Long before I got seriously interested in tigers, I got interested in wolves, and I have been a wolf sponsor at Wolf Park sincd 1987. These days, I get over there (near Lafayette, IN) very rarely. They close for the season at the end of November, and since next weekend is Chambanacon, if I was going to get there this year it had to be today.
The major tangible benefit of sponsoring a wolf at Wolf Park is that you get to have hands-on visits with your wolf (or a proxy, if you sponsor a wolf that can't be visited safely). But nowadays, you have to arrange such a visit in advance. I hadn't sorted out the chaos of my life completely enough to be sure I would be visiting this weekend until this week. I sent email to the park on Wednesday, and waited until Friday to tell me that I had to make an appointment by phone (even though I'd done it by email for the last several years), and I didn't actually get the email until 11:00. So I didn't get to have any hands-on contact with the wolves, which left me feeling pretty bummed out.
The strict policy of having to make an appointment in advance is just one aspect of how the place has changed since I first started visiting. They used to be a shoestring operation, not very fancy looking, and much friendlier and more open, but they started to get enough people and money coming in a number of years ago that they became a much more commercial operation. They have very fancy facilities now, and they can accommodate hundreds of visitors at once, but they're also much more distant from the visitors. I told Pat Goodmann, who runs the wolf sponsorship program, about how I'd tried to contact them in advance to arrange an appointment, but despite the fact that I've known her for 17 years, she didn't take the hint that I wanted to visit my wolf today. I don't mean to imply that she's being nasty to me; it's just that with so many thousands of visitors coming through the facility, and given the realities of the ravening hordes of lawyers out there, they can't make exceptions to strict policies of who gets to get close to the wolves. It was different 15 years ago, and frankly, even though the place obviously has much more appeal as a tourist attraction to the unwashed masses today, I miss the old Wolf Park, where a sponsor could show up without warning and they would work in a visit. The old wolf park had a big impact on my life, and I spent a lot of time there in the late 80's, but if the me of 1987 had visited the Wolf Park of 2004, I don't think he'd have cared.
Despite the fact that the trip was something of a bummer, I did enjoy seeing the wolves, especially the puppies that were born this April. (They are almost adult size, but still have distinctly puppyish personalities.) And desptite the fact that I had to take most of my pictures through fences (with perimiter fences that prevented me from getting the camera close enough to the fence that it wouldn't mess up the picture), I took a lot of pictures. Some of them are even good, and some of the ones that are badly fenced are still amusing enough to be worth sharing on the web. (Someone with much more time and/or Photoshop skill might be able to effectively remove fence artifacts from pictures, but I can't at this point.)
The following is the LJ picture site's formatting with a little light editing on my part.