Let me start by saying: If anyone is within 500 miles of this place, go visit. I’m not kidding. I’ll wait.
I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this place. A lot of Googling and link following. I’m always nervous about anything with animals but every single review online was positive so I wrote down the number in case we had time during our abandoned ship/creation museum adventure.
It was our last day on our weekend trip and we had to decide to do the Creation Museum or Red Wolf Sanctuary as we had a 4 hour drive ahead of us. The website says to call for tours so I called and had to listen to the longest message in the freaking world. It was hilarious how long it was. Anyway, I left a message and we went to the Creation Museum.
Toward the end of our Creation Museum adventure, we got a call back. A guy named Paul said he was doing a tour at 6:30pm and asked if we could be there. After some debating on our end, we decided to go. Why the hell not was the mentality. He told us not to follow the GPS because it lies and gave us convoluted directions. He said he could stall the tour until we got there.
We got lost. We missed a landmark (a small bridge with a small sign that said 13 on it) and went too far. I called back, completely embarrassed but Paul got us on the right track. We pulled up and apologized to the older couple waiting. They seemed a little drunk and were cool with it.
Paul is awesome. He is the person everyone should strive to be. Passionate but not zealous, funny but not crude, old but young at heart. You can tell by his hair that he’s getting on in years but apparently he doesn’t have a mirror because he seemed to transcend age. It was weird because I didn’t want to marry him; I wanted to BE him. Guys, this guy is awesome.
Anyway, we got on an ATV and he took us around back to a low, cement building full of bears. I was worried that this was a roadside zoo situation but Paul quickly explained that these bears were on a rotational outside-time system. One bear was out and would be for a week. Then another bear would get to go. He gives them a ton of space to roam and could cut it up so each bear could go outside at once but then they wouldn’t have all that space. Instead, he’s going to expand the area even more so each bear can have enough space.
This was the sad part of the tour. All of these bears were from people who shouldn’t have bears. They had all been declawed so they all walked on their forearms and one guy had lived his whole life on cement and refused to go on grass. It would have been cool if there were skylights but now that I look at the pictures again, the light appears blue (blue is natural light, yellow is artificial – this little piece of information is brought to you by my expensive film degree). So while it isn’t the sun exactly, I think those are sun lights. I’m not sure, though, and I forgot to ask.
I learned so much about bears! Like their diet and territory habits. Paul really knows not just animals in general, but also the individual animals. Something that is so freaking amazing is how Paul would describe a situation and asked what we would do. Then he explained what the animals would do and 9 times out of 10 they were the same thing, just a little scarier because of all the teeth and claws. I’m an animal nut and I am so glad that Paul drew comparisons between non-human animals and humans, instead of pointing out our differences. This is what’s going to change humans’ attitude towards non-humans.
There were a lot of foxes. Most had been pets that people couldn’t handle anymore. One fox was so friendly he came right up to the fence and begged for milkbones. Paul mentioned how these were all Red Foxes even though they all looked so different. He said he likes to explain to school children how we’re all human but some of us have blue eyes or red hair or black hair or darker skin. He said that usually blows the kids’ minds. Guys, this is how a tour is done.
He had a couple of coyotes. The coyotes were interesting. Apparently a lot of people find dens, don’t see mom, and so kidnap the babies thinking they’ve been abandoned. They can’t be put back because mom probably came back, saw her kids were gone, and won’t come back. Paul said that if more people knew about coyote behavior, they would know mom is just out hunting and then more people would leave the family alone.
Paul took us further on the ATV and pointed to a huge expanse of land and said he wanted to turn it into grazing land for deer, antelope, buffalo, and elk. He talked a lot about what he wanted to do and I swear, by this time, I wanted to give him every penny I’ve ever made in my life.
The animal enclosures were amazing. There were fences surrounding a big area and a fence right under the ground so the animals couldn’t dig out but plants could still grow in. They had actual dirt and plants that grew naturally and haphazardly. The enclosures were set up for the animals, not the people watching. But according to Paul, dawn and dusk were the best times to come see them in the summer because it cools off enough that the animals come to the fences to people-watch and to see if Paul’s dog is running behind the ATV like she sometimes does.
The wolves were gorgeous. Many were hand raised so were friendly towards Paul. He explained how the wolves were not going to be released to the wild and that he actually gets wolf puppies to hand raise. We asked why, this being a sanctuary and all, and he said the most saddest and pragmatic thing, “We have to keep the animals that keeps the money flowing in.” Basically, foxes and coyotes and condors don’t bring in as much donations as wolves do.
He knew a lot about wolves, describing how their sense of smell is so acute, they knew that people came onto the property when we pulled up miles away. He said he probably knew how many people and their sexes based on the smell we give off.
Every wolf was paired up. The males had all had vasectomies so there was no baby-making going on. One wolf pair couldn’t be with other wolves because the male was a little gimpy and, if there was another male, the female would leave her guy for him. Paul tried to get the woman on the tour to say she’d leave her boyfriend if he was suddenly broke and couldn’t provide but she wouldn’t say it. Paul said women do it all the time; they’re just finding the best mate for their lifestyle. Methinks Paul has been dumped a few times in his life.
There were also horses. They had an area to roam but also had a covered shelter. Three of the horses were buddies but refused the let the fourth horse hang out with them. It was so sad! She had to eat a little away from the others because they seriously wouldn’t let her eat with them. So high school!
He had a raptor and bird section. All of these animals will be released if they can. Most were injured and just needed some time to heal.
There were quite a few condors there. Apparently there are a lot in Indiana. Who knew? When Paul was looking for a place for his sanctuary, he saw 3 condors fly overhead and decided this was the place.
We didn’t get a picture of it, but there was a cow head in the aisle-way and all 3 of the condor cage doors were open so they could pick at it. Paul gets interesting donations. If a deer gets hit, road crews give it to him. Some people send him cow carcasses but he said he hates it when people give him dead cows because they hurt his shoulders, dragging the body around.
The tour was over and Paul drove us back up to the main house. We were greeted by a black cat that got dropped off when the sanctuary was first open. Apparently the dog was inside because his favorite person showed up that day and he couldn’t be bothered with us.
In the barn, he showed us 3 wolf puppies. These were hand raised to be friendly in order to keep the donations coming in. Guys, wolf puppies are doofuses. They were running around like idiots and falling all over each other. Paul told me to howl and I have a half-hearted attempt. Then Paul howled. It sounded like a boat siren. The puppies went nuts. They all focused on him and started whimpering and whining. He had their complete attention. When he stopped, they went back to being doofuses.
This place is amazing. I have a feeling each tour is different depending on who’s taking it because Paul personalized it to us so we could connect with the animals on a deeper level. This is how zoos should be run. Paul didn’t humanize the animals; he animalized us. Instead of seeing myself in these guys, I saw them in me. Their behavior made sense because I would do the same thing if I was in their situation and had their tools at my disposal and lived in a lawless world. In fact, take the tour and then go watch an old western movie. The similarities are astounding.
I would take my children here before I ever took them to a zoo. Zoos make very clear that animals are different and separate from us and, by having us literally look down on them from walkways, they make it clear animals are lower than us. Paul brought us down to their level and showed us we’re not different at all.
The tours used to be free but now Paul charges $20 a person with a discount for kids. It was worth every penny and more. He works with a skeleton crew of no more than 3 and does big volunteer days (my favorite so far being bone collection day where college kids go into the enclosures and collect all the deer and cow bones!) so all the money goes towards the animals.
The entire tour lasted about an hour and a half but I could live there, honestly. The time just flew by.