by Teo Alfero
Looking back, I realize that Wolf Connection is the result of a natural chain of events, an energy line that permeates through my life experiences and combines the areas in which I have gained proficiency over the years: youth empowerment, animals, the outdoors, and project and team management.
I grew up in a family of dedicated teachers and educators. As Italian immigrants in Argentina, my parents were very loving and devoted to their children. To this day, my mother, a teacher and school principal for thirty years, continues to be extremely passionate about helping kids, even if that means going beyond the normal call of duty.
In terms of my relationship with animals, my father took me to get my first German Shepherd when I was 3 years old. We got a female, and a couple of years later she had pups –needless to say there was no concept of pet population control in South America almost forty years ago. Long story short, I grew up with a pack of large dogs that accompanied me into my late teens.
After serving in the army for three years, the call of the wild was already very strong and I moved to the mountains, found a job and began learning the language of rock and ice. After a while, I became a skilled climber and skier and opened a mountaineering business, making a living guiding expeditions, camping trips, and teaching kids and families basic rock climbing. And that is how, unbeknownst to me, I came in contact with what would become my all-consuming life passion and purpose- working with teens and nature education.
By the time I came across Tala (my first wolfdog), my life had changed and “I was a busy man”. I thought I didn’t have the time or desire to have a dog. Tala, on the other hand, had a different idea, a personality trait that most wolfdog owners reading this will grin about.
She was only four weeks old when I first met her and I knew nothing about wolfdogs at the time. One evening I received a call from a friend who was trying for find homes for a litter of eleven. He said, “I have three wolf puppies in my car. Would you like to see them?” … “Of course!” I said with excitement. Twenty minutes later I was playing with this beautiful female cotton ball wearing a little pink collar. Even though I loved her instantly, I said to my friend, “Look, I have no time, room at my house, or intention to get a pet right now. I’m super busy and I don’t want to deal with hair, pee, and poop all over the place. If I were to pick one, however, it would be this one for sure.” Meanwhile, completely unaffected by my rejection, Tala was playing with me, running all over the place, and jumping into the water fountain. Little did I know, she had picked me right then and there … and she had some long-term plans for me as well!
Over the next couple of weeks, all the other puppies were placed except for Tala; my friend decided to keep her. He rescued another two female dogs at the same time and one of them, a one-year-old pitbull mix, didn’t get along with her. Aggression kept escalating until one day Tala got hurt and my friend called me for help. “I can keep her home for a couple of days if you want, until things calm down,” I said … and that was it. The first night she began howling outside my bedroom door and the howl pierced right into my heart. Pee, poop, and dog hair became so cute all of a sudden. Yet, my friend asked for her, and with great effort I gave her back. “I’ll consider keeping her if things don’t work out with your other dog,” I said. Two days later, my friend called, another fight took place. “Come get her before I change my mind,” he said with a reluctant voice.
Things evolved from there. Two years later two things took place simultaneously: firstly, I was looking for a new edge to my youth coaching and empowerment program. By then, I had been mentoring young men using outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, and rock climbing and was feeling that a new angle was needed. Secondly, I began looking for a playmate for Tala. I wanted to adopt a young male that would keep her company while I was working. Being a pack animal, I knew she would enjoy that. What I did not fathom then was that, once again, events involving Tala would take their own course and the answer to both situations would merge beautifully.
After months of looking, I came in contact with Tia Torres at Villalobos Rescue Center in Agua Dulce, CA (now the star of the Pitbulls and Parolees show on Animal Planet). Not only did she have the partner for Tala that I was looking for, but she introduced me to a pack of sixteen wolfdogs that she had just rescued from another organization that had closed several months earlier due to the owner’s passing.
That was it for me … AGAIN! As soon as I saw those animals, my heart reached out to them so deeply that I immediately knew I could not leave them. I began visiting the wolfdogs several times a week just to brush them, walk them, run with them, and leash-train them … it was exhausting, but I was in absolute heaven.
After a month or so of this, Tia suggested that I do a presentation to the public. With her help, and the help of other program friends, we put together the first “Full Moon Hike with Wolves and Wolfdogs”. The idea was that people would come to the rescue center during the evening, bring some food to enjoy and share potluck style; we would offer drinks, and give them a wolf and wolfdog presentation followed by a hike with the animals under the moonlight. It was a very successful event that brought the first funds and volunteers to the program. As we continued the hikes, I began noticing the effect the animals had on people from all walks of life. Hearts opened, tears and laughter flowed freely, and there was a palpable feeling of peace in the groups. The light bulb went off and I knew that the wolves were the new edge to my youth empowerment and coaching programs. In the presence of these magnificent animals, kids who have experienced trauma, violence and abandonment find a place of hope and freedom from their past. From then on, I was never alone walking and caring for the animals again … and Wolf Connection was born.