ELBURN – Al Butler’s experience with handling animals started when he was just 4 years old.
It started with kittens, but he has expanded to a broad range of animals, including dogs, parrots, horses and even wolves.
The Elburn resident is so passionate about wolves that, for the past two years, he’s been working to create a habitat and residential program to help educate the public about the importance of preserving the few species of wolves left in the world. There used to be 53 different species of wolves, but that number has diminished to 12.
Butler has 36 years of experience in behavioral science and said he prefers to work with animals that most people would consider challenging. Although they’re similar animals, working with wolves is a little different than working with dogs, he said.
“The domestic animals have a different side. They don’t fear us like a wolf would instinctively,” he said.
For about eight years, Butler has worked with Denise Kinsey of Naperville, helping to train a high content-blood wolf dog named S’uk’a. Kinsey, who is the director of public relations of the East Coast for Wolf Mountain Sanctuary in Lucerne Valley, Calif., said there’s a big difference between wolf dogs and actual wolves in that purebred wolves are not trainable.
She said S’uk’a is the “ambassador for Wolf Mountain,” often making appearances at schools and festivals to educate people about wolves.
“A wolf dog is a domesticated animal. It has never been in the wild,” she said. “People breed them. The organization I work for is 100 percent against the breeding of wolf dogs.”
Kinsey rescues neglected and abused wolf dogs. She said wolves inherently are skittish and try to avoid humans if possible. She said working with Butler has helped her handle rescue dogs and said he’s also very good with cats.
“He’s awesome,” she said. “Otherwise, he wouldn’t be working with us.”
Butler said he used S’uk’a’s help in the past to help get rid of a coyote that was being baited by some people who were feeding it. The coyote had gotten a little too comfortable around people, so Butler said he walked some property lines with S’uk’a, who marked her territory, keeping the coyotes at bay.
Butler said training pet shop animals to sit and stay bores him, which is why he prefers working with “anything that doesn’t fit in a box.”
“Those are the ones that I really excel at,” he said. “I like trying to figure out how to communicate with them.”
Kinsey said it’s particularly important to expose people to wolves because so many species have been lost, especially in recent years. She said three breeds have disappeared since 2009 because of hunting. She said wolves are important for keeping the ecosystem intact, and their disappearance means there likely will be an overabundance of caribou, deer, rabbits and other types of wildlife.
Butler also is an ordained pastor who ministers to youth and runs a pet-sitting business. He said those are ways he can use his skills as an animal behaviorist to help people, too.
“It’s just building a bond,” he said of working with both animals and people. “[That’s the key] with anything no matter what you do.”
For now, Butler is working on raising $500,000 to open his own sanctuary in Elburn, which would require 20 acres of land.
“I truly enjoy what I do,” he said. “I wouldn’t know what else to do if I wasn’t doing this.”
For information about Al Butler, an animal behaviorist from Elburn who works with many types of animals, visit www.facebook.com/k9trainer65.