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Howling in the woods

Becky Vargo • Jan 26, 2018 at 11:00 AM

EGELSTON TWP. — Nestled back in the woods, about a mile off a rural road sits a farm full of cows, pigs, horses and wolf dogs. Lots of wolf dogs.

And there is also a variety of exotic animals such as a Savannah cat named Pixie, a kinkajou, a Capuchin monkey, a couple chinchillas, three bearded dragons, a hedgehog, four foxes and a few coatis.

It’s interesting how a place like the Howling Timbers Animal Sanctuary can be in one place for so long, yet still be a secret to so many, wonders its owner, Brenda Pearson.

The sanctuary is located at 6806 E. Evanston Ave., east of Muskegon in Muskegon County’s Egelston Township. It sits off Maple Island Road, a few miles north and a little west of Nunica, or northeast of Fruitport.

“We recently had visitors who live just 6 miles down the road,” Pearson said. “They didn’t know that we were here.”

In the background, the dogs — the majority of them are a combination of wolf and dog — set up a howl, and at such a volume that you wonder how people could miss knowing about the place.

Howling Timbers started its days as a cat rescue shelter. It became home to its first wolf dog in 1996. Eventually, the cat rescue was closed, and Brenda and Jim Pearson found themselves hosting more and more animals that were seized or owner-surrendered. That includes six wolf dogs obtained in June 2017 in the state of Washington. Volunteer Scott Turnbow, who was conducting a tour of the farm on a recent Saturday, said the animals’ owners, who were breeders, got in trouble with the law and had to surrender them.

In 2004, about 40 wolf dogs were seized from an illegal breeder in Manton, where the animals were living in substandard conditions. Twenty-six of them were re-homed at Howling Timbers.

The next year, 15 more dogs were moved to the sanctuary after police had a shootout with their owner.

Some of the wolf dogs come from animal shelters that don’t adopt out wolf-dog crosses. Some are surrendered as a result of a divorce or the owner is too old to care for them any longer, Turnbow said.

All of the animals that come to the sanctuary are fixed, he said.

“We are not a breeder,” Turnbow emphasized.

The 35-40 wolf dogs currently at the sanctuary range in age from 10 months to 16 years, Turnbow said. They weigh anywhere from 85 pounds to the largest animal, called Bear, at 170 pounds.

There are at least three full-fledged wolves, Turnbow said. Many are more than 90 percent wolf, but there is no way to be sure without a DNA test, he added, and Howling Timbers does not commit funds to that kind of expensive testing.

Turnbow said most of the animals were raised with humans, and keepers and visitors are able to interact with them inside their kennels. Just be careful what you bring inside their areas, because the wolf dogs are known to grab souvenirs, he said.

Howling Timbers is a non-profit facility run entirely by volunteer staff and funded by donations.

On this particular Saturday, several visitors brought frozen meat to donate after cleaning out their freezers. There were also rugs, straw and partial boxes of cereal.

Turnbow said the sanctuary will take fruit, vegetables and eggs. Lots of the animals, like the arctic foxes, love the eggs, he said.

Turnbow said the wolf dogs love hunting season because hunters drop off extra venison and deer carcasses. 

There are about 140 animals at the sanctuary, but that can change any day depending on the age of the animals and if any seizures or surrenders take place.

Anyone interested in making a donation, visiting the sanctuary or volunteering, can get more information on the sanctuary’s website at howlingtimbers.org. Visits can be arranged by calling 231-736-0018.

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