• May 4, 2016

Heed the Call of the Wild at This Ethereal Wolf Sanctuary

Becky Harlan

Tucked into a lush swath of woods in Washington’s South Puget Sound—where light filters through mossy trees and ravens circle overhead—sits Wolf Haven International. The 82-acre sanctuary is home to 56 residents, including gray wolves, coyotes, wolf dogs, endangered Mexican gray wolves, and critically endangered red wolves.

Lonnie, a gray wolf, was found roaming a cemetery in Los Angeles before he was taken in at Wolf Haven.
Lonnie, a gray wolf, was found roaming a cemetery in Los Angeles before he was taken in at Wolf Haven International.

Photographer Annie Marie Musselman, who built her artistic career telling the story of an animal rehabilitation center, first learned of Wolf Haven in 2010. She had received a grant from Getty Images to collaborate with an ad agency on a project for a nonprofit. Her original plan to document rescued chimps and orangutans in Indonesia was called off when she became pregnant and doctors encouraged her to find a story closer to home. She scoured the Internet and discovered the important conservation work Wolf Haven was doing in her very own state through their breeding program. “If it weren’t for these captive breeding and recovery programs,” she says, “Mexican gray and red wolves would not exist today.” The haven became her new focus.

Picture of a Mexican gray wolf looking up at the camera through leaves
Moss, a highly endangered Mexican gray wolf, is the father to one of the litters of Mexican gray wolf pups born in 2015 at Wolf Haven.

As soon as she laid eyes on the wolves in the sanctuary, she was enchanted. “Wolves have a way of disarming you,” she says. “They are quiet and contemplative, yet fierce and powerful. You can feel that they are in this very moment—they don’t miss anything.”

Picture of the feet of a wolf at Wolf Haven International in Washington state
Ladyhawk, a female gray wolf at Wolf Haven International

Despite the fact that all of her interactions with the canids were buffered by a chain link fence, when she first began photographing them, she was intimidated. “I felt as if they could see through me,” she says. “I could feel them saying, ‘We don’t want to be photographed—leave us alone!’”

Picture of two wolves walking past a chain link fence in beautiful evening light
Klondike, a wolf dog, spent the first seven years of his life on an eight-foot drag chain attached to a post at an Alaskan roadside attraction. Here, he basks in the evening light in the large enclosure he shares with a female gray wolf named Shali.
Picture of a gray wolf napping in the midday sun at Wolf Haven International, a wolf sanctuary in Washington state
Kiawatha, a gray wolf, naps in the midday sun.

She didn’t let that deter her. Instead she spent long summer days in her father’s old fold-up artist chair, giving the wolves a chance to accept her presence. “I shoot with short lenses, so I would wait for the wolves to come close. I pretended not to be interested at first. As soon as I walked away, I would turn around and there they were at the fence, smelling me, staring at me. When I [came back], they would disappear again. All the wolves did this for weeks, until finally they began to trust me.” She’s been photographing them for six years now.

Detail of the fur of a Mexican gray wolf
Lorenzo, a Mexican gray wolf or ”el lobo,” was born at the Detroit Zoological Institute. As part of the Mexican gray wolf Species Survival Program, he and his brother Diablo became permanent residents of Wolf Haven in 2004.
Picture of a male gray wolf slinking around in the woods, looking for food
Riley, a gray wolf (now deceased), moves through his enclosure in search of food.

Her images of the haven embody the meditative patience she used to photograph it. They’re ethereal and lightweight, less like static pictures and more like breath—a glimpse of a being that you know is there but that you can’t predict or control. “I want to show how they glow, that they embody something precious, something very knowing,” she says. “I try to show what it might feel like to be close to them, to be accepted by them.”

Picture of two alert wolves
Shadow (front) lived in four different homes in the first few months of his life before coming to Wolf Haven. Behind is Juno, a wolf dog and Shadow’s partner.

Portrayed perpetually in the golden hour, the haven looks like a wolf’s paradise. Through it we get a sense of the wolves’ rugged and independent spirit—what the world might be like if they roamed free. But there’s always a tension. The diamond pattern crisscrossing every few frames reminds us that for wolves, freedom is restricted. To help save them (even if it is from our own destruction), we have to contain them … at least for now.

Picture of two wolves playing together in the grass, one laying down, one standing up
Jesse, a female gray wolf and her partner, Shilo, a wolf dog (both now deceased), play together like childhood friends.
Two wolves show their teeth at a chain link fence at Wolf Haven, a sanctuary in Washington state
Caedus, a wolf dog and his partner, Ladyhawk, a gray wolf, participate in innocuous posturing. Wolves often use facial expressions and body language to communicate emotions.

