Taboo, Merlin, Kona, Thor, Loki, Sarge, Riggs and Ryder live peacefully and naturally, enjoying life as part of a wolfdog pack, thanks to Paula Ficara and Steve Wastell. Beginning with Taboo in 2009, the couple rescued all of the wolfdogs, saving them from impending death and providing them with a safe, secure family and a loving, healthy environment and lifestyle.
“Our whole goal is wanting to save these captive-bred species; they are ambassadors to their wild cousins,” says Wastell, who founded the nonprofit Apex Protection Project with his wife Paula Ficara after discovering and volunteering with a nascent rescue operation in LA County. almost 10 years ago.
“Paula has always been madly in love with wolves,” explains Wastell. When visiting a wolfdog rescue to do a celebrity interview with Palisades friend Vernon Wells in 2004, the couple was so impacted by the wolfdogs, they decided to volunteer, eventually changing careers and moving from their Sherman Oaks apartment to establish their own wolfdog sanctuary.
“We had adopted Taboo, a wolfdog whose owner was unable to care for her,” says Wastell. “We learned a lot. Adopting Taboo completely changed our whole life around,” he adds, noting they moved to 2.5 acres of land in Acton after being kicked out of their apartment due to one neighbor’s complaint about their wolfdog pet living in the building—“It was only one neighbor who complained—everyone else loved Taboo,” notes Ficara.
“We wanted to make sure this beautiful creature had some friends; through that journey, we really learned about wolfdogs, working with experts. We learned how to work with these creatures,” Wastell explains, adding “and before we knew it, people started bringing us wolfdogs in need of a home.”
Today, through their nonprofit organization, the couple has helped rescue and rehabilitate over 260 wolves and wolfdogs. Since founding Apex Protection Project in 2015, they’ve developed educational events and programs, actively advocating for captive-bred wolves and wolfdogs, as well as wolves in the wild. As part of a nationwide rescue network, Apex works to help place animals all around the country.
“There are anywhere from two to seven wolves and wolfdogs in need of rescue almost every week and we try to help as many as we can,” says Ficara. “Sometimes it involves looking for placement, helping to raise money or transporting the animal to their forever home. Basically, if we can help, we will.”
Ficara explains that ending up in a shelter is a death sentence for most captive-bred wolves or wolfdogs.
“It’s illegal for the shelter to re-adopt them out to the public in most parts of the country,” she notes. “They will only be given to a certified wolf/wolfdog rescue.”
In addition to rescue efforts, the Apex Protection Project provides educational experiences and serves as an advocate for wolves, with the dream of “living in a world where the wolf and all species are highly valued, protected and respected for the balance they bring to the ecosystem and for the gifts they offer to humanity.”
Providing guests with the opportunity to visit their rescue ranch in Acton and see the wolfdogs up close, even hike with them in their own territory, is one way the Apex Protection Project helps to educate and promote awareness about these often misunderstood animals.
“One of the most special experiences we can offer is spending time in the presence of these magnificent beings,” says Ficara. “Feeling their gentle energy, their true nature, connecting on a level you never thought possible… Only then can you begin to truly understand how beautiful these creatures are and how important it is that we protect them. A world without the wolf would be an incredible tragedy.”
Outreach educational efforts include traveling with members of the wolfdog pack to visit area schools to educate and empower youth. Interactive presentations incorporating videos and Q&A sessions at schools, including Sycamore School and Muse School in Malibu, provide vital information to students about the importance of the wolf species and the environment and the role young people can play in protecting wildlife.
“Wolves are on the endangered species list federally, but not in some states…hundreds of wolves die every single year; we’re wiping them out,” says Wastell. “Our youth are the ones that are going to stop this from happening. One of the things that’s important for children to know is that the government listens to you—and the government determines how to manage our wolf population,” he adds, noting, “We’re making sure that every kid knows, even at 9, 7—whatever age you are—if you speak up, adults will listen.”
Wastell is encouraged by the changing perspectives about wolves.
“The next generation of farmers are more interested in sustainable farming and living with wildlife,” says Wastell, adding that a “good majority of the younger generation wants to be sustainable, living in coexistence and being protectors of wildlife.”
Meeting the wolfdogs in person helps to foster goodwill between the species, says Wastell.
“In our years of outreach, the greatest positive change we’ve seen occur in people’s belief about wolves is when they come face to face with our ambassador pack and spend time bonding with them. They leave transformed and ready to actively start protecting these noble creatures.”
Wolf Tribe™ Team-Building Workshop
The Apex Protection Project also collaborates with Cultural Anthropologist and Leadership Development expert Philip Folsom in local workshops often held in Temescal Canyon. The unique and highly successful WolfTribe™ Team-Building Workshop focuses on one of the most powerful teams in nature: the wolf pack. Clients are guided through an investigation of the intrinsic values and group dynamics of a wolf pack that make it so successful and then are shown how to incorporate those values and dynamics into their lives to ensure their own team’s success.
Organizations including Chase Bank, Red Bull, USC and Entertainment Arts have participated in these corporate trainings, learning how to work together as a wolf pack, says Wastell.
Actively advocating for wolves in the wild, Apex members get involved in a variety of ways, such as speaking at public hearings, submitting official statements to wolf management departments, communicating with government officials, signing petitions and providing actionable items for the public to access and participate in.
This month, Apex Protection Project, along with nonprofit Plan B to Save Wolves, hosts the third annual Wolf Week in Sedona, Arizona.
The largest annual wolf event in the country, Wolf Week takes place March 25-30, and features wolf experts, including Rick McIntyre and Carter Niemeyer; movie screenings; kids’ events; art; entertainment; and educational presentations about wolves. SedonaWolfWeek.org provides more event details.
“We bring a lot to light while raising funds for advocacy and to benefit the wolves,” says Wastell.
Their dedication to protecting the wolves has changed the course of Ficara and Wastell’s lives—a path they find mutually fulfilling.
“It’s a full-time job and a real commitment—not something to take lightly; you can’t do things normal people can do. Most people are not aware of that,” says Wastell. But, “I got so much more back. They become your pack; they rely on you.”
Learn more about the Apex Protection Project at ApexProtectionProject.org.