Between Wildness and Domestication: Wolf Mountain Sanctuary


August 11, 2016 by katmcdaniel

Humans are fascinated by wildness, but interaction with humans changes a wild animal permanently. Where do such animals find a home?

WMS 2013 04 27 BALTO Relaxed

Tonya Littlewolf runs Wolf Mountain Sanctuary in Lucerne Valley, located in the southern Mojave Desert in California. She makes a home here for wolves whose lives have been threatened by humans. Most have been raised as pets, only to be discarded when they grew too big, too hard to control and too expensive to feed. A wolf that has lived with humans does not become a tame dog, neither is that animal wild anymore. These wolves, if released from their sanctuary, would approach humans in search of food. Sooner or later, that kind of behavior will get an animal killed, especially a large predator that stirs a mythological fear in human beings.

Born in New Mexico of Chiricahua Mescalero Apache and Sicilian heritage, Tonya was introduced to wild animals at a young age and developed strong bonds with them, especially with wolves. In the Native American tradition of the Wolf Sibling, it is her mission to minister to these glorious creatures and to help heal the strain between humans and wolves. You may find her unorthodox, feeding wolves raw meat from her mouth and speaking freely of her spiritual connection to them, but you cannot deny that she loves them and they her. How different would our world be if we had more people caring for the animals and plants around us with this kind of dedication and respect?


This beautifully understated short film, echoing the simple starkness of its desert locale, was created by cinematographer Sam Price-Waldman, who is also video producer for The Atlantic. Wolf Mountain is a fantastic introduction to Wolf Mountain Sanctuary, moving and sensitive without becoming maudlin and sentimental. Price-Waldman has given his subjects dignity. The wonderfully textured closeups allow us a peek into the personalities of these individuals, while the communal keening of the wolf pack cuts right into the soul with its melancholy music. I can’t imagine how electric it must be to be there. At the end of the film Tonya clears the air by burning sage, dispelling negativity, and we see Native American prayer threads worked into the fence. This is a ministry, not a scientific study nor a exercise in activism.



It would be better if these animals had not come in contact with humans, but it’s too late. Our curiosity wounds and our desire to own maims and kills. Tonya and her wolves are trapped in a place that lies between civilization and wildness. She cannot leave it anymore than they can. No matter how nice a cage is, it remains a cage. And yet being stuck in this “in between” place gives the Wolf Sister and her pack a unique opportunity to be ambassadors between wolves and humans. The hairy ones have things to show us.


If you are interested in helping Tonya and the wolves with their mission, you can visit the Wolf Mountain Sanctuary in person, where you can go inside the wolf enclosure and meet these splendid, expressive animals. You can also donate online. Large quantities of red meat and chicken, loads of vegetables such as pumpkins and carrots-you might be surprised at how much wolves enjoy these-and vet bills are expensive and Wolf Mountain receives no money from the government. Please visit the Wolf Mountain website, where you can learn a bit about each member of the pack.

Images from the Wolf Mountain Sanctuary Website used in accordance with Fair Use Policy.


3 thoughts on “Between Wildness and Domestication: Wolf Mountain Sanctuary

  1. jlfatgcs says:

    I have been to Wolf Hollow in Ipswich, MA a number of times. Oh, I have learned much about wolves and their families. Very interesting, and so many myths to dispel.

    • katmcdaniel says:

      I am so excited to hear of other places that do this work! I’m going to need to visit the wolves sometime soon. The more we know about other beings, the more we find common ground and the less we are bound by fear, which is possibly the greatest cage of all.

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