Sleeping with Wolves

categories: Cocktail Hour


Here is my daughter Hadley’s take on our night at the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York:


         I was walking away, I heard a howl, and that made me think I had REALLY JUST SLEPT WITH WOLVES.


            My love of wolves started out, of course, with a love of dogs.  Dogs, dogs, dogs, everything was about dogs.  At the beginning of my dog love, I didn’t have a dog of my own.  I begged my parents for one, and finally they gave in, and for my birthday – when I was turning six – I got a yellow lab puppy.  And now every night I sleep with a dog.  But of course the love of dogs soon led to my love of wolves.  I started working with Defenders of Wildlife to try to protect them from being hunted.  And I did school projects about them.  In second grade, we had to pick one arctic animal and do a big project about it for the whole school to see.  My animal?  The arctic wolf. 


            But then my love of wolves grew to not just wanting to know the animal and learn about it.  I wanted to see a wolf in person.  Then, we figured out about The Wolf Conservation Center, and for my tenth birthday, my parents told me that we could go to South Salem, New York, and see wolves.  I was so excited.  But even more excited when I figured out that there was a program we were going to go to called “Sleeping with Wolves,” where you got to camp out just outside the enclosure of two wolves.  First, I wanted to go in May.  But then the decision was on to go in June.  After that we decided to go in July, and finally it ended up in August.  The wait was almost endless.  But finally, it was time to go.

        The night before, I was so excited it was hard for me to get to sleep.  The next afternoon we got in the car and drove there.  My heart was pounding with excitement.  I barely could imagine how great my experience would be.  We got there early, so we had to drive around town before we went.  While my dad was eating his dinner, I was constantly saying, “Can we go now?” and, “Let’s go to The Wolf Conservation Center now.”  Finally when he finished his dinner, we went.  When we pulled in, there was a big sign that said, “Wolf Conservation Center” on it.  I stared at a big gate and then noticed something funny.  A weird sign right next to the gate said, “Deer Drop.”  I knew it probably meant that people dropped the deer off right there, however I didn’t know if they were hunters or just some random people who brought deer to the place.  Soon later a volunteer named Chris told us that enough road kill deer were found to feed all twenty-two of the wolves. 

            Finally it was time to go into the Wolf Conservation Center.  My parents had a long talk with Chris, and finally she showed us to our tent.  I looked, and in an enclosure, I saw a black wagging tail.  Chris showed us where the first gate to the wolves was, and we immediately ran up to it.  Standing right in his enclosure stood a big black wolf, looking right at us.  His name was Zephyr, and he was amazing.  I was amazed when they called out another wolf by her name and she came straight toward the gate of the enclosure.  Her name was Alawa, which means “sweet pea” in Algonquin.  I watched her and Zephyr.  Chris told us that they were brother and sister, and when they were puppies they were hand raised by Spencer, a wolf biologist who worked there.  Spencer told us that he had slept with the pups, and I thought it would be an amazing experience until he mentioned that they would pee on your head and nip you in the night.  Please note that none of this means that wolves are good pets.  Never, ever, ever take a wolf out of the wild to be your pet.

            Soon we saw the main wolf there.  His name was Atka, and was their traveling wolf.  He went all over the place to see people at museums and schools.  His legs were super long, and we sometimes had races, him inside of the enclosure.  I ran, he ran, right next to me.  Zephyr, Alawa, and Atka were all called “Ambassador Wolves.”  They were the domesticated wolves in the pack, and easier to see.  It was basically guaranteed that you would see these three, and that they would come up to the gate to watch you, like you would watch them.  The other wolves were all wild wolves.  It was very, very rare to see these.  The wild wolves were red wolves and Mexican grays.  I was watching Atka once, and my dad called me over to the Mexican gray wolf exhibit.  I ran over to see, and standing near some trees were two Mexican gray wolves.  Soon they came closer.  I could tell they were very curious about us.  Sadly, although we attempted, we never got to see the reds.  Here are some facts:  red wolves only live in the wild in Alligator River, North Carolina.  However, places keep them in captivity.  They are super endangered, and Alligator River is the only place you’ll find them roaming wild in the world.  At the Wolf Conservation Center, they breed red wolf pups, and then after that bring them to Alligator River, where they will soon grow up to be the beautiful and wild species they are.

