…the success of the wolf pack depends on the strength of the alpha female.
I’ve chosen Betsy Klein for my first Woman in Wolf Advocacy Series of Interviews. I’ve known Klein for four years and have had the distinct pleasure of watching her grow into her role as a wolf and wildlife advocate. In that brief time she’s co-founded an organization, Plan B To Save Wolves, who’s mission is to assist wolf organizations in achieving their goals. Klein also co-organized the successful event Sedona Wolf Week 2017 & 2018.
About Betsy Klein
Betsy Klein is co-founder of Plan B to Save Wolves, the annual event Sedona Wolf Week and founder of I Am Wolf Nation™. She started working with a wolf rescue in 2014 at a sanctuary in California and upon moving to Sedona, formed her own nonprofit to help educate people about wolves while driving awareness of their plight in addition to saving wolves and wolf dogs in need of rescue and care. She has recently joined the HSUS as a District Leader, joined the HSUS Wildlife Team of Arizona and is working to become a lobbyist for wolves and wildlife.
For over 20 years Betsy has collaborated with many nonprofits beginning with her position as Marketing Chair on the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Board of Directors in the mid 90s. Her nonprofit experience is diverse and has included Board, staff and volunteer positions with an emphasis on her development, marketing and leadership skills. Currently Betsy lives in Sedona, Arizona with her husband Timon, two cats and two wolfdogs, all rescues. When she is not working on her wolf projects, she is managing her own company The SmartGal Marketing Services.
Woman in Wolf Advocacy Series Interview of Betsy Klein
Tell us about a particular experience in your childhood that inspired the advocacy work you do today.
To be honest there isn’t an incident from my childhood that led me to this path of animal advocacy and specifically to wolves. In fact I grew up in a very rural area where we raised our beef and pigs for our family’s consumption, as well as chickens for their eggs, and the men in the family hunted during deer season. My neighbors owned the local slaughterhouse, and it was not unusual to see dogs and cats outside, never inside, at most of the surrounding homes and farms.
I think the turning point came much later in life when I connected to my inner spirit. When I refer to inner spirit I am referring to the understanding that we are all connected, including people and animals. I began to understand that because of this connection, what we do to animals we are essentially doing to ourselves. Hence our tagline “When we save wolves, we save ourselves” because wolves are especially connected to humans through culture, history, the ecosystem, our food and more.
I know that you were a volunteer for Wolf Connection. When did you start volunteering there and why?
When I lived in Sedona, Arizona in 2013 I went to the Medicine Wheel Lodge in Rimrock and met Healing Wolf and her wolves. I had begun following the plight of the wolf prior to that visit, and having that personal interaction with them solidified for me; that I was going to do all that I could to help these magnificent creatures. I had no idea at the time what that would be other than signing a lot of petitions and writing letters.
In the photograph: Timon Pratt and Betsy Klein husband and wife co-founders of Plan B Foundation
At the end of 2014 I moved back to LA and in my job search came across someone, who upon learning my passion for wolves, mentioned he was on the Board of Directors for Wolf Connection. He’s suggested I consider volunteering there. I immediately signed up, and the volunteer process is quite rigorous, as they work with you to gauge your commitment; in addition to learning about wolves. When I first started I washed a lot dishes and raked. I didn’t even get to pick up wolf poop for my first three months as that required going into their enclosures, and you had to go through a process first in order to be able to do that. I was so excited the day I learned I was eligible to now pick up wolf poop. Kind of funny when you think about it. 😉
I learned a lot at Wolf Connection, and it truly gave me my start to where I am today. I learned so much about wolves, wolf dogs and myself. We did a lot of programs at Wolf Connection and it is such pure joy to watch people experience wolves for the first time because it is in that moment they realize wolves are not the demons of fairy tales. But are rather magnificent animals that are essential and must be saved. If I could bottle that moment, and give it to everyone, I absolutely would.
“When we save wolves, we save ourselves” ~Betsy Klein
I will always be thankful for Wolf Connection, and that is where I met Paula Ficara and Steve Wastell who are the co-founders of Apex Protection Project . Our friendship has flourished and together we have made such an impact with the creation of Sedona Wolf Week and most recently I AM Wolf Nation. Paula and Steve are as close to Timon and I as anyone can get with what we have experienced together in this shared passion; to save wolves and wolf dogs. I sincerely could not imagine my life without them.
Why wolves? What about the Gray wolf inspired you to work to protect him?
The gray wolf is iconic and represents so much. Yet modern man has been on this campaign to eradicate them from the planet. How did the original man’s best friend become the perceived worse enemy? Why is there so much fear and complete lack of science and logic when it comes to dealing with wolves? My inspiration came from this injustice, and I knew I had to become a voice for them. To do what I could to try and penetrate the misperceptions, to remove the fear and loathing based on fairy tales. Just knowing if I could just impact one person, they in turn could impact another, and so on. I cannot and will not a world without wolves.
