As we look to the future, I remember the past. Forty years ago, in the serene wooded hills of eastern Pennsylvania, a refuge was created to provide haven to members of an endangered species that humans have revered, misunderstood, and persecuted for generations: the gray wolf. My parents, Bill and Barbara Darlington, started Wolf Sanctuary of PA officially in 1980, but the first wolf arrived in 1976. Yukon-Wolf lived here for many years with his mate April-Wolfett and their pups. Wolves had always been my parents’ passion and occupied a large part of their hearts.
In 1980 Pennsylvania laws changed: if you owned an exotic animal you had to apply for a license and permit issued through the State Game Commission. Dad and Mom were granted a menagerie permit to keep their wolf and wolf-dog, and the Game Commission began contacting them with rescue requests as it confiscated wolves and wolf-dogs from illegal ownership. Thus Wolf Sanctuary of PA came to be.
In 1993 Wolf Sanctuary of PA was incorporated as a 501c3 non-profit organization, but Dad was already feeling the strain on his body from the cancer that would steal him from us. He died from lymphoma in 1998. Mom continued on the path they had started together: to offer a safe haven to wolves and wolf-dogs, but remained private. She missed her soulmate and would stay withdrawn for several years.
I moved home for two reasons. I needed to be here for Mom, and wanted to restore my grandparents’ home, a 1760s ironmaster’s house. I intended to share the home with visitors as a bed and breakfast, Speedwell Forge. It was never my intent to operate the Wolf Sanctuary, but as the work ended on the B&B I found myself drawn to the wolves, wolf-dogs, and wolf areas. I wondered why no one visited for tours. Was the world so backward that no one cared about wildlife and our waning ecosystem? Or maybe they just didn’t know the Sanctuary was here. I realized we could offer organized tours and share our knowledge and passion for the wolves and wolf-dogs with all who want to see and to learn. We became partners with the local visitors’ center and chamber of commerce, created a website, and started social media. People came – first by the hundreds and then by the thousands! I always get a knot in my throat when I think of the journey.
The path from there to here has been a whirlwind of emotions and learning and enlightenment. The sanctuary is not an “I” but a “we.” Many amazing individuals make up the team that keeps the Wolf Sanctuary of PA flourishing. My very capable partner, Darin Tompkins, has kept me moving forward with his quiet and patient manner. He is the caretaker of the wolves and wolf-dogs, meeting their ever-changing needs daily. The staff and volunteers are exemplary in their passion to educate and care for our rescues, and to share their knowledge with our visitors.
We will continue to offer as natural a home to wolves and wolf-dogs as we can, for as long as we have your support to do so. By your capable hands and compassion we have continued in our mission these 40 years. Thank you… to Mom and Dad for love and understanding of wolves when few knew or cared… to the volunteers who give freely of their time… to the staff who work tirelessly for the betterment of the wolves’ lives… and to all who visit every tour day.
You have enabled our gray wolves to live happily and with dignity.
Dawn Darlington, a cog in the wheel