Wolf packs them in Darby Park


By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
On Feb. 12, Rachel Lauren and partner Matt Emmelhainz of Ironwood Wolves brought their 2-year-old ambassador wolf Logan with them to the Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park for an educational workshop at the Nature Center. During the hour-long workshop, Lauren spoke about some common misconceptions about wolves, stressed the importance of conservation and answered many questions from a packed and enraptured audience. Meanwhile, Logan mostly napped on the ground.

As animal-lovers and nature-enthusiasts, Jill Schweitzer-Fugitt and her daughter Jade can often be found hitting the trails at their local parks and looking for signs of wildlife in their surroundings.

Like most outdoors people, they have a preferred park to visit and theirs just happens to be the Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park.

“We love it here,” said Schweitzer-Fugitt.

She said what they enjoy most about the largest Metro Park in the state is that is offers a variety of things to do – hiking, biking, educational workshops, and, of course, searching for the bison.

A planned trip the Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park always brings forth a sense of excitement for the duo, but there was just an extra spark as Feb. 12 neared.

On that Sunday morning, Schweitzer-Fugitt smiled as her 8-year-old picked out a special t-shirt with a large picture of a wolf pup emblazoned on it. After making sure they had their phones charged for any potential photo opportunities, they rounded up Jade’s equally excited cousins and drove from their home in West Jefferson to be at the Nature Center promptly at 1 p.m.

Upon arriving, they noticed that there was a packed house in the large, multi-purpose room.

Typically, they are always able to get a good seat when they attend educational programs, but their location luck was not so great this day.

Though hanging out in the back, they could hear every word as the program started. It was that quiet. And the reason for this silence was because the star of the program, a white 80-pound ambassador wolf named Logan, lifted his head after a brief nap and made it seem as he were going to get up. Much to the amusement of the crowd, he promptly lowered his head back down to the ground and went back to sleep.

“As you can see, wolves are not these horrible, man-eating creatures,” said Rachel Lauren,
Logan’s trainer and the co-owner of Ironwood Wolves, an educational facility that Logan and three other ambassador wolves call home.

Since founding the licensed facility nearly a decade ago, Lauren and partner Matt Emmelhainz have been using facts and humor to debunk common and harmful myths about wolves. But what really helps them change preconceived notions about wolves is the fact that their ambassador animals often display the behavior that Logan does during these presentations, which means they mostly sleep through it.

“They are not drugged,” she explained later with a laugh. “They are just socialized properly.”

Lauren said she finds so much joy in programs such as these because she believes that the positive interactions will get people more interested in the conservation of this species.

She also said that she particularly enjoyed this outing because she and Emmelhainz had to rework their presentation to include the complex history and relationship between the wolf and the bison.

“That was fun for us,” she said.

A survey of the room, especially from the plethora of children on hand, said this program was as much fun for them too.

“This was the greatest,” said Cameron Schweitzer after he and his family were finally about to get close enough to the front in order to take a photo of a napping Logan.

His cousin Jade and Aunt Jill readily agreed.

“I am so glad this program was here and that we were able to come out and experience it,” said Schweitzer-Fugitt.

Debbie Ruppersburg, a naturalist at the Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park, said they were so pleased by the presentation and the reception that they have already asked Lauren and Emmelhainz to come back in the near future.

“Wolves often get a bad rap so it is nice to be able to offer a program that puts a positive spin on the species,” she said.

But there is one group that would probably not be thrilled to hear her say that, and even less to learn about their welcoming onto the premises.

“Our bison don’t need to know about this,” Ruppersburg said, referring to the herd of 11 that were roaming somewhere nearby.


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