Sleeping with WOLVES – Meet the woman who has given up love and holidays with her family to share her bed with five-foot, 90 pound Damu, who likes to cuddle and spoon.
- Kimmi Kraus, 27, lets her three and half year old wolf named Damu sleep in her king-size bed with her at her Santa, Rosa California ranch
- Kraus wakes up at 5am each day to care for the three wolves she houses at her Project Wildsong facility
- ‘I don’t have time to go out and party really because of the animals,’ says Kimmi who has sacrificed her personal life and chance to travel
- Sharing a bed isn’t Damu’s only human trait, he also has favorite foods – iced green tea and fresh mozzarella
- ‘They really are the most loving, considerate and sensitive animals,’ Kraus says, and movies and television do not accurately portray the creatures
Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Not Kimmi Krauss, who says wolves are not bad but loving and sensitive animals.
Kraus, a California conservationist, shares her bed every night with Damu – a cross breed of Timber, Hudson Bay and British Columbian wolf – at her ranch in Santa Rosa.
Instead of going out to party, this 27-year-old enjoys slumber parties with her four-year-old furry friend, who often ends up spooning her while they’re catching up on their ZZZs.
Kimmi insists that the unusual sleeping arrangement is safe and that she trusts her animal companion with her life.
She’s been raising Damu since he was just six weeks old.
And now at five feet and 90 pounds she takes care of him and other wolves at her facility as part of an educational initiative launched to help people understand the importance of conservation in California.
The dedicated wolf advocate has house trained and professionally trained wolves for several years, as well as run her own unique private venture.
The wolves are born in captivity in government-approved wolf ‘eco-education facilities.’ Those facilities work on the conservation of wolves and rescue work and rehabilitation.
Founder and Executive Director of Project Wildsong, Kimmi says sharing a bed has made their bond even closer.
‘To me sleeping with Damu is part of everyday life and adventure.
‘I know he gets an enormous sense of enjoyment and excitement from it, and it really helps our bond,’ she revealed.
‘My life is different and some people will not understand our bond, but we are like a family.
‘A lot of people are enchanted by the idea of having this close relationship with a wild animal, but this comes after years of training and work with Damu.
‘People may not understand the sacrifices you have to make. It is a commitment, 24 hours a day making sure you give the animals everything they need.’
Damu has been sharing Kimmi’s king-sized bed for three and a half years since he was a young pup.
Every night they go through a similar bedtime routine, ‘When he gets in he always settles on the furthest side from me, but during the night that changes and he gradually moves across getting closer until he cuddles me.
‘By the morning he kind of spoons me; it is funny but also really great to know how affectionate he has become.
‘During the night he can be a little restless. He often tries to rearrange the blankets and digs into the bed to get his best position.
‘Sometimes it can take up to ten minutes for him to be settled and I have put up with it.
‘He does snore a little bit too on only some occasions, but it is not too annoying, he doesn’t dream anymore like he used to.
‘As a puppy, he would be running his legs and whining and that could keep me up. He has grown out of that now.’
Now Damu acts like a teenager and loves to sleep in. ‘To him every day is Saturday,’ she laughed.
‘He sleeps in as long as he can. If he could, he would stay in bed until 11am most days.
‘I am up at 5am usually feeding the others and doing my chores.’
And sometimes having one furry friend in her bed is not enough. Her five-year-old Settala Husky Jackson often jumps in between the sheets.
‘Jackson has been brilliant with all the wolves. He is essentially an additional trainer.
‘There are certain ways of training the wolves which I, as a human, cannot communicate to them.
‘But Jackson has assisted in the sense of teaching the wolves about boundaries. He, through his ways of communicating, instructs wolves on the etiquette of animals in the home.
‘He has a brilliant nature, and is unfazed by the wolves when they are impetuous puppies or more mature adults, looking to assert themselves.
‘I would say he is a mentor to them, helping them relax and stay settled interacting with humans.
