Oregon State University graduate and faculty research assistant Shelby Wanser says that their two biggest accomplishments thus far have been raising wolf puppies and learning to be comfortable with who they are.
Wanser’s journey to these achievements began early on, when they first started entering dog agility competitions with their family dog at the age of 11 in their hometown of Eugene. In 2010, they began working in the film industry as an animal trainer, starting with a music video by the band OK Go. For the production, Wanser, along with a few other animal trainers, worked together to train 13 dogs and one goat in Corvallis. This opportunity led to more, and Wanser continued to occasionally train animals for various productions, even working on the TV show Grimm, filmed in Portland.
Along with these projects, Wanser also attended Oregon State for their undergraduate and master’s education in animal sciences. Wanser’s research interests include human-animal interactions, with a focus on interventions that promote the bond between children and family dogs.
Bring in the wolves
This background in animal training as well as their animal sciences education and research interests are what led Wanser to being given the opportunity to work at Wolf Park, a research facility located in Battle Ground, Indiana.
Wolf Park, since its founding in 1972, has worked to study and research wolf behavior in order to better educate the public about wolves and the importance of predators in the ecosystem.
In 2015, with the help of their mentor Dr. Monique Udell, Wanser was able to visit Wolf Park and collect data about adult wolves. Two years later, they were invited back to the facility to raise two litters of wolf puppies with a team of pup parents.
Wanser and the team raised the wolves from ten days old to five months old, bottle-feeding, hand–feeding, and socializing with them almost all of the time. Wanser pointed out that because wolves are naturally afraid of new things, a large part of their job was exposing them to different activities and objects to make them more comfortable while living outside of the wild. Of the seven puppies Wanser helped to raise, they are all still living and thriving, five located at Wolf Park, and the other two at a facility in New York.
Bring in the drag king
Aside from their incredible academic and career accomplishments, Wanser also made their mark in the Corvallis drag and LGBTQ+ communities.
On the drag stage, Wanser takes on the persona of Jack Hardness, a drag king whose name is a play on words of the Doctor Who character Jack Harkness. Wanser has been performing since 2014, partaking in drag events around Corvallis, including at OSU, as well as in Monmouth at Western Oregon University.
While they were a student at OSU, Wanser also engaged in Pride Panels around OSU and Corvallis, telling audiences about their personal experience with coming out and discussing sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition to these panels, Wanser began giving lectures about the same topics to high school health classes in the area.
“That’s been really, really meaningful to me,” they said of that experience.
Wanser has also been a facilitator of Out N’ About for the past six years, which is an LGBTQ+ support group for youth in Linn and Benton Counties.
Bring in the next chapter
With all of these experiences and skills, Wanser plans to attend Southern Oregon University and earn their master’s in clinical mental health counseling. Their goal is to work as a licensed counselor, providing typical counseling services along with animal-assisted therapy, especially for teenagers and young adults.
“My thought is that a lot of times, especially for teenagers, going into counseling can be really intimidating, and I think that there are ways that I could bridge that to make it a more approachable endeavor.
“As a licensed professional counselor I want to offer animal-facilitated counseling for teens and adults so I believe that my experiences in animal training, animal behavior, and animal-assisted interventions as well as my experiences working with youth and my upcoming training at SOU in clinical mental health counseling, will come together beautifully to prepare me to be a successful and effective counselor.”
By Cara Nixon