Weekends are his time to howl

By on March 12, 2014
Dennis Binkley lives near Millersville, but spends a lot of his time hanging out at the Wolf Sanctuary  of PA in Lititz.

Dennis Binkley lives near Millersville, but spends a lot of his time hanging out at the Wolf Sanctuary of PA in Lititz.

Throughout his life Dennis Binkley, known as Denny to most, has found many things that interest him. He grew up in Lancaster County and spent most of his life here, got a job just out of high school, and spent a four-year stretch in the U.S. Air Force. He has worked for the last 24 years at Shank’s Extracts in Lancaster as a maintenance supervisor, and in 1980 he had the good fortune to meet his wife Patti and her two children. Within the last few years, though, he discovered and nurtured a new passion: his interest in wolves and his work with the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania.

“I’ve always been intrigued and fascinated by them,” Denny said.

He first heard about the sanctuary, located a few miles north of Lititz, in the 1990s but didn’t pursue his interest until 2005 when he found the sanctuary online. He and Patti made the trip to see the wolves, on a tour, for the first time that year.

“Then we just kept coming back,” Denny said. “They finally said that if we were just going to keep going back, why didn’t we just volunteer?”

Now, Denny and Patti travel to the sanctuary every weekend as they have been doing for more than seven years.

While Patti mostly runs the cash register at the office, Denny performs many different odd jobs at the sanctuary, including giving tours on the weekends and sometimes helping to feed during the week.

“You sign up to be a volunteer and you put 500 hours in.” Denny said. “You have to be 18 plus years old to volunteer. And you can do that as a tour guide, parking cars, weeding in the summer, and keeping things out of the fences.” He has performed most of these tasks and enjoyed every minute of it.

“It does relieve some of my stress, being around the wolves,” Denny said. “I hope to be up there until I just can’t go anymore. It’s something amazing to hear wolves howl; it’s one of the most soothing things about being there. It’s kind of mesmerizing.”

As a tour guide, Denny has had occasion to learn as much as possible about the wolves at the sanctuary and wolves in general. He and Patti enjoy sharing that knowledge through presentations at various places around LancasterCounty and at the sanctuary itself.

Though the cold puts a dent in the ability of some people to enjoy the wolf sanctuary, Denny said, it is actually better to see the wolves in the winter.

“They’re more active and have their full winter coats on. Wintertime is what they’re bred for,” He said. “People can’t believe that the wolves lay out in the snow, out on top of the ice. It’s actually much more likely that we’d lose a wolf to the heat in the summer than the cold in the winter.”

Denny works with Merlin, Keshia, Trinity (the Alpha wolf) at the facility in Elizabeth Township.

Denny works with Merlin, Keshia, Trinity (the Alpha wolf) at the facility in Elizabeth Township.

It’s also more likely that visitors would have the opportunity to hear the wolves howl in the winter than in the summer. Though Denny stressed that the wolves howl to communicate among themselves, they seemed to be more eager to howl on cue in the wintertime.

There are approximately 40 wolves on the grounds of the sanctuary, with about 30 of those being visible on the regular tour route; many of those were rescued from poor circumstances as pets or other places where people couldn’t keep them.

“We’re here to rescue wolves,” Denny said. “We’ve rescued about 12 wolves in the last two years or so.”

As a volunteer, Denny also has his favorite among the various packs. “I like the Timber Wolves,” he said. “We kind of all have our favorites.”

“I adopted Tioga.” Denny said, referencing the sanctuary’s Adopt a Wolf program. “I met him when he was four months old, when I first when up there. They used to take him around the yard on a leash and now he’s one of the largest wolves there.”

All of these wolves require food and upkeep, especially vet care and large, open pens. Ways that other people in the community are able to contribute to the effort to keep these beautiful animals fed and healthy are many. Dr. Bill Whittaker, of the Lititz Veterinary Clinic, and his wife donate their time at the sanctuary and restaurants like Scooter’s donate the trimmings off of the meat that they serve.

Other individuals from the community volunteer at the sanctuary or participate in the Adopt a Wolf program to help keep the wolves supplied with food and medical care when needed. The proceeds from the tour admission also helps keep the wolves healthy and fed.

“We get people from Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, even people from Pittsburgh, just to see the wolves and turn around and go back again,” Denny said.

In recent months, the volunteers at the sanctuary have seen tour groups reach numbers over a hundred. The Full Moon tours, which run monthly, have seen groups of 300 to 400 visitors.

Word is getting out about the Wolf Sanctuary. Denny and Patti have done presentations for the public at HACC, Brethren Village and for other organizations to inform people about the wolves at the sanctuary and Denny is glad to leave his house at 6 o’clock in the morning on the weekends, knowing that more than a hundred people pass through the sanctuary on the weekend tours to see and support the animals that he loves.

Learn more about the Wolf Sanctuary of PA at wolfsanctuarypa.org.


Karis A. Eccleston is a freelance writer for the Record Express.





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