‘He is actually loved by the wolves too, and when they are on the bed with me, they enjoy it even more when he is with us.’
She continued, ‘A lot of trainers would disagree about Damu crossing the boundaries of wildlife and human life, but it’s what works for me.
‘Damu has beautiful manners inside the house, doesn’t use it as a restroom, or tear stuff up or fight with Jackson.
‘And anyone thinking that wolves make good guard dogs is mistaken.
‘They are more likely to run away if anyone enters the property; as far as they are concerned if they are not comfortable around someone then they shy away from them.
‘Captive and wild wolves are very shy and aloof. It is that sensitivity and disdain from not wanting conflict.’
Currently Kimmi has three wolves at her Project Wildsong facility – Damu, Cale and a ten-week-old British Columbian dark-haired puppy named Fel.
Damu is the only one allowed to sleep in the bed, but the others are allowed in the bedroom.
‘I know when they want to be left alone. I can spot that by the way their ears are positioned or their vocalizations. That is a sign to back off and leave them be.
‘People fear what they do not understand. Just because it is something that happens, it is not typical, it is not wrong.
‘This close demonstration of a bond between a handler and wolf ambassador, well defines the relationship.’
She says that trust built up from when Damu was just six weeks old, when the nervous wolf could only sleep in Kimmi’s arms.
‘When he was a really young puppy I would hold him in my lap in bed as it was just a way of calming him down.
‘I would read to him excerpts from Anne McCaffrey fantasy books and would see him noticeably relax.
‘Back then he was a young puppy with an insane amount of energy, so to get him relaxed was a big thing.
‘Now, when we travel doing our demonstrations and talks, Damu knows that sleeping on the bed is a prize for his good behavior.
‘He has slept in hotel beds with me, and it is second nature to him.’
Sleeping in beds is not Damu’s only human trait. He also has an addiction to iced green tea and fresh mozzarella cheese.
‘Damu just loves iced green tea from Starbucks. It started when he was six months old, I put a cup down and when I wasn’t watching he took the whole cup and it has now become a trend.
‘He just kept licking his lips, as if he was the most delighted wolf.
‘So the next time I gave him a drop and he instantly lapped it up. Now every time we go to Starbucks, I pick him up a grande iced tea.
‘Damu also loves cheese as a treat. It started off with string cheese, but he has built an obsession with fresh mozzarella.
‘He will chow down a full packet in a matter of seconds.
‘He loves it so much that I use it for him to work for as a huge treat when he is working.’
Kimmi’s grocery bill and upkeep for her three wolves comes in at over $1,000 a month, including supplies and vet bills.
‘The cheese and green tea are treats; usually I give them an all raw diet mirroring what they have in the wilderness.
‘They get salmon heads and tails, pork, rabbit, venison and green tripe, so they actually eat better than I do!
‘They love watermelons too, and they also chomp through squash and pumpkins.’
To care for and fund her wolves, Kimmi takes her business out across the States to help educate children and adults on the nature and habitat of wolves.
‘It is a full scale job to be an ambassador here and there is no way I could juggle job of 40 hours trying to care for the wolves,’ she claimed.
‘A lot of people ask if they can became ambassadors, but they have no idea of the commitment it takes; they think it is just playing with the wolves for a couple of hours here and there.
‘You cannot conform an animal to meet your lifestyle, you have to conform to meet the lifestyle of the animal.
‘Everyday I am up at 5am, and in bed at 11pm at night and I don’t leave.
‘For me a mini vacation is going into town to pick up groceries or going to an educational talk.
‘When you commit to animals and a working facility, you have to put the animals first.
‘I am unable to travel on holidays with my family, but when this is your passion you are more willing to miss other opportunities because you are so entrenched in it and I’m so committed to this.
‘You realize that some things are just materialistic. It is about being content with what you have.
‘I love my life and job and as much I would like to travel, this is my assignment.
