A domesticated wolf who ran away from his owner and survived alone for weeks, scrounging for food, was picked up by animal control and was destined to be put down until a rescue group stepped in. Over several months, the scruffy wolf slowly bonded with his rescuer, and today they have a unique, inseparable bond.
100 Percent PureIn December 2016, Apex received a call from a rescue group in Oklahoma about a wolf named Riggs.
"He'd been caught in the backyard of someone's house, dumpster diving," Mr. Wastell told The Epoch Times. "It turns out that he came from a place in Indiana, and was given to a lady, along with his sister, to take care of as a puppy and escaped."
Sadly, the woman didn't report Riggs's escape. A month later, he was found in a county 50 miles away where wolves are considered illegal.
"He wasn't raised by a wild family, so all he knew was people," Mr. Wastell said. "He spent about a month surviving by himself, going into people's backyards, and he got caught there and was darted by animal control."
Apex was initially told that Riggs was female and a "low-content" wolfdog, which meant that he was more dog than wolf, and he was being held at a gassing facility in Oklahoma.
"They said that he had 48 hours before they were going to euthanize, so we decided to just jump in and take 'her,'" Mr. Wastell said.
An Apex team made the 19-hour drive to Oklahoma. Upon arrival, they learned that Riggs was not female, but male. "We weren't going to let him die," Mr. Wastell said, "so we said, 'Okay, well, let's get him in the van! We'll bring him back and we'll figure it out.'"
An underfed, skinny Riggs spent his first few days at Apex in an isolation kennel for health assessment. Apex's 17 wolves and wolfdogs live in enclosures on the 2.5-acre property and go hiking off-leash every day in the surrounding Angeles National Forest. During his first meeting with the other residents, it didn't take long for Riggs's wolf instincts to come out.
"The whole pack started howling," Mr. Wastell said. "At first, he was looking around, and then all of a sudden this beautiful howl came from him. It was just really special."
Riggs shocked his rescuers by being "very needy for people," a trait that would have been dangerous in the wild. They had him tested for Williams syndrome, a developmental disorder, but he tested negative. "He just was really, really friendly," Mr. Wastell said.
Earning his trust was a much slower process. Apex staff worked with Riggs every day, but by far the wolf's most constant companion became Mr. Wastell.
"Riggs and I worked together every morning," he said. "I would take him hiking, I would work with him on listening to me ... slowly but surely, we started to trust each other. He was off leash within less than a year."
One major challenge that the organization faced with Riggs was that he could "get out of anything." An Apex volunteer once spotted Riggs on the roof of his enclosure after the wolf scaled an 8-foot wall, and the team knew they needed reinforcements. This explains why his enclosure is much higher than others.
Riggs has also taken time to find his most compatible roommates. At first, Apex veteran residents Thor, the alpha, and Loki took Riggs under their wing. Next, Riggs lived with Kona, but the pair eventually grew apart. Today, Riggs lives with his "girlfriend," Selena.
Howls and GrowlsToday, Riggs is 7 years old. He's still very social, has "Peter Pan syndrome" and thus "refuses to grow up, and "drives people crazy" with his playful antics. He has even earned himself the nickname "stinky little brother" for the way he winds up his fellow wolves and wolfdogs.
Reflecting on how far Riggs has come, Mr. Wastell said: "He's filled out now. He used to be quite the ragamuffin, his hair was all over the place ... but now he's fair, he's beautiful, he's strong."
His bond with Mr. Wastell also keeps getting stronger by the day.
"The majority of their language is growling, it's howls and growls," he said. "I know that if I go to his enclosure in the evening, and I go say hi to him, and he growls in my face, he's not going to hurt me. He's telling me off because we didn't go hiking that day, or I was away for the night. ... Once you've really bonded with him, you really start to understand what the language is."
Apex Protection Project knows all too well the plight of wolves and wolfdogs who are bought as puppies and end up dumped or tied up in backyards when their owners realize how much work they are. The rescue is dedicated to giving these wolves the lives they deserve. To expand its operation in the future, the organization hopes to buy more land.
In sharing Riggs's story, Mr. Wastell hopes to clear the misconception that "wolves are vicious creatures that are going to kill humans."
"There's only been two people killed by wolves in the last 100 years," Mr. Wastell said. "They're very loving, they take care of their elders, they take care of their young. ... They have an incredible emotional life."