Photos and story
By Charlotte Underwood
Special to The Times-Tribune
A wolf dog sanctuary in Whitley County is seeking donations to complete an educational learning center that is $30,000 away from being finished.
Refuge Ridge Inc., a nonprofit organization, was established in 2000 through the combined efforts of teachers, families and students “looking for a vehicle to help children overcome the challenges of living in one of the poorest areas of Southeastern Kentucky,” according to co-founder Marty Wilson.
Shortly after its establishment, Refuge Ridge also became an environmental/humane education learning center and wolf dog sanctuary through the efforts of Wilson’s fifth grade science class.
“I was always telling the children that I taught that if they put their minds to it, they could accomplish anything and that having the attitude of ‘I can’t’ wouldn’t get them anywhere,” Wilson said.
Around this time, it came to Wilson’s attention that there were three wolf dogs starving in the Woodbine area. Wilson said she would drive up there and feed them, but was unsure how to rescue them as 96 percent of all exotic pets were being euthanized at that time.
“I told the kids, I just couldn’t save them and they said right back to me, ‘You said never say can’t.’”
That is how Topanga, Kia and Couie, the original three wolf dogs were saved and found sanctuary on land that was purchased by Wilson in the Emlyn community.
Over the years, Refuge Ridge has taken in multiple dogs and wolf dogs, as well as helped with about $477,000 in SNAP grants to help area dogs get spayed or neutered. Wilson has some dogs that she has taken care of for more than 10 years, as many of her rescued dogs were deemed unsuitable for adoption by some of the shelters she has saved them from.
All of the wolf-dogs that reside at Refuge Ridge came from someone’s back yard and have since been spayed or neutered. The animals are enclosed with USDA approved fencing to meet regulations. The sanctuary currently has around 40 dogs,12 of them being wolf dogs. It costs about $700 a month to feed the animals. A donation of $25 will feed the animals for a day. Wilson said Refuge Ridge is “grateful” for any donations, large or small. Several of the rescued dogs are up for adoption and Wilson said she just cannot take in any more animals at this point.
She said she wants to focus on the educational aspects of the wolf sanctuary and really try to make a difference, especially in the lives of children.
By combining the welfare of children and animals, Refuge Ridge strives to create a “unique program” where both can flourish. With diverse learning opportunities that encourage humane treatment of both animals and people, the programs at Refuge Ridge help to develop self esteem, self reliance, compassion and empathy, according to Wilson. Through adventure-based camps, more than 900 children have visited Refuge Ridge to experience nature combined with activities that “teach good decision making, and how to take care of companion animals,” according to Wilson.
Now, 12 years later Wilson is closer to her goal of expanding the educational capacities of the sanctuary as Refuge Ridge is nearing the completion of the Roger and Phyllis Sherman Learning Center, which has been built with green construction technology. The Shermans, a couple from Texas, donated most of the funds to build the large, circular building that is only $30,000 away from completion.
“Judge Braden was a big supporter of Refuge Ridge as well,” Wilson said, adding that several other local judges were also supporters.
“We have been very fortunate by having support from several of the local judges, as well as the mayor Roddy Harrison, Main Street Manager Nannie Hays and others,” Wilson said.
After the learning center is finished, school groups, church groups and others who want to learn more about wolf dogs will be able to camp inside the learning center and watch the wolf dog’s nocturnal play.
“I think if people get to watch them play and come to understand them better, it will dissolve that big bad wolf image,” Wilson said.
The more sociable of the wolf dogs, better known as the Kruck Pack, will be the ones moving down to the wolf viewing area that will be outside the learning center. These four wolf dogs, Canada, Moose, Cocheeta and Graylyn were all rescued from California. In many cases, people obtain wolf dogs as exotic pets, but the upkeep is more than they are prepared for and the dogs end up being neglected and sadly sometimes abused.
The completion of the learning center will allow more children to be reached through education and fulfill the dream of Wilson’s husband Ward.
“Before he died, he wanted to see more kids camping and learning up here. It’s all about education and making a difference with the kids; nothing will change if we don’t work with the children,” Wilson said.
Anyone wishing to donate funds, services, or dog food to Refuge Ridge can contact Wilson at 606-521-5292, or visit the website at www.refugeridge.org. Donations can also be mailed to PO Box 308, Emlyn, Ky 40730. Anyone wishing to donate funds towards the cost of the Adventure-based camps for children or to sponsor a child can contact Denise Marlett at 606-539-0464. All donations are tax deductible.