Originally published in the July 19, 2012, issue of The Lockport Legend.
John Basile has been animal lover his whole life. He’s the president of Big Run Wolf Ranch, a 25-year-old non-profit educational facility specializing in North American wildlife.
“As a kid I had all the pets I could get away with,” Basile said. “The ones my parents knew about and the ones I was hiding.”
He got started with Big Run Wolf Ranch 25 years ago with just a few farm animals — chickens, goats and a horse.
But he said he’s always had a fascination with wolves. So when someone was selling a wolf hybrid, a cross between a wolf and a dog, he got it.
From there, the ranch kept growing and Basile started traveling to schools for an educational show and tell. Now, students come to him when he hosts monthly open houses at the ranch.
In June, he hosted one that resulted in a $2,800 donation to Children’s Memorial Hospital.
Big Run Wolf Ranch teamed up with the Lockport Walmart to use its parking lot and run shuttle buses from the Walmart to the ranch for the open house. In return, Basile invited the Walmart employees to the open house and hosted the fundraiser, which the Lockport Walmart has been participating in.
A wild show
Basile said he hosts the open houses once a month to catch the people who no longer go to the schools, Cub Scout meetings or libraries where he normally does his shows.
“We’ve got all this land, and the place is set up perfectly for [open houses],” Basile said.
At the open houses, kids get the rare chance to play with wolf pups.
“I put the kids in a circle and turn the puppies loose,” Basile said. “The kids play with the pups and bottle-feed them. Consequently, they’re getting a once-in-a-lifetime experience and they’re helping me out.”
The finale of the show is when Basile wrestles Kuma, a North American black bear Basile rescued after he was illegally sold at a flea market by someone from St. Louis who “came up and tried to pull a fast one,” Basile said. The Will County Animal Control then confiscated the bear from the buyer and donated it to Big Run Wolf Ranch.
Basile has had Kuma since he was about the size of a raccoon 14 years ago. Now, at 7-foot-6, “He’s one of the big stars of the show,” Basile said.
The ranch will host its next open house Saturday, July 21, and Basile has a special event planned: a segment called Animals for Awareness.
“We noticed [over the years] our crowd is starting to diminish,” Basile said.
To bring people back, he’s invited guest speakers to bring and talk about animals Basile doesn’t have.
This month, the guest is Kim Schilling, director of Animals for Awareness, a Palos Park shelter for wild and exotic animals.
The open house is scheduled for 10 a.m.-4 p.m., with $4 admission. Parking and shuttle buses will be provided at Walmart on Farrell Road in Lockport.
In August, a group called SOAR — a non-profit organization dedicated to the welfare of native birds of prey — is scheduled to have a show at the ranch.