“I’ve always been very intrigued by the wolf,” singer, songwriter and wildlife activist Brittany Straw says.
Straw has spent her entire life in Reno, but her solace doesn’t come from the neon bulbs that illuminate the Biggest Little City.
Admittedly she says Reno is “pretty wonderful” but what truly calls to her lies beyond city limits. The forest to the south, the sagebrush to the north and the creatures that dwell within.
An Earth Day Encounter
Three years ago, Straw came face to face with a wolf during an Earth Day event and she was smitten. The wolf dog belonged to Bill Chamberlain who has been running the U.S. Wolf Refuge for over 30 years.
The U.S. Wolf Refuge lies an hour outside of Reno, across vast desert and through long windy dirt roads that travel deep into cacti-ridden hills.
“It was—it’s amazing out there, it’s beautiful, it’s serene, it's in the middle of nowhere," she said. “You know no neighbors, which is ideal you know because when one of them howls they all howl.”
The wolves at the U.S. Wolf Refuge were raised in captivity by breeders and landed in the refuge because of the general public’s lack of knowledge when it comes to taking care of wolf dogs.
Straw describes the wolves as having cat-like behavior, very independent and living on their own terms. She said they make terrible guard dogs despite what people might think.
“They’re actually very flighty instinctively,” she said. “Only if provoked would they want to attack.”
And to try and keep them inside? She said you’re likely to end up with a lot of destroyed furniture.
Caring and Crying for Lobo
Nearly every weekend for the past three years, Straw has driven out to the refuge to do what she says is her passion. “We’ve brought them into domestication so now it’s our responsibility to properly take care of it,” she said.
Straw recounts a wolf named Lobo who wanted nothing to do with humans when he first got to the refuge.
Eventually, little by little, Lobo began to stray closer to Straw as she would walk through the enclosure carrying food like eggs. Until, one day, Lobo walked up and put his head against Straw’s leg looking for affection.
“I kind of started crying a little bit because it was just so touching,” she said. “It made me never say never to myself because before that I said, ‘Oh Lobo would never come up to me,’ just from how he used to act.”
In video above by Alexandra Mosher, Brittany Straw sings "Wolf in Love".
Strumming the Uke
After a day of meandering around the refuge and rough-housing with wolves, we sat down with Straw and her other passion, her ukulele.
“Yeah I love it, it was a present from my parents almost four years ago and I just haven’t put it down since,” she said. She runs her hand along the ukulele. “It’s my baby."
Different Acts, Powerful Lyrics
Straw is currently a part of three different acts with her electric ukulele and praises Reno for its abundant open mic scene.
Her affiliation with the band Seedless 10DenC began at an open mic night about two years ago inside Paddy and Irene’s Irish Pub in Sparks. Lead singer Grady Holdridge approached Straw after her set and said, 'Hey you’re really good, do you like reggae?'
Straw said she’s written love songs but some of the songs that are the most dear to her heart have to do with societal issues like the war on wolves in the wild and our culture’s fixation with external appearances.
One of her song’s reads: “Why does society lead us up to standards that no one can meet, well the attention is what we seek.”
A Musician at Heart With Love for the Refuge and Reno
She said the unrealistic expectations that our society places on people is incredibly damaging to a person’s self worth.
“What you’re thinking, mindset and energy is what makes a person beautiful.”
When asked if she would ever like to be a professional musician she immediately shot back, “Oh my gosh absolutely in a heartbeat. In a heartbeat.”
She pauses for a second and then says, “My heart would still be with the refuge, my heart would still always be here in Reno.”
Reporting, Story, Photos and Video by Alexandra Mosher for Our Town Reno