I have known you for a couple years now. I’ve watched you grow into your advocacy work; starting with being a Wolf Connection volunteer, then creating your own organization called Plan B To Save Wolves. At Sedona Wolf Week 2018 you talked about how you came up with the name for Plan B. Can you tell us that story?
When I moved back to Sedona, Arizona at the end of 2015, I knew I wanted to do something to help wolves, and wolf dog. But I just wasn’t sure what that would be. Timon was very supportive, we knew we didn’t want to start a sanctuary, but rather create something that would be helpful to many. A quick side note, I should mention Timon calls me “B” and I call him “T” as our nicknames for each other. With that said he would frequently say to me “What’s the plan B?” within our daily lives.
One day at lunch I was pitching to Timon the idea of creating an organization that helped other non profits that specifically supported wolves and wolf dogs with marketing, development/fundraising and board development. You see I have many years experience in this area, and I know a lot of smaller organizations cannot either afford full time staff or consultants. I would of course offer this for free to those groups.
As usual I was hesitating because I didn’t know if it was a good idea, if anyone would be interested or how to get started. A bit ironic given what I do for a living, but when it comes to yourself, and your personal journey, sometimes it is hard to put that focus on yourself.
So during my back and forth, wondering out loud if it was a good idea, and what we would even call the organization, Timon pulled out his phone and called up a file on his screen and showed it to me. It was a logo he had already created with the name Plan B. “You are their Plan B.” he said, “Everyone needs a Plan B.”
So obviously I started to cry because of his overwhelming love and support of my intentions that really gave me that final nudge to move forward by creating the name and logo. Officially we are Plan B Foundation, Inc., with the dba Plan B to Save Wolves. And pretty much daily Timon will say to me “What’s the plan B?”
Another interesting element to this story is when I first arrived in Sedona, I started working part time at the Humane Society of Sedona. The Executive Director at the time was Birgitte Silver and everyone just called her “B”. When she first interviewed me she reviewed my resume and said simply “I cannot afford you.” My reply? I didn’t mind I just wanted to work with animals, and so I started the following week. Life in rescue is tough and sometimes you have to make decisions that no one else ever wants to make. B gave her life to the humane society and I highly respected her. Unfortunately she passed unexpectedly one night in December 2012, but she is someone I will always honor.
You’ve organized an event for wolves called Sedona Wolf Week. When and why did you create this event? When is the next Sedona Wolf Week 2019?
So just thinking about the answer to this question brings a few tears of joy to my eyes. Such a journey! It all started unofficially in 2016 when I asked Patrick Schweiss, the Executive Director of the Sedona International Film Festival to take a look at the film Medicine of the Wolf, and consider it for the festival, which he did. However he did not put it in the festival but rather scheduled it for two showings before Earth Day giving it the attention it warranted.
At this time Paula, Steve, Timon and I had been talking back and forth about various things we could do together and so we came up with the idea of them coming to Sedona with the pack, and they could do a Q&A after each film so the audience could see a wolfdog up close and personal. And from there it just grew! We booked school presentations, decided to host a fundraising party at our home, and executed a raffle where the highest bidder could win a private hike with the pack.
Needless to say the four days were whirlwind, and exceeded all expectations. In fact the first two showings of the film sold out so Patrick called and asked if we could add a third, and we said yes. That sold out in 40 minutes. So he called and asked if we could add another showing and we did which also sold out with a waiting list. Patrick has since told me this is the first and only time this has happened in the history of the festival.
At the end of it all we were all sitting outside at Poco Diablo Resort restaurant, nine of us, plus four wolf dogs all completely exhausted eating, and drinking while we relived the last few days. It was at that point Kristen Lee, Lee Wastell’s (brother to Steve) girlfriend said “you guys should do this every year and call it Sedona Wolf Week.”
That is literally how the idea came into being.
Sedona Wolf Week 2017 we planned in about five months, 2018 we began as soon as the 2017 event was over, and we are in midst of planning 2019 which will take place March 25th through the 30th.
The reason for the tears of joy I mentioned? Because we have met and connected with so many people who have become lifelong friends and supporters. Because we watch children interact with a wolf dog, an experience so few ever will have, and know their lives are changed forever. Because people we consider our heroes come and tell us we are theirs because of our efforts to save wolves. Because I do this event with the three best people in the world. There is just so much love in Sedona Wolf Week.
Has working in wolf advocacy changed you? In what way or ways has it changed you?
I would say first and foremost I have a lot more discernment with everything. There is a lot of information out there, and you have to do your homework; your own research to be sure what you say is as accurate as it can be. I feel I have to be in integrity to the best of my ability when it comes to being a voice for wolves as anything I get “wrong” can become a negative reflection on all wolf advocates and wolves themselves.
It has also greatly impacted how I live my life. For me I cannot advocate for wolves, the great balancers of the ecosystem and nature, and not take personal steps to be in balance with our environment, and planet. I have since switched to a plant based diet, I buy only cruelty free products, I no longer purchase leather or even fake fur, and my mantra each day, when I rise; is to do as little harm as possible to where I live which is where I coexist with wolves, and all the other animal beings. I have to say that isn’t easy as so much is made from animals, but I do my best. I’d also like to reiterate this is a personal choice for me. I know many wonderful and amazing wolf advocates who do none or some of those things.
