Sanctuary and Healing for Animals and Visitors Alike

by Deanna Deppen, Executive Director
Shy Wolf Sanctuary Education and Experience Center

Shy Wolf Sanctuary has rescued and provided sanctuary to 1,260 captive-bred exotic animals ranging from wolfdogs to gopher  tortoises, foxes, and more. While rescue is a significant part of the organization’s mission, so is education. Founder Nancy Smith felt so strongly about education and conservation that she chose to add the Education and Experience Center to its name when  incorporating it in 2001.

In 1993, sanctuary co-founders Nancy and Kent Smith welcomed a three-legged leopard named Moondance. Four wolf pups followed in 1994. Because they were exotic animals that had been born into captivity, they would not be accepted by
government animal services, wildlife rehabilitators, or zoos. They would have been euthanized.

Shy Wolf Sanctuary fills a unique void by rescuing these captive-bred exotic animals that have often endured neglect, abuse, and abandonment. While people are attracted to the animal’s unique looks, they are rarely prepared to meet their pet’s dietary, containment, or enrichment needs. Every single day, the organization gets calls, emails, and social  media outreach from people reporting animals in need.

Through a network of volunteers, Shy Wolf helps to rescue and rehome when possible. However, many of the animals require ongoing medical care and more secure enclosures, so the organization offers a safe and loving place to live out their lives.

Part of what makes Shy Wolf Sanctuary so special is that healing happens on many levels for both the resident animals and the human visitors. Volunteers have always found solace and referred to Shy Wolf as their sanctuary as well. Psychiatrists have long  referred clients, recognizing that the animal encounters had the power to help people overcome a variety of emotional

In 2017, Shy Wolf Sanctuary began offering its Healing Hearts program to support foster and at-risk kids at The Children’s
Network of Southwest Florida, Youth Haven, and The Shelter for Abused Women & Children. Most recently, Shy Wolf
began offering Veteran support services in partnership with the Southwest Florida Chapter of Home Base.

During the Healing Hearts Program, participants meet the Sanctuary’s rescued resident animals. Guests are taken through an animal encounter that becomes a therapeutic setting, where they open up to experience forgiveness, courage, and unconditional love. Hearing the animal stories and seeing how they have healed  creates a bridge for participants to begin recovery.

While the organization’s current size and location limit the on-campus programs, Shy Wolf is moving forward with plans to expand on a 17 acre parcel of land on Golden Gate Boulevard. With a larger campus, the sanctuary plans to welcome additional animals in need and expand its educational and therapeutic animal  encounters.

For more information about how you can help Shy Wolf Sanctuary grow, contact Deanna Deppen or visit

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