Since we started Woman As Wolf, we’ve kept our eyes on a few Women who we think rise above and beyond- a Woman who stands out to our Souls as embodying Woman As Wolf- Everyday Woman, Extraordinary Things. This is a Woman with a story that must be shared.
Every Woman is amazing in her own way, and we want to honor the Women we see doing exceptional work in the world to educate, inform, share, expand, survive and thrive. As Women, we all share many commonalities as well as the things that make us unique. Exploring the Wild, as well as connecting Women to each other, is our top priority. And if we find a Woman who excites and inspires us, well, we absolutely must let you know! So, each month, we will feature a Woman whom we are especially moved by.
This month, we present Kimmi Kraus as Woman As Wolf- an Everyday Woman, Extraordinary Things.
Kimmi Kraus is the Founder and Director of Project Wildsong, a registered 501(c)(3) organization based in Southern California that is committed to “Education, Collaboration and Conservation.” Along with her High Content Wolfdogs, Kimmi tours the country educating the public on the importance of Keystone Predators and the Wild.
Kimmi, first and foremost, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for us. I know how busy you are as I personally had the opportunity of visiting you and the pack at your lovely home the other day. I know that time is precious to you, so this means a lot to us. I’m sure you’ve been interviewed quite a bit, so, I want to ask some questions that maybe don’t get asked of you that often… here goes:
WAW: To start off, I must ask this question, as I know our readers will be dying to know. How did you get involved in working with Wolves and other Keystone Species? Would you mindbriefly explaining what a Keystone Species is- for those who may not know.
Kimmi: Thanks for your interest in interviewing me, Amy! I’ll start off with explaining what a keystone species is. A keystone species is a specific and pivotal species of animal which is heavily relied on by other indigenous species in an ecosystem. Wolves are classified as a keystone species as when they make a kill, it feeds animals such as bears, mountain lions, ravens, crows, foxes, coyotes, and even insects. Whatever isn’t eaten decomposes and the nutrients goes towards sustaining the growth of the flora of our wildlands. Keystone species are invaluable. And when they are removed, the ecosystem is drastically impacted. The reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park truly showcases this concept which is known as trophic rewilding. The most common question I am asked is how I got involved in working with wolves and other indigenous, North American wildlife. I’ve always been a nature nerd. Whether it was due to staying up late watching ‘Discovery Wild’ at 7 PM every weekday when I was in elementary school, going on camping adventures frequently during the summer, or working hands-on with wildlife starting at age fifteen, my passion + geekery to rewild people’s hearts defined who I was. I really jumpstarted my career and lifestyle was through cold contacting different facilities, organizations, or animal handlers. I worked a lot with horses first as the principles and mechanics of horsemanship and dogmanship are very synonymous. Then later came opportunities in networking with individuals where I had the privilege of getting hands on experiences with animals such as tigers, bears, and even coyotes. What made it all possible was being brave enough to believe in myself. I knew that this was something I wanted to do and I was relentless in figuring out how to navigate a very estranged and elusive path. But admittedly, I didn’t go to school for animal training. I put this fascination of mine on the back burner for a few years while I pursued my bachelors in illustration. During that time, I truly felt that I was going to find my bliss through art. But even after being hired at one of the most renown video gaming companies in the world, I wasn’t happy. Deep down, I inherently knew that I wasn’t meant to be part of the video game culture. It wasn’t me. What helped me find the inspiration and confidence to truly harness my passion to initially create create Project Wildsong was Joseph Campbell’s book ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’. There was one sentence that kick-started my everyday adventure: “The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” ―Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces This enticing allure was what propelled me to forgo the mundane grind, take life by the reigns, and spin it into an everyday adventure. I wanted to renew the everyday individuals’ connection to wildlife and wildland. Society has become dependent on screens of all sizes which have detained us from exploring the realm that lies just beyond our doorsteps. Project Wildsong became a means to help sow and rekindle conservational awareness for the incredible flora and fauna we have in North America.
W: What does a typical day in the life of Kimmi Kraus look like?
