As strangers begin to approach, a stirring inside the double-fenced pen registers to Maria Ferguson.

From the outside, it takes a moment to discern the slowly moving shapes within the dense shade of the enclosure. Two layers of steel-wire fencing distract your focus like a window screen, while the glare of the afternoon sun dares the eye to tune into the darkness.

For the wolves, though, it’s taken no time at all to take in your sights and smells.

The pack’s alpha male, Wa-Ta-Chee – whose Choctaw name means “meeting at the waters of talking spirits” – begins pacing a figure-eight around the enclosure, keeping watch over his pack.

“They’re very protective of their territory,” Ferguson said, asking that you respect it, too.

For child visitors, that means following careful instructions not to run or holler. Grown-ups are told to walk slowly, speak lowly and not to make quick movements.

No fairy-tale villains these, each of the seven pack members at the Wolf Howl Animal Preserve is at one a muse, a cause and a pet for Ferguson. She left her home in Wisconsin four years ago to found this preserve in the Pinedale community, in western Union County not far from the Lafayette County line.

Down here, the land was cheap and roots already in place for her husband, Don, whose family hails from Hamilton in Monroe County.

After a year and a half spent clearing a site on their 43-acre property and making preparations, the couple opened the preserve in September 2005. They’ve since established an extensive Web site at and begun welcoming a few visitors at the preserve itself.

Her husband said Ferguson “lives, breaths, eats and sleeps wolves.”

It all started with her purchase of a Siberian Husky pup, whose breed she began researching. Digging deeper into Huskies’ wolf ancestry, Ferguson learned that the animals were a threatened species. They’re listed as endangered or threatened in some parts of the world, including the continental United States.

Choosing to champion their cause, Ferguson made a visit to the Wolf Park preserve in Battleground, Ind., and later became a volunteer tour guide and caretaker at a wolf preserve near her home in Wisconsin. The notion of providing a safe haven and educational facility on their own land became a dream for the couple.

Maria, who previously sold insurance, and Don, a self-employed computer programmer, searched for nearly two years for a large tract of land that was affordable.

With their first wolf enclosure now in place for nearly two years, they are in the process of raising some $100,000 to fence in a much larger enclosure of 5 to 7 acres total, including a pond.