically held between 7:30 and 10 p.m. on the Saturday evening nearest to the full moon, featuring a bonfire, live entertainment and self-guided tours. This is the only event at the sanctuary in which attendees must be 16 or older.
“As we continue to grow, we plan to work towards our more long-term projects such as an on-site veterinary care facility,” said Mancini.
The Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania is located at 465 Speedwell Forge Rd., Lititz. For more information, call 717-626-4617 or visit www.wolfsanctuarypa.org.
The Speedwell Forge Bed and Breakfast is also located at 465 Speedwell Forge Rd., Lititz. For more information, call 717-626-1760 or visit www.speedwellforge.com.