K: Each day is an everyday adventure but my usual routine has me up at 6 AM most days. On the weekends, I am usually up by 4 AM in order to pick up meat for our Ambassadors. To map out a typical day would start with waking up. The Ambassador Wolves are crated in the house at night and Damu is poignant in getting me up on time each morning. It generally starts off with him scratching at his crate and escalates to singing a very mournful song. That solo soon turns into a chorus. Needless to say, I waste no time in jumping out of bed and changing into my typical attire: jeans, Irish Setter boots, t-shirt, and my green vest. Once I have let each individual Ambassador Wolf out of their crate and have them securely leashed, I escort them into their enclosure. While they are taking care of business, I am pulling out meat from our chest freezer to thaw and grabbing meat from the fridge that is ready to be prepped and portioned. By 6:45, I am armed with a bottle of Simple Green, Bronco fly spray, a hose, and my heavy duty push broom. I am OCD when it comes to ensuring that the enclosure is sanitized. On average, I do this between three and four times a day. By 7:30, the boys are enjoying breakfast while I’m checking emails through my phone in on hand and waking myself up with an Organic Rockstar in the other. It’s a morning ritual. By 8 AM, I am in my truck driving to get service to check to see if I have any voicemails. It’s a blessing and a curse with not having any reception due to the location of our facility. From 8 to 11 AM, I am usually playing phone tag with clients, joining in on conference calls for projects, checking in with my Board of Directors, and strategically planning for any educational outreach events or on-set projects we have lined up. Keeping tabs on our education and collaboration partners is a huge priority of mine along with updating our social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat. Around 11:30 AM, I am working with the Ambassador Wolves to refine their skillsets or to prep for a specific behavior requested for film. This is not only a training session but a bonding opportunity between myself and each Ambassador Wolf. Refortifying and re-establishing foundational training is imperative but more importantly is maintaining the health of the relationship between an animal and their handler. After a stressful day, I usually forgo any training and take all three of the boys on a hike or on an outing with my handlers. Regardless of the escapades, I tend to wrap things up by 4 PM and start let the boys rest up until dinner at 8 PM. That in- between time for myself is generally spent spot checking on inquiries from potential clients, making a dent on laundry, vacuuming the inside of the facility, sanitizing the crates in the house, packing for any events the following day, and creating an itinerary for my handlers and volunteers. When 8 PM rolls around, I hand feed the boys their meals—that’s another bonding opportunity. Believe it or not, Damu and Cael are slow eaters. They will let their food sit on the enclosure floor until 10:30 PM. But when I go to bring them in at 11 or 11:30 PM, there’s no doubt in my mind that they realize it’s a last call for food and hastily eat their fill before they are eventually lead back into the house and crated up for the night. Although Damu is the exception to the crate as most nights he’ll sleep on the bed. But he does enjoy the solitude of his crate every now and then. By the time the clock strikes midnight, I’m in bed and preparing for the next adventure.
W: Aside from Wolf Conservation and Education, what else are you passionate about? I mean, what really makes your Heart sing?
K: I love reading. I am a major philosophical-fantasy geek. Some of my favorite authors are Joseph Campbell, Anne McCaffrey, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, David Clement-Davies, and Jane Lyndskold. Aside from reading, I love to write. I would roleplay on Gaia Online obsessively throughout high school and college. There’s something alluring about crafting a character and creating an engaging storyline which encompasses thought provoking concepts while smashing stereotypical architypes. I honestly think it stems from my love of Campbell’s ideology of ‘The Heroes Journey’. Another thing that geeks me out is solo road trips. I am, quite honestly, that weird person that doesn’t mind being the sole driver to and from a destination. It may be the explorer in me but I enjoy taking the opportunity to lose myself within a city or somewhere amidst nature. If something piques my interest, I’ll stop. When on the road, that’s where I allow all of my collected thoughts to be sorted out. It’s therapeutic. As much as I love my friends and family, I cherish my alone time. It is so vital for me as an individual to disconnect and unplug from the world around me to find inspiration, solace, or strength.
W: You seem to me to be a very strong Woman. I mean this as a great compliment, as I believe it takes strength to stand up for those that don’t have a voice of their own. That being said, are there ever moments where you feel afraid or uncertain? If so, what keeps you going?
