One young woman’s courageous story of how she left her civil engineering career behind, and dedicated her time to building a sanctuary that provides vital resources for wolfdogs.
Georgina de Caigny’s profession is certainly not one you hear of everyday. She’s the founder of the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, a not for profit organization that focuses on rescuing and rehabilitating abandoned or unwanted wolfdogs. Located just 30 minutes from Canmore, Alberta, the sanctuary is also open to the public and additionally serves to educate visitors on often misunderstood wolfdog and wolf behaviours. For anyone who has ever wanted to get up close and personal with wolves, the Yamnuska Sanctuary is the place to go.
Georgina’s initial intended career was in civil engineering, for which she holds a university degree. These plans changed drastically as she began to get more and more involved in the welfare of wolfdogs. Georgina had long been rescuing and caring for feral dogs, and within this period had come across wolfdogs. Wolfdogs are pretty much exactly what the name suggests– they’re a group of hybrids that contain both domestic dog and wild wolf in their genetic makeup.
Georgina quickly became fascinated by the unique behaviour she saw wolfdogs exhibiting, and how different their interactions were with humans than those of domestic dogs. Keen to have a wolfdog of her own, Georgina purchased her first, Kuna, from a local breeder in Alberta. She states that the family she purchased from had great intentions, but seemed in over their heads with the stark reality of the challenge owning wolfdogs can be. Upon observing this, Georgina did some research and was shocked to find out how many wolfdogs ended up being euthanized for this very reason – people often simply did not realize that owning a wolfdog is an entirely different experience from owning a domestic dog.
Propelled by the lack of existing resources for wolfdogs, and her love of her own wolfdog Kuna, Georgina committed to doing something about the situation, and left engineering for good to put her full-time resources into establishing the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, which opened in 2011.
Sadly, a lot of the wolfdogs at the sanctuary are there because they have been surrendered by their owners who were not forewarned about the difficulties of keeping wolfdogs, and cannot care for them any longer. If it weren’t for Yamnuska, many of these animals would likely be euthanized. Georgina also states that Yamnuska Sanctuary works in conjunction with local animal rescues, who do not have the resources to care for wolfdogs. If they suspect they have one on their hands, they just give Yamnuska a call to take the wolfdog in.
So, what are the main differences between a wolfdog and domestic dog? Many, it turns out. To begin with, there are 3 main categories of wolfdog that are recognized – low, mid and high content. The content level refers to the amount of wolf in the animal, and a wolfdog will behave very differently depending on what content level they are. There is no way to scientifically test each animal for exact percentage of wolf content, as many are rescues with no lineage readily available. Therefore, clever guesswork is used to determine what category a wolfdog falls into.
A wolfdog’s physical and behavioural traits will vary depending on the amount of wolf content present in the animal. Georgina says the most common physical traits to look for in a wolfdog are a flat skull, thick ears, no curl to the tail, amber coloured eyes, long legs, big paws and a lean body.
Low content wolfdogs are very similar to domestic dogs, but usually with additional behavioural challenges. They require solid containment as they can be “escape artists” and can be fearful of new people. Mid content and high content wolfdogs physically and behaviourally exhibit more wolf traits and are NOT suitable as pets. They require large, outdoor enclosures with other canines, as they are pack animals. They do not feel comfortable in enclosed spaces and are very shy and timid with people
For Georgina, it is very important to establish which content level a wolfdog is when it arrives at the sanctuary. This is because integrating a new wolfdog into the existing packs at Yamnuska will again depend on the amount of wolf content in the animal. When it comes to the low content wolfdogs and some mid content wolfdogs, integrating them into a pack is very similar to how you would introduce two domestic dogs. Georgina says in these cases, it's simply a matter of ensuring that similar personalities are paired together and then slowly introducing the new animal to the pack while observing behaviours. With the high content wolfdogs, integrating new members into the pack is more difficult because these wolfdogs already have an established pack and are very territorial. The only way to successfully bring in a new member with the high content pack is to bring them in as a young puppy. Even in these cases, the puppy will also be slowly introduced to the pack until the Yamnuska staff are certain they will fit in.
There are many daily logistics to be considered when running a complex operation like the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. For one, what do the animals eat? Georgina says that each wolfdog’s diet is decided based on two main factors: the degree of wolf content, and how their body responds to food. Most of the low content wolfdogs eat a high quality kibble diet (high protein, no grain) and are fed daily. Mid content and high content wolfdogs eat a raw based diet. The mid content wolfdogs eat on a daily basis but the high contents eat only every two to three days. The high content wolfdog’s digestive systems are very similar to those of wolves, so they eat much larger quantities of food at once, and then take longer to digest that food.
On top of feeding, the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary relies on its staff and interns to help with maintenance, poop scooping and running daily interactive tours for the public. Daily tours are at 10:30am, 12:00 pm, 2:00 pm and 3:30 pm and provide an up close, interactive experience with the wolfdogs at the sanctuary, including feeding the animals by hand. There is also a general admission that allows guests access to the sanctuary and gives them the opportunity to walk around the sanctuary and view the different packs of wolfdogs on site. Staff and interns are there to tend to all guests throughout their visit and answer any questions they may have.
Over the past 5 years, the sanctuary has been a huge success. Currently, 15 wolfdogs call the sanctuary home, but Georgina says this number frequently changes as Yamnuska adopts them out and also takes in new rescues. As for future plans for the sanctuary, Georgina hopes to expand to have the capacity to take in more animals. She also wants to create more ways of educate people about wolfdogs and spread the word, in order to help minimize the amount of wolfdogs that end up surrendered or euthanized by their owners.
Georgina is modest about her achievements with the Yamnuska Sanctuary, saying she herself has learned a lot in the past five years, “about wolfdogs, about myself, and about humans in general. When it comes to wolfdogs I have learnt that I will never be done learning! Every wolfdog is unique and their individual set of behaviours is due not only to the combination of traits they are innately born with, but also to the experiences they have accumulated along the way. Also, there is no substitute for creating a bond based on trust and respect. Unfortunately too many people have bought into the myth of needing to be “alpha” or dominant with their wolfdog.”
There are numerous things the public can do to help wolfdogs. Georgina states that the first is to get educated! Wolfdogs are very commonly misrepresented, leading people to believe they can have a “wolf” as a pet. As well as caring for wolfdogs, the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary also offer tours to help educate people about wolfdogs and the difference between low, mid and high content wolfdogs compared to domestic dogs. Once educated, you can help spread the word about wolfdogs and the common misconceptions about them. Other ways to help would include supporting the sanctuary by going for a visit or by donating; both of which help fund continued rescue efforts. We highly recommend paying a visit to Georgina and the wolfdogs – it really is a one of a kind experience! For those who have ever considered adopting a wolfdog, Yamnuska highly recommend looking into rescue and not supporting backyard breeders.
If you would like to take a tour of Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, it’s definitely an amazing way to encounter an up close and intimate look at wolves and wolf-dogs. On your tour, you will gain a better understanding about wild wolves and their importance in the natural environment while also seeing first hand wolf behaviour through the wolfdogs at the sanctuary. This tour is an amazing opportunity to learn more about these magnificent animals, and provides a semi-private guided experience in a sanctuary setting. Also expect plenty of photo opportunities!
You can book your Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary tour directly through Leavetown here.
If you would like to find out more about the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, give our Destination Experts a call on 1-877-902-1616. They are available 7 days a week, and will be more than happy to assist you with planning your Canmore experiences. Alternatively, you can browse our selection of Canmore vacation rentals online.
Those that book their accommodation through Leavetown get a $50 activity voucher to put towards any of our activities on offer, including a Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary tour!