‘I cannot imagine a different life, only to become a bigger educational facility.’
Kimmi admits that her devotion to her animals has meant her own personal life has suffered.
‘I don’t have a partner, and it would take someone with an understanding of a life with animals to be with me.
‘I don’t have time to go out and party really because of the animals. And I am not that accessible geographically, two hours from LA in the middle of nowhere.
‘To be honest, I am just 27 now and I hope to find someone who has that same passion about animals as I do, geeks with nature. But at least with Damu I have a bed companion!’
Kimmi, who has a degree in creative writing and illustration, has been running Project Wildsong for three years.
Wildsong is fully licensed as an exhibitor by the United States Of Department Of Agriculture.
She founded the initiative after working with sanctuaries and taking an interest in nature conservation from the age of eight.
‘Project Wildsong is an educational collaboration and conversation of North American wildlife that dispels the myths about the most polarized creature there – the wolf.’
She added, ‘I would dispute anyone who says that I have the wolves as a status symbol.
‘The education aspect of being able to give people a unique hands-on experience to choose to challenge their own perspective is vital.
‘It is about teaching not preaching, and enabling individuals to have a different perspective and not what society perpetuates wolves to be.’
During the last decade, Kimmi has worked with over 40 wolves helping hand-raise, educate and train them.
‘I have learned directly from animals. It is the greatest way to know how to work with them and improve, rewiring our own perspectives of what we understand.’
Kimmi stepped away from a media career after graduating from Brigham Young University in Utah to pursue her career with animals.
She has written a book called The Everyday Adventure, which follows her life story and the creation of Project Wildsong.
She hopes her educational outreach work and book will change the public perception of wolves in media, movies and on TV.
‘Even in fairytales humans have been dished up with the notion of ‘Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?’
‘However, in real life that couldn’t be further from the truth. They actually like to avoid conflict, and steer clear from humans.
‘They are at their most content when out in the wilderness alone or with their packs.
‘If they see danger their first instinct is get out of the area as quickly as they can.
‘It would take a lot for them to react by growling and attacking; they would have to be backed into a corner and sense that their life was in danger.
‘Wolves in general are more inclined even in the most perilous states to run – their DNA sets them up that way.
‘That is why they have ears which can hear five miles away in the forest.
‘Another misconception about wolves, mainly due to the movies, is that they are cunning, clever and vicious hunters.
‘In fact, they are terrible hunters who cannot really track animals really well. They go for the sick and weak.
‘Long hunts are not their thing, as they get tired and they like to conserve energy.
‘I always say wolves like fast food and leftovers – not Burger King, but animals that are weak and sick, and leftovers from what other animals have killed in the wild.’
Kimmi insists that the perceived movie image of wolves, especially in Liam Neeson’s The Grey, is off track.
‘Wolves are very sensitive creatures whether in wild or captivity.
‘They are happiest in the pack or with handlers, and they are real social beings.
‘Their dynamics are very much like human beings. There is one DNA sequence that separates dogs from wolves.
‘People have built perceptions from pop culture that there is conflict between human and the wolf.
‘They really are the most loving, considerate and sensitive animal – and make wonderful teaching animals and working animals.
‘They are active during early mornings and late evenings. They are full of personality.’
Despite The Grey having a damning effect, Hollywood has got it right on a few occasions with how wolves really are.
‘Kevin Costner’s Dancing With The Wolves did a lot to help the PR image of wolves,’ Kimmi claimed.
‘That unique relationship between the animal and hero gave the world a different perception, which was refreshing.
‘While I’m not one to be totally enamored by Hollywood, it would be great if our wolves could become movie stars in positive films that teach and educate correctly how they really are… as beautiful, calm, loving and non-confrontational creatures.
‘But my dream would be to have my own wildlife show on National Geographic to teach people about these majestic animals. I hope one day that becomes a reality.’
Author: James Desborough And Jon Boon