K: Anything out of the ordinary that we pursue requires an individual to forge their own path. In doing so, there will be moments where a person encounters a stalemate of second guesses and an unnecessary abundance of self-doubt. There was no one to tell me how to do any of this—learning resulted from personal trial and error. It was discouraging at times as I knew the exact direction that I wanted to spearhead Project Wildsong towards. But navigating the unknown was daunting without a map. My vice has looking at other established organizations and wishing that I could find a way to gain the same amount of traction. Consciously, I knew that Project Wildsong’s foundation was still being cemented but idling others made me feel as if I was missing an essential component. Yet my impatience only coerced my dedication and perseverance. But the most challenging stumbling block was derived from people insinuating that I would fail. There were a handful of individuals who chastised me for leaving the security of a ‘desk job’ to pursue a career whose purpose meant more to me than a paycheck. I’ll admit that it was difficult to expel the negativity that absorbed into my thoughts. The last six months, I have honed my focus to the point where I have the confidence to tune out the acrid opinions of others and to kill opposition with kindness. With each obstacle that surfaced, I would always brainstorm and bounce ideas off of friends. Having close friends that were also invested an supportive of Project Wildsong helped immensely. My collective, creative cohorts and I would vent our frustrations and come up with a strategy. There’s something therapeutic in being surrounded by some of your best friends and discussing ways to go forth and conquer over good food and bonfires. The belief of the need for people’s hearts to be rewild is what keeps me going. Project Wildsong’s core values of education, collaboration, and conservation and purpose to inspire the belief that one touch of nature makes the whole world kin helps to raise conservational awareness for our wildlife and wildlands. Jack London said ‘I would rather sing one wild song and burst my heart with it, than live a thousand years’ which is what I have adopted as my mantra. Project Wildsong already has made a positive impact here in Southern California and we will continue to howl our wild song proudly. We have a fundamental responsibility of being an ethical and conscious steward of our natural resources both flora and fauna. The best way to sow change is by enabling the everyday individual to have a profoundly positive experience through an Ambassador Animal and sound, scientific facts. Preserving the legacy of North America’s wildlife and wildlands, the realm beyond my door that has forever etched profound teachings on my heart, is why I do what I do.
W: A lot of Women are using the term ‘Wild’ these days; in fact, it seems to be quite a trend. As a Woman who actually works with wild animals, what is your definition of wild, and how do you think this relates to Women? Do you think Woman can embody the essence of the wild in the everyday?
K: To me, wild means taking life by the reigns and spinning it into a beautiful, new direction. It’s the essence of safeguarding your sense of self. To be wild means that you aren’t shackled by fear of being an outcast or strive to be validated by societies standards. When you are choosing to be wild, you are bravely broadcasting your uniqueness. It’s okay to be weird, geeky, nerdy, or odd. As long as you are being true to yourself, you are being wild. For women, we are often undervalued and stereotyped. For too long, society has believed that women must be meek, compliant, and adhere to an archaic standard. The best advice is to not be caught in the cross- hairs of the cliché. You owe it to yourself to be uniquely you. Tap into it. You can be brave, beautiful, and wild. When you find your bliss, let it mold you into whatever and whoever you want to be. Let your inherent wildness fuel you with the persistency to dare to dream. You are the protagonist of the story you pen.
W: Since WAW follows Project Wildsong on Instagram, we have been privy to some of your phenomenal quotes on Nature and the importance of spending time outdoors. Please tell us, what was your relationship to Nature as a young girl?
K: Nature, as a child, was a source of wonderment and enrichment. It encapsulated my imagination, enchanted my perspective, and became a mentor-like figure. In immersing myself so often within nature’s realm, I understood my tie to nature and simultaneously sowed the fundamental foundation for my passion. My relationship with the outdoors was what personally helped me to discern the various objectives, albeit skewed, perspectives concerning the interaction between humans and nature. Humanity has constructed its own pedestal which disregards nature’s role as “mother” and “facilitator”. It jeopardizes both wildlife and natural resources as a whole. And when we have reaped what we have sown, our losses cannot be reversed. When I get overwhelmed, aggressively emotional, or just fed up, I run. I shut people out and look to nature as my sanctuary. Rather than being confined to skyscraper skylines, I needed star-studded skies—I pine for wilderness. It is here where my most pressing decisions and greatest heartaches have manifested and been mended. There is a rejuvenating revival when we unplug ourselves from today’s commandeering technology and descend into the wilds, leaving behind the fray of everyday life and engaging in our primal fascination that heralds the call of the outdoors. With nature being our greatest teacher whose curriculum is ever engaging and evolving, I knew that by searching within its realm that I could find my answer. When my soul sought clarity and eco-therapy, the wildlands often held the remedy I needed.
W: How has this evolved as you grow wiser?
K: My personal relationship with nature has only strengthened through the work that I do as well as those who I am honored to call friends. Life’s purpose and meaning has become elevated on a entirely new plane and broadened my understanding. For me, life isn’t about simply existing—it’s about being crazy enough to try and leave the world in a better state of being when I’m gone. Everyone deserves the chance to have their soul be awed and awakened by nature.