            That night we ate pizza, saw a wolf presentation, saw a movie about a wolf, had a campfire, saw the wolves again, and went into our tent to sleep.  Curling up in the tent, I knew I was doing something that not a lot of people get to do, except when they go to the Wolf Conservation Center.  I was sleeping with wolves.  Domesticated wolves, wild wolves.  Wolves.

            Next morning, I went to see the wolves again.  Then I went back to the tent to get something.  But before I could reach it, I heard a howl.  Either the wolves were howling because something was happening to them, or they were howling because I just left.  I ran back and watched all of the wolves howling.  It was amazing.  Beautiful and amazing.  Alawa needed to work on her howl a little.  But I thought it was fine.  No two wolves have the same howl, like no two snowflakes have the same pattern.  And Alawa sounded fine to me, even though some people thought otherwise.  The most distinct and amazing howl was Atka’s.  It was like the classic ones that you hear in movies, except much sweeter, and much more beautiful.

            Soon it was time to go.  We got some souvenirs from the souvenir shop, like a stuffed Atka, a picture of Atka, a calendar, and Dad’s hat, which he now loves.  When I said good bye to the wolves and was one step away from opening the gate, the wolves started howling again.  I went to see them again, took a few videos, but then it was really time to go.  As we walked away and got in the car, I thought of the amazing thing that I had just done.  I had really just slept with wolves.


To learn more about what you can do to protect wolves in the wild, visit (link to Defenders of Wildlife, and the Wolf Conservation Center)


  1. Awesome job! So cool!

  2. Jean Ossorio writes:

    What a wonderful adventure. It was a privilege to share it through your writing, Hadley. I hope someday you have the thrill of hearing wild Mexican gray wolves howling while you snuggle down in your sleeping bag in a tent somewhere in the recovery area in New Mexico or Arizona, as I have. It’s another experience you’ll never forget.

    By the way, you might enjoy the website Lobos of the Southwest (, especially the feature “Follow the Pack,” in the Kid Zone, which you’ll find linked from the home page.

  3. Rahul Dave writes:

    Seems like I’m gonna have to soon replace the Gessner books by Hadley books!

  4. Tommy writes:

    This is REALLY well-written…… for a teenager! But have you ever thought about sleeping with gerbils, or some oher animal, goldfish maybe, or a tomato plant – that wouldn’t eat you if they found wire cutters while you were sleeping? Haven’t you learned ANYTHING from all those Wiley Coyote documentaries on Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons?

    • Tommy writes:

      You can see in the fourth photograph where the fence has obviously already been patched. How do you think that happened, hmmm??

  5. George de Gramont writes:

    Wonderful. Am amazed at how fast you promulgated it . And Hadley is getting quite a response.She is definitely a big hit!.I I also enjoyed Bill Roorbach’s response. Very witty. I will definitely treasure this one.

  6. Luanne DiBernardo writes:

    Such a terrific experience, and presented so beautifully. I don’t know Hadley, but I do know how much it meant for her to meet those mysterious wolves (mysterious to me, if not H).

    So now, with barely the time to catch up on Roorbach, Gessner, and de Gramont, I have Hadley eeking into my bedtime reading. Keep it coming, Hadley!

  7. Mike Land writes:

    Great read! I want to go there myself!

  8. Bill writes:

    What a great adventure, Hadley, and what a great essay, beautiful sentences and excellent, clear structure. Thanks for being on Bill and Dave’s. I think you are officially our youngest correspondent! Love the photos, too. Is your Dad inside the cage or outside? Cuz he looks dangerous!

    • Spencer writes:


      It was a pleasure to have you at the event. Follow your passions and I know you’ll be one to watch. Please visit us again soon.

  9. Susanna writes:

    This is so cool! My favorite part was where your parents had a long talk with Chris … and then you got to see the wolves. I could relate to that feeling of thinking “blah blah blah, whatever — LET’S GO SEE THE WOLVES ALREADY!”

  10. Rebecca writes:

    WOWEE, Hadley. I love this so much. What an awesome experience, but also what a great essay. I got to go with you! While sitting here at my desk. Thank you!

  11. Elizabeth Hilts writes:

    This is so cool! I’m glad you got to sleep with the wolves; now I want to do it, too. Thanks for the links.

  12. This is just good writing: “And, I was sleeping with wolves. Domesticated wolves, wild wolves. Wolves.”

    Another, more practical favorite: “Please note that none of this means that wolves are good pets. Never, ever, ever take a wolf out of the wild to be your pet.”