Musselman also plays with the tension inherent in the complex nature of wolves—at once playful and fierce, untamed and communal. It’s that interplay that makes them such controversial creatures—creatures that were once targets of federal extermination programs, creatures that some people still want to hunt, that others would prefer to let fade away, and still others fight heartily to save.

Picture of a male gray wolf walking into the woods in beautiful evening light
Bart, a male gray wolf

But even within the enclosure, Mussleman manages to reveal a world unto itself, leaving us with a visceral sense of reverence for an animal that feels so familiar and so unknown. “To be in their presence,” she says ,“is to be with true wildness—it is breathtaking.”

Wolf Haven the book, with photographs by Annie Marie Musselman and text by Brenda Peterson, will be released this September.

See more of Annie Marie Musselman’s work on her website.

There are 59 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Aundra
    July 10, 2016

    Those are beautiful pictures. Thank you for posting them.

  2. Annie Marie Musselman
    July 7, 2016

    Hello Everyone, I’m the photographer Annie and want to express my heartfelt appreciation for all your kind words. The work expresses my love for all animals, how important they are in our lives and is a reminder of the peaceful nature that is within all of us.

  3. Jeri Flynn
    June 10, 2016

    I was curious to see the wild wolf range before Europeans and was amazed to see it was the entire area of mainland USA except for CA West of the Mountains. So sad to see the present very limited ranges.

  4. K
    June 4, 2016

    I loved the photographs. Their eyes are those of a preditor, like an owl. They are meant to eat other animals. I read another entry from a cattle farmer where the said population of wolves or wolfdogs is 2500. That can be a problem for a large unprotected, ranging food animal. Humans do not like sharing their food, or losing money, and we like to call the red liquid in the meat packages “juice”. It makes me laugh. Wolves are here just as humans are here; humans are part of the food chain. Wolves do not have the power to raise their food. We raise more than we personnally need for money. Consequnces are overpopulation of both predetors – wolves and humans. The sad part is that the wolves are in cages and controlled in population, and we humans are not. If there were no free ranging cattle to eat, there would not be 2500 wild wolves in that area. We create our own problems. Both the livestock and the wolves are overpopulating that area, and it is from humans changing the ecosystem. A constant presence of people on horses around that stock (without guns to kill the predators) instead of fences would deter some of those wolfe attacks. It was even stated that humans have to accompany their dogs outside. I am sure cats are nonexistent there.
    Thank you for the lovely photos. It saddens me that these animals are forced to these conditions, but it is also fortunate that these conditions exist or those inhumane road-side attractions would continue with no solution.

  5. Maximilian KO
    May 24, 2016

    Absolutely beautiful! These photos truly capture the immeasurable value of these stunning creatures!

  6. Karel Phillips
    May 23, 2016

    I so agree with Robert McCoy… appreciate your caring. My thoughts are very similar. I, too, have the memoir The Man Who Lives With Wolves… Shaun Ellis is a soulful man who has done so much to advance the education of the plight of one of the most misunderstood creatures on Earth. If only humans could have the understanding & attributes of wolves, their intelligence, their social order inside their packs, perhaps our beautiful world would have a chance of survival. I am an artist & draw wolves, many animals, Native Americans…it’s my passion to bring awareness whenever I can in hopes that even one person will listen and help save our beautiful planet.

  7. Emil
    May 18, 2016

    Nobody really considers how these wolves are mesmerising pieces of artwork, more than just wild animals.

  8. Sam S
    May 18, 2016

    Absolutely Stunning.

  9. Denise Kuchmar
    May 17, 2016

    Mesmerizing, enchanting and life enriching. Congratulations on the love and care taken with these images.

  10. Yvonne
    May 17, 2016

    Your pictures are beautiful. If only the rest of the world could appreciate what you know about wolves.

  11. Chris Steinke
    May 16, 2016

    EXCELLENT WORK Ms. Mussleman. This is motivation to continue the conservationist BATTLES against those individuals and organizations that want to destroy America’s wildlife.

  12. Cindy Derk
    May 16, 2016

    Thank you for this unusual insight. We MUST find a way to share the world with all of God’s creatures before these and other majestic animals are gone forever.

  13. Thomas W Rohan
    May 16, 2016

    The foundation of the entire Western Civilization was made possible by a she-wolf that suckled two babies: Romulus and Remus, the founder of the Roman Empire…think very, very hard about this ~ without these noble animals, the world we know would not exist.

  14. Claudia Chaffin
    May 16, 2016

    Thank you for these beautiful images of these wonderful beings. I pray we can let them live in peace and share the planet with them. Live and let live.

