Oct. 27, 2021
Grad pivots to unexpected, rewarding career as director of Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary
Why would an engineer abandon a rewarding and challenging career for something as risky as running a wolfdog sanctuary? Ten years ago, when Georgina De Caigny, BSc (Eng)’11, made that decision, she had no idea that she’d have nine permanent staff members and receive approximately 20,000 visitors a year. All she knew was that she was smitten with her own wolfdog, Kuna.
De Caigny is executive director of the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary.
What do you miss about student life?
The structure and stability of being a student. I remember that every day was very planned out and predictable, and that I had only one main focus, which was to learn!
Where did you hang out on campus?
Mostly in the Engineering building. There were so many fun things to do outside of class and study times … it was a great community to be a part of.
- Read all the profiles of 2021 Top 40 Under 40 honourees from UCalgary
How/why did you take such a sharp detour from engineering to pursue this line of work?
While in the middle of my education for my engineering degree, I fell in love with wolfdogs and realized the major issues facing wolfdogs were a lack of education and rescue resources. It was something I felt I could impact and so I decided to follow my heart and start a non-profit wolfdog rescue. Deciding to abandon my pursuit of becoming an engineer in order to build a sanctuary for a very misunderstood animal was very risky. But, with a lot of hard work, dedication and time, I was able to successfully create the only facility in Canada that specializes in the education and rescue of wolfdogs. It also became a major destination for world travellers to visit.
What is a wolfdog and what are the common misconceptions people harbour about them?
A wolfdog is a dog that has some amount of wolf content bred into them. It can vary from a small amount of wolf all the way to 99-per-cent wolf. Wolfdogs are the result of people intentionally breeding them. Today, that happens when a wolfdog is bred with another wolfdog or dog and doesn’t usually involve a pure wolf parent. They are usually bred by backyard breeders as exotic pets in order to make a profit. However, there are a very limited number of breeders who breed them to “better” the breed and produce an offspring with very particular physical and behavioural characteristics.
Wolfdog traits can vary dramatically between individual wolfdogs due to the degree of wolf content bred into the animal and the kind of socialization the animal received at a young age. Typical wolfdog characteristics of varying degrees are: fearfulness of humans, high prey drive, high energy, territorial, destructive, extremely independent and being escape artists.
How has COVID-19 impacted your day-to-day work?
COVID has completely taken the predictability out of my days. It has forced me to become extremely flexible in my decision-making and to not get comfortable with any particular routine, in terms of how we run our facility.
What is the most satisfying thing about your job?
Knowing that every day I am making a difference in the world is awfully fulfilling. Whether that’s through rescuing a new wolfdog and providing it with a safe and happy “forever” home, or having visitors to the sanctuary leave with a totally new perspective on wolves and wolfdogs — it’s an amazing feeling seeing the impact you are making every day!
If you were to go back to school, what would you take?
I would be very motivated to get a business degree! That would have been extremely helpful during the first few years of establishing the sanctuary, and I’m sure would still be very beneficial to have today.
What do you wish you knew more about?
I wish I knew more about marketing and advertising, especially through social media. So much of our daily lives are now influenced through this channel that it would be truly advantageous to be more knowledgeable about how to better use social media as a tool to expand our reach and impact.
When you are not working, what do you do?
I like to spend my free time in the mountains hiking, biking and cross-country skiing in the winter. Being in the mountains surrounded by nature helps keep me grounded and recharged.
With files from Avenue Magazine.