Healing hearts and minds through rescue, sanctuary and education

Thank you to Old Naples News and North Naples News for sharing our story, reprinted below. 

by Deanna Deppen, Executive Director

Shy Wolf Sanctuary Education and Experience Center


While many residents recognize Shy Wolf Sanctuary for its rescue of captive-bred exotic animals, the organization offers much more for all that enter its gates. The organization’s mission is to heal hearts and minds through rescue, sanctuary, and education. To date, 1,260 animals have found safety, and tens of thousands of human visitors from all around the world have experienced a transformation through educational and therapeutic animal encounters.


The story of Shy Wolf started in 1993, with founders Nancy and Kent Smith. They began taking in animals that were not accepted by government animal services, wildlife rehabilitators, or zoos. Their early rescues included a three-legged leopard and four tiny wolf pups that had nowhere else to go. If Nancy and Kent hadn’t taken the discarded animals in, they would have been euthanized simply for being born as a captive-bred exotic.


As Nancy and Kent’s backyard filled with rescued animals, it became apparent that the grass-roots rescue effort should formalize into a non-profit organization in 2001. With a board of directors, additional donations, and a growing volunteer base, Shy Wolf Sanctuary began offering educational programs both on-campus and off-site. The educational team speaks out for abandoned and abused captive-bred exotic animals as well as offering programs to encourage people to co-exist with Southwest Florida’s native wildlife in sustainable ways.


Throughout the years, Shy Wolf has also opened its doors to college and graduate students studying animal behavior, veterinary medicine, and psychology. The sanctuary offers an ideal place to study and learn from the animals, many of which have suffered abuse, neglect, and abandonment. While the organization’s current location has limited the on-campus education, Shy Wolf is moving forward with plans to expand on a 17-acre parcel of land on Golden Gate Boulevard. With a larger campus, the sanctuary plans to welcome students of all ages for hands-on, science-based field trips.


Part of what makes Shy Wolf Sanctuary so special is that healing happens on many levels for both the resident animals and the human visitors.  Volunteers have always found solace and referred to Shy Wolf as their sanctuary as well.  Psychiatrists have referred clients to the sanctuary throughout its history and the board recognized that the animal encounters had the power to help people overcome a variety of emotional challenges. Often, the people connected with the animals who have similar stories suffering the loss of divorce, abuse, and abandonment but still offer unconditional acceptance. In 2017, Shy Wolf Sanctuary began offering its Healing Hearts program to support children at The Children’s Network of Southwest Florida, Youth Haven, and The Shelter for Abused Women and Children. Most recently, Shy Wolf began offering Veteran support services in partnership with the Southwest Florida Chapter of Home Base.


As Shy Wolf has grown and welcomed more animals, it remains committed to providing habitats that are both safe and sustainable. The habitats exceed government safety standards for all the resident animals. Additionally, the Sanctuary has incorporated Florida-friendly landscaping, solar technologies, and water features. In crafting the vision for the expanded campus, the organization looks forward to partnering with other non-profits to provide immersive educational components such as wildlife overpasses.


Contact info@shywolfsanctuary.org for information on arranging a therapeutic or educational animal encounter. Opportunities on-campus are limited, but Shy Wolf will come to your home or community association with an ambassador animal to share the story of our animals and volunteers.


For more information about getting involved with Shy Wolf Sanctuary, contact Deanna Deppen admin@shywolfsanctuary.org or visit www.ShyWolfSanctuary.org.