  15. Elena
    May 16, 2016

    Simply moving… thanks for these photos

  16. D. Adams
    May 16, 2016

    These sanctuaries are so special to help preserve our canine species. Thank you!!

  17. B. J. Marks
    May 16, 2016

    Just read a novel by Jodi Picoult entitled “Lone Wolf” in which a naturalist who lived among wolves and then created a habitat. Oddly enough she did not realize there is such a person-Shaun Ellis who wrote a memoir (The Man Who Lives with Wolves). An interesting and moving read made more real with these wonderful photos.

  18. Rosemary Graf
    May 16, 2016

    You capture the beauty & wonder of these creatures. Thank you

  19. D
    May 15, 2016

    Wolves are beautiful in nature, but they sure make a mess of livestock, which we rely on for food and raiment.

  20. Colleen Butterfield
    May 15, 2016

    Thank you for sharing these lovely, mystical photos..

  21. Carlos
    May 15, 2016

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful pictures, the story of the sanctuary and spreading the importance of saving these amazing creatures.

  22. ramaraju
    May 15, 2016

    A rare and very natural presentation and deserves all appreciation,

  23. Rose Byrd
    May 15, 2016

    Our oldest nephew has been called “Wolfie” since kindergarten (he is now aged 16!). The Native American part of his heritage makes him (and us) especially respectful of all things “wolfie”! Such a great pictorial sharing here! Bless you!

  24. Finn
    May 15, 2016

    Thanks Annie for the haunting and provocative photographs you shared from
    Wolf Haven. ‘For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack’ : Rudyard Kipling :

  25. DLB
    May 15, 2016

    Thank you for the lovely photos. It breaks my heart that there are still those who would see the wolf exterminated. My hometown was once home to the only Lobo Wolves in the world, documented and proved. Dr. McCleary feared for their survival, so took them under his wing, so to speak. You could hear them at night when the wind was right. Sad to say all the years I lived there, I never went to see them. They have long since been moved to the Pacific North West. The wolf helps maintain the delicate balance of nature, wherever they live. I wish that man would let them live in peace.

  26. Sun Ross
    May 15, 2016

    Those pictures are really amazing!

  27. Don Hunter
    May 15, 2016

    Thanks for the photos for all of us to view, they are great shots and never seen. Keep up your good work.shows a view none of us have evr

  28. Joy
    May 15, 2016

    My congratulations to Annie Musselman for her wonderful photographs of the wolves at Wolf Haven. They are beautiful and evocative images, capturing at least some of the essence of these marvelous creatures.

    Wolves are important to maintaining a viable ecosystem, and Wolf Haven serves a vital role both in helping to preserve the various subspecies and in keeping the public informed. I sincerely appreciate the sanctuary’s efforts on behalf of all wolves – grey, red, Mexican…

    As for wolf dogs, I personally lived with one for many years and could not have asked for a better companion, although I must add that they are definitely NOT for everyone – and especially not for anyone with small children. Like wolves, they are widely misunderstood, and they often end up dead because of fear and mishandling. They, too, need a sanctuary, one that Wolf Haven provides.

    I volunteered for many years at a wolf sanctuary (not Wolf Haven) and know both the irrational fear of wolves some people have and the way in which others practically worship them. Neither is healthy – wolves are simply a part of nature, albeit an awesome and beautiful part. I believe we would all be diminished in some way without them, and wish everyone could see them in the wild as I have done.

    Thank you, Annie, for your body of work with wolves. We sometimes need to be reminded that they are not the mindless killers some would portray them as.

    We need the wolf; the wolf does not need us.

  29. Ann Marie
    May 15, 2016

    Magnificent and regal animals. Thank you for all of your efforts in trying to preserve these animals. We as humans should not be the cause of any animal becoming extinct.

  30. Lawrence Holtzman
    May 15, 2016

    The Wolf is my spirit animal. I have personally been supporting Wolf Haven for 20 years now, and only have praise for the work that they keep doing. It’s to bad that most people are so ignorant of the true value these magnificent sentient animals provide to the natural order.

  31. Kristy McCaffrey
    May 15, 2016

    Such beautiful creatures. Thanks for sharing your work.

  32. Carole McAthey
    May 15, 2016

    I too love wolves although I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing them in the wild. I understand that where they are allowed to thrive the balance of all other animals in the wild improves too. It is a great shame that there are so many ignorant people in the world who would kill every one of them. Fantastic photos keep up your wonderful work.

  33. Chris Montgomery
    May 15, 2016

    Thank you for what you do to preserve these magnificent, beautiful animals. Keep up the great job.

