When the body of a Harrisburg, Pa., man was found in his home in the fall of 2003, five weeks after he died of cancer, the man's pet wolf was discovered there, too, clinging to life.
"He was starving. He couldn't walk," said Matt Swaner, manager of the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania. "He was 62 pounds - they usually are 100, 110 pounds."
Swaner helped bring the animal to his Lancaster County sanctuary near Lititz, where it was nursed back to health. The 13-year-old tundra wolf soon died of cancer, but "he had three great months when he was happy," Swaner said.
Making wolves happy and healthy is the mission of the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania, home to more than three dozen of the canines - and host to hundreds of human visitors each year. One-hour walking tours of the 25-acre facility, established in 1980, take people up close to the animals. (Tours are by appointment only - $7, $6 senior citizens, $5 children ages 12 and under. There is a $5 fee per camera if you take photos. Call 717-626-4617 or visit www.wolf sancpa.org.) The tour guides also share information about how the complex creatures - shy and playful, nurturing and fiercely territorial - live.
"We split them into families four years ago because they were killing each other," Swaner told a recent tour group of eight people as he gave a treat to the youngest member of the sanctuary's newest family: a 16-week-old gray wolf cub, who lives with her parents. Swaner says the cub was a "happy surprise" - her mother and father, each age 8, are beyond their prime breeding years. "We didn't think they had it in them."
Most of the sanctuary's wolves were once pets, confiscated by the Pennsylvania Game Commission because their owners did not have permits or the required housing for exotic animals. "This is a place for them to live out the rest of their lives without being exterminated because of their human contact," said Swaner. Having lost some of their natural fear of people, the wolves would become unwelcome visitors to yards and campsites if released into the wild.
The sanctuary has four types of wolves, including 17 Great Plains or buffalo wolves, a subspecies of the gray wolf that once roamed the West but is now nearly extinct in the United States.
Tour fees provide most of the nonprofit facility's funding (the staff is all-volunteer). Swaner said winter - when the wolves are most active - is the best time to visit. "They are cold-weather animals," he said. "They are built for it."
Howling, a big part of the animal's mystique, usually occurs at night, Swaner says. But to the delight of a departing tour group last month, the animals sent the visitors on their way with a chorus of eerie, mournful cries. Swaner said the howling was probably spawned by two wolves in adjacent packs "trying to strut their stuff" for each other. "There's a little power struggle going on," he said. "Interestingly, from the bottom up."
Where to visit
Located in Amish country, the wolf sanctuary is near many Pennsylvania Dutch attractions, including the Amish Village (Route 896 one mile south of U.S. 30, Strasburg, 717-687-8511, www.800padutch.com/avillage.html, open only on weekends during the winter), the People's Place Quilt Museum (3510 Old Philadelphia Pike, Intercourse, 800-828-8218), and the Ephrata Cloister (632 W. Main St., Ephrata, 717-733-6600), an 18th-century communal village that was an early center of Pennsylvania printing and publishing.
The Lancaster County History Museum (2249 U.S. 30 East, Lancaster, 717-393-3679, www.discoverlancaster.com) explores the area's past, Amish and otherwise.
Where to shop
A good place to start shopping is the wolf sanctuary's own gift shop, where greeting cards, bookmarks, T-shirts, photos, postcards and artwork, all featuring wolves from the facility, are sold. Proceeds support the sanctuary.
For stuff that has nothing to do with wolves, the nearby Brickerville House Restaurant and Specialty Shops (U.S. 322 and Route 501, 717-626-0377, www. brickervillehouse shops.com) has a dozen stores with items ranging from antiques to stencil crafts. Like many businesses in the area, Brickerville House is closed on Sunday.
The town of Lititz has many shopping opportunities too, such as the North Star of Lititz (53 N. Broad St., 717-625-1945, www.thenorthstaroflititz.com), which sells colorful hand-blown glass gifts, and Creativity (55 E. Main St., 717-625-2388) - its offerings include a charming collection of Russian nesting dolls.
A one-stop shopping option for Amish and Mennonite goods is the Kitchen Kettle Village, with its 32 stores (Old Philadelphia Pike and Newport Road, Intercourse, 800-732-3538). There you can get handcrafted furniture, bed and bath items, leather goods, and edibles, some made right on the premises.
Where to eat and drink
The area's Amish, country-style eateries include two in the town of Bird-in-Hand: the Amish Barn Restaurant (3029 Old Philadelphia Pike, 717-768-8886, www.amishbarn pa.com) and the Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant (2760 Old Philadelphia Pike, 717-768-8266, www.bird-in-hand.com).
Want something cold and sweet? For "old-fashioned fountain service," visit Glassmyers (23 N. Broad St., Lititz, 717-626-2345), where you can indeed get old-fashioned fountain treats such as floats, phosphates, malts and ice cream sodas.
The words "cozy" and "sports bar" don't usually go together, but at Cafe Chuckles in Lancaster (1335 Fruitville Pike, 717-397-3966) they somehow do. Menu items include creative concoctions such as the Surf-N-Turf, a hamburger with crab stuffing, Russian dressing and cheddar cheese.
The Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania is two hours from Baltimore. Take Interstate 83 north to U.S. 30 east. In Lancaster take Route 501 north, then about five miles past Lititz turn left onto U.S. 322 west. Make the first left turn onto Long Lane, then a left turn onto Speedwell Forge Road. The sanctuary is about 300 yards on the left. Visits are by appointment only.
For more information on area attractions, call 800-723-8824 or visit www.padutchcountry.com.