I have also become very aware of so many things I never knew existed including what the department of Wildlife Services really does, that killing contests, and derbies exist, trophy hunting and trapping to name a few. My eyes have been opened.
Speaking out against those atrocities is now my number one priority. I feel as though I have finally found my voice in wolf advocacy and fully plan on using it. In addition to Sedona Wolf Week, this year I will be speaking, along with Paula, at the 2018 International Wolf Symposium. I have also begun lobbying, starting in Phoenix earlier this year and will be going to Washington DC to lobby at our nation’s capital. Additionally I joined the HSUS AZ Wildlife Team and will be attending a conference in August to learn how to create legislation that protects wildlife.
I truly believe these acts, these “events”, these barbaric practices are unacceptable and should be abolished, that if humanity really knew about them, they would no longer exist. That is now my passion and mission.
What’s the hardest part about working to protect wolves? What or who helps you get through the “hard parts” and gives you hope to continue this work?
In terms of the mission of Plan B, Sedona Wolf Week and I AM WOLF NATION™ the hardest part is finding the balance between sharing what is really happening to wolves and wildlife (the bad stuff) with the good stories, and happy endings. Unfortunately we could post and email daily something heinous that is happening to wolves that needs public attention, and response. With that comes compassion fatigue, and pretty soon people won’t take action because they won’t even open the email from us. It gets tedious, and I absolutely understand that.
Unfortunately the more brutal images are what inspires and motivates people to take action. We ran a Facebook ad of a beautiful wolf asking people to sign a petition against trapping with very little response. When we ran the ad showing a wolf caught in a trap and a man laughing with a gun getting ready to kill it; the response was overwhelming. I get criticized for showing those images from time to time, but until it affects someone personally, affects them deeply, and personally, they will not act. It is that simple.
For me personally to say it is challenging sometimes to manage the overwhelming sense of helplessness, and frustration is an understatement. Thankfully I can just cry on Timon’s shoulder which I have done numerous times. I journal. I hike almost every morning with Timon and our two rescued wolf dogs among the gorgeous red rocks of Sedona and just try to be grateful for what has been done, what is being done and what we plan on doing to help make this a better world for wolves.
The important thing is to feel the grief, or the anger, then release it. You cannot let it take you over, and you cannot try to tuck it away.
If you could snap your fingers and cause immediate change; what would that change look like?
That there no longer is duality between animals and people. What I mean by that is that human “beings” recognize the “being” in animals and that we are essentially all beings deserving of love, respect and freedom. With that realization, the senseless need to trophy hunt, exterminate, trap, abuse and more are no longer even in our thought process. They are inconceivable.
We recently updated our mission statement to reflect this desired change we want to create and will be announcing our new vision and updating all of our content accordingly very soon.
About the photograph: Best Congressional meeting ever! Thanks to the staffers in Rep. David Schweikert’s office for sharing their two giant office dogs with us! Taking Action For Animals Conference 2018. Betsy Klein
Tell us about plan B To Save Wolves: what’s the latest news, and what are you working on now?
Such a great question, and very relevant as the team convened last week to discuss the overall strategic direction of Plan B to Save Wolves and I AM WOLF NATION™. Key initiatives for Plan B is an update on the branding, mission statement and initiatives for the organization. What we thought we would be doing 18 months ago when we started is so far from where we actually are as an organization, and I mean that in a great way! Plan B has made such an impact that we need to accelerate our thinking, and refocus our strategy to continue to be effective in making a difference. Expect more in terms of education, and outreach in the form of events including Sedona Wolf Week, speaking engagements, and fundraisers. I am very excited to announce I, along with Paula Ficara of Apex Protection Project, will be speaking at the 2018 International Wolf Symposium, and I hope that is just one of many to come.
Plus we will continue our every day rescue efforts where we fund what we can to help save lives. Most recently we have found ourselves the champions of mislabeled “wolf dogs”, dogs who have been labeled a wolf dog, their fate would have been euthanization if not for Plan B stepping in. Our plan is to reach out to local shelters, and animal control officers for some training in phenotyping to minimize the risk of any dog being euthanized because it has been mislabeled.
For I AM WOLF NATION™ expect to see more lobbying, and focus on major strategic initiatives; such as ending killing contests starting here in our home state of Arizona.
Do you have anything else you would like to tell us?
I hosted a dinner party once, and after talking about wolves one of my guests said to me “I hope you don’t expect me to care about wolves as much as you do.” I responded, “Absolutely not, but I do expect you to care about something. There are many causes that need champions and it is our responsibility to be of service in some way that makes this a better world for all.”
Find that cause that moves you and be their champion. Be a catalyst for transforming humanity.
For more about Betsy Klein’s work go to http://www.planb.foundation