  34. Jacqui
    May 15, 2016

    Beautiful, beautiful creatures, just trying to survive in this disgusting and cruel world.
    I am thankful that there are still a few humans that care enough about the innocent creatures on this planet to try and make a difference, keep them safe for as long as possible.

  35. Norman Peterson
    May 15, 2016

    if yo wish to see first hand “what the world might be like if they roamed free”, come to northeastern Minnesota. Our wolf population is about 2,500, and this large predator requires food, lots of it. Farmers lose many calves to the wolves each year, and if you value your pet dog, do not let it outside during the night unless it is accompanied. They are beautiful animals, but also are very efficient hunters. If you have ever witnessed wolves tearing the entrails out of a screaming calf, or pet, you may agree their populations in high wolf density areas must be controlled.

  36. Jerry
    May 15, 2016

    Wolves help keep ecosystems healthy by keeping deer and elk populations in check.

  37. Judith S, Schainen
    May 15, 2016

    I volunteer at Wolf Haven as a guide.
    They are all that Anne Marie states. They are beautiful, intelligent creatures who are loyal to their families. I enjoy seeing and being with them.

  38. Lloyd
    May 15, 2016

    In the mid-60’s we lived in Chibougamau, a northern Quebec mining town. There was a pack of wolves a few miles from town and on a cold, clear night they would set up a howl that pierced your very soul. A symphony of nature sans pareil. I have not heard a wolf pack’s howl since but remember it as if it were yesterday.

  39. Carole Sheridan
    May 15, 2016

    My inbox today…Wol Haven and the Yulin Dog meat Festival. Mans intervention at bothe ends of the spectrum

  40. M M
    May 15, 2016

    “like a breath” is the perfect description of your photographs. Really lovely work. Thank you so much!

  41. Lee Winslow
    May 15, 2016

    Great photos, especially the one that shows a close up of their coat. I have seen one that close too. They are beautiful.

  42. raad khalaf
    May 15, 2016

    Nice work

  43. nadine
    May 15, 2016


  44. Cherie
    May 15, 2016

    Thanks goodness for people like you who care enough to let people like me know what’s happening in this world with regard to animals who rely on your voice

  45. Sarah Hill
    May 15, 2016

    Magnificent. Thank you.

  46. Robert Marquis
    May 15, 2016

    Nice work, I have visited Wolf Haven in WA state many times and truly enjoyed the wolfs.

  47. Angela P Schapiro
    May 15, 2016

    It is wonderful that Ms. Musselman has the patience to document the lives of these magnificent animals. As a wildlife photographer myself, I try to go at least once a year to the Lakota Wolf Preserve IN NJ, where they have wolves, foxes and other related animals. However, it is a shame that the only way for us to really protect them is to contain them.

  48. Tina
    May 15, 2016

    We are lucky enough to live where we come in contact with the occasional wolf and these pictures capture their essence well. Thank you for promoting a worthwhile cause.

  49. Robert McCoy
    May 15, 2016

    Wolves are regal, cunning, intelligent, beautiful, work together and kill only when they need to survive. They help complete the diversity of our our world, and are therefore essential. When mankind can stop destroying or altering everything in its path, then perhaps our earth will survive. If we as a species can attain their attributes, perhaps the world will be saved. Most people won’t understand my comments. Those that do are a minority.

  50. neusa castro
    May 15, 2016

    Lobos, assim como todos os animais selvagens devem viver livres em seus habitats e terem o respeito de nós humanos. São seres sociais magníficos!

  51. kasandra
    May 15, 2016

    Beautiful. What magical creatures. Sadly due to humans they must live in sanctuaries, not roaming free as they are meant to be.

  52. Theuwen Henri
    May 15, 2016

    Prachtige dieren die wolven

  53. Barbara
    May 9, 2016

    Their survival in nature is important as is every animal – amazing photos. To the people who run the property and maintain the wolves a job well done, keep up the good work.

  54. Kathi
    May 5, 2016

    Our world is a better place because they are part of it. Thank you for helping us see a bit of their world.

  55. Josette
    May 5, 2016

    Thank you for your patience, so we now can enjoy the pictures of these lovely and majestic creatures.

  56. Nicole Taylor
    May 5, 2016

    They are absolutely amazing! Thank you for these wonderful pictures!

  57. Sarah
    May 4, 2016

    They are beautiful.

  58. Deborah Martin
    May 4, 2016

    I do not want to live in a world that does not contain wolves and tigers. These magnificent animals are so deserving of their own spaces in which to survive and thrive.

  59. Barbara Koch
    May 4, 2016

    I have long loved and admired the wolf and have a black wolf head tattooed on my left breast. May they live long, at peace, and may man leave them alone.

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