W: Self-care is a huge part of what WAW is about, as we have seen the negative effects from a lack of nurturing the Soul of a Woman. With your schedule, what does self-care look like to you, and how often do you get alone time?
K: For me, self-care time is encompassed through activities of beautifying the ranch, working on outside projects, reading books, and brewing a fantastic cup of peppermint tea. Most of the time, self-care comes in the simplest of forms. It’s never anything elaborate but rather an opportunity where I can sit back and breathe. On most occasions, I sit down and meditate from inside the Ambassador Wolves enclosure. Taking a thirty minute break to close my eyes and to quietly watch the antics of Damu, Cael, and Fell helps me decompress when things get overwhelming. Seeing that I am the only one who lives at the facility, I am generally by myself close to ninety percent of the time during the week. Weekends are where I get my fulfillment of being inundated with crowds and collaborative chaos while in the company of my team.
W: Surely you have a vision or a dream you would like to see manifest. How can our readers support you and Project Wildsong?
K: A reader can support Project Wildsong by following us on social media platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and Youtube. Sharing our posts, photos, and events brings about the opportunity for a family member or a friend to be acquainted with our mission and potentially be inspired to support education, collaboration, and conservation opportunities to raise awareness for wolves and the remarkable species of wildlife here in North America. We can also be found at our website which is ProjectWildsong.org where hopefully soon we will have the available option for those who would like to support our efforts to donate to our registered 501c3 organization or to sponsor one of the Ambassador Wolves.
W: I am absolutely moved by your dedication. You truly are an amazing Woman. Do you have any advice for other Woman who feel inspired by you and want to pursue something along the lines of what you do?
K: The best advice I can give is from a passage from my book that I am querying to literary agents called The Everyday Adventure: “Do not let yourself be persuaded to stray from pursuing your dreams. When we make the conscious decision and take risks to chase after something that authentically beckons to us, I firmly believe that instinctually it is our purpose and passion. And to find our bliss, we must be willing to deviate from normalcy and seek to create our own wonderment. Sadly, there has been a growing trend today where a common repercussion for daring to break free from the stereotypical mold causes individuals to be bullied and belittled. Since when did daring to dream result in being ridiculed? Amidst our weakest moments, we doubt the validity of what we were impressed to believe in and often become disoriented by the opinionated criticism of others. And yet those choices we made despite the bombardment of embarrassment, heartache, and anguish were perhaps the most invigorating and liberating confirmation we have ever made in our lifetime. Don’t give in. Never surrender. Ever. Life’s complexity is directed at testing our fearless fortitude. Be brave and rewild your heart. Will you fight for what you believe in? Are you willing to expose yourself to opposition? Keep your faith fixated on your vision of what it means to not only follow your bliss but to be true to who you are as an individual. Our heart unmistakably knows when we are being true to ourselves as we strive to uphold our values, beliefs, and originality. Whatever you need to do to rediscover faith in yourself, do it. No matter how outrageously insane or unthinkably ridiculous our dreams may be, respect yourself enough to believe in you.”
W: Would you please bless us with one of your beautiful quotes about Nature that rival (in the best way) John Muir or Walt Whitman?
K: “Even amidst our strife, struggles, and shortfalls, the most powerful tonic is nature. That tangible Terra underfoot couple with the serenade of songbirds within the boughs overhead reminds us that life is an everyday adventure. And as the hero of our story, our moments of darkness inevitably are shattered by light” – K.Kraus
“Man’s connection to nature stems from an archaic bond. While this wildly inherent instinct may lie dormant, there are those whose soul will never be tamed by society or be confined within skyscraper skylines” – K.Kraus
W: And lastly, what is the greatest teaching you have received from the Wolves?
K: Trust. It is the epicenter of all life’s principles. If an individual cannot trust, then fear severs and isolates them from ever excavating the endless possibilities that our adventure has to offer.
W: That’s all Kimmi! Oh, one last question- is it best to refer to your pack as Wolves, Wolf dogs or hybrids? Please let us know.
K: The Project Wildsong pack are High Content Wolfdogs. What’s interesting is that most eco- educational facilities and animals used on-set are High Content Wolfdogs rather than pure wolves. We refer to them as Ambassador Wolves as they represent their wild counterparts and help to raise awareness for wolves.
A big thank you to Kimmi Kraus for carving sacred time out of her schedule and allowing us to feature her this month!
The WAW Pack