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Sanctuaries bring the wild (and not-so-wild) into your world

As anyone who's ever locked eyes with a roaming tiger can tell you, there's a reason why zoos get their place in a typical summertime itinerary. But they're not the only place you can dependably find wild animals.

As Rachel Hartigan Shea puts it in National Geographic, "Animal lovers go to wildlife sanctuaries because they want to see animals up close and because they believe sanctuaries are in the business of taking care of animals that have nowhere else to go."

Whether or not every animal activist believes in the sanctuary model, the main mission of most sanctuaries indeed is to keep and care for those that have been given up, cast off, or worse. Below you'll find four sanctuaries within driving distance that are open to the public. They feature wild and domesticated animals including wolves, foxes, coyotes, pigs, goats, llamas, alpacas, cats, dogs, cows, goats, horses, turkeys, hens and maybe even a parrot.

On its 37-acre refuge, where each two wolves have acre-plus enclosures in which to roam, Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center (4729 Twin Rocks Road, Divide, wolfeducation.org) tries to unravel years of pop-culture misinterpretation of wolves. "Our main vision is to educate the public about wolf conservation, 'cause a lot of people don't know that there's a war on wolves going on right now," says volunteer Alison Klekamp. "A lot of people don't know that they're being illegally hunted. And the No. 1 reason that they're being hunted is because people don't understand wolves are essential for a healthy ecosystem."

Wolves help keep elk and deer numbers at healthy levels, benefiting other animal species and plant populations. They also redistribute resources by leaving carcasses to be eaten by scavengers of all sorts.

It's commonly believed that wolves are cattle-killers, but Klekamp explains that theory dates back to a time when "we encroached on their lands, set up our farms, and killed all the bison." Today, Klekamp says, wolves are responsible for only about 0.1 percent of cattle deaths.

"But basically," she says, "fear conquers knowledge, and that's why people are killing them."

CWWC has 17 wolves — including timber (or Gray), Arctic and Interior Alaskan — red and swift foxes, and Eastern plains coyotes. It's open Tuesday through Sunday; standard tours, which run for an hour and include the chance to join in a group howl, are $15 per adult and $8 per child (12 and under), with feeding tours $20 per adult and $10 per child. Reservations are required.

Mission: Wolf (13388 County Road 634, Westcliffe, missionwolf.org) was founded by Kent Weber in 1988. Upon discovering a wolf that was in bad condition in someone's backyard, Weber decided to care for it. Word got out that he was helping hurt animals, and today Mission: Wolf has more than 50 wolves, taken in from sources ranging from film productions to zoos that wound up with pups they couldn't keep.

All of the organization's wolves are human-imprinted, which means they can't be released back into the wild. The sanctuary says they keep them their entire lives because a lot of the wolves might run to people looking for attention; the rest would just be afraid.

The sanctuary emphasizes that, despite humans' exposure to the animals, wolves and wolf-dogs are not good pets. A better way to spend time with them is in the sanctuary's ambassador program, which offers education and some interaction. One of Mission's missions is to help keep more wolves in the wild, not in captivity.

Daytime tours are available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and usually include a meeting with the organization's ambassador wolves, if not other animals on the property. "Big feeds" on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons may get you more face time. The tours are free, though donations are appreciated with a suggestion of $10 for adults and $5 for children.

Southern Colorado Animal Rescue/Black Forest Animal Sanctuary (16750 Thompson Road, bfasfarm.org) is a no-kill, limited-admission nonprofit animal sanctuary founded in 1994. At various times you'll find pet and farm animals such as dogs, horses, goats, cats and alpacas there; an animal gallery on the website shows current residents. Its goal is to move rehabilitated animals out or back to permanent homes, so it's a shifting cast of critter characters.

The sanctuary, which is funded by donations, is dedicated to reducing the number of unwanted horses in Colorado, as well as cats and dogs. "We know we can't save them all but we try to make a difference in as many animal and human lives as we can," a representative states via email.

Tours are available Monday through Saturday, with hours depending on when volunteers are around. (Get in touch ahead of time.) There is no charge for tours, but a donation is expected.

Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary (81503 E. Yale Ave., Deer Trail, peacefulprairie.org) was founded in 1998. It helps animals who stay at the sanctuary for the remainder of their lives, including cows, goats, sheep, turkeys, hens, pigs and llamas.

"Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary residents have been rescued from all forms of egg, dairy, meat and wool production," one of the co-founders, Michele Alley-Grubb, says by email. "Most were victims of 'family farms,' hobby farmers and large-scale farmed-animal operations."

The sanctuary is "free-roam," so you may be surrounded by its residents on a tour. And part of its mission is to educate the public about the merits of veganism.

Tours must be pre-scheduled. They take place most Sundays, generally beginning at 10:30 a.m., with the chance for people to be with the animals more after the tour ends. Reservations are $15 per person, for every age.

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