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Cheyenne, the Healing Wolf
By Maria Maust

June 17th was certainly a day to remember. Maggie and I journeyed to Payson, Arizona, to meet Mark Johnson and Cheyenne, the healing wolf. At the time, we had no idea what to expect, but we were excited about the possibilities. I had previously spoken with Mark over the phone and learned some information about Cheyenne. I found it fascinating that she has met over 20,000 people, bonding with over 1500 of them. Specifically, she has helped many people overcome physical and emotional problems. He did say that the best way to understand it all was to visit her in person, and so we did.

Our adventure began the moment we met Mark on a side road, just off the main roads of Payson. We knew we had a drive ahead of us, but we had no idea it would be a very dusty and rough ride. We followed him through the mountains, passing two creeks, to a beautiful retreat in the desert. Mark recently moved to Arizona from Colorado with seven wolves (one was lost during the move) and a dog to live on 20 acres given to him to use for life by the Buddhists that own 158 acres of the land. We had the chance to see the wolves briefly, and then we traveled further down the mountain to meet Kunzang Drolma, an Australian Buddhist nun. She is currently the caretaker of a Buddhist retreat called Kunzang Palyul Choling that has been organized under spiritual leader Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo. Jetsunma is the only Western woman to be recognized by the Tibetan tradition as a reincarnate lama. She is also called Tara, meaning the female Buddha. Jetsunma teaches active compassion and has organized an animal rescue group called Tara’s babies, which is also located on the land and run entirely by volunteers. Some of the volunteers worked with Best Friends animal rescue and traveled to Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina to rescue abandoned animals. They brought back 130 dogs and were involved with 19 reunions with pets and owners. There are still 25 dogs at the center where they are being cared for and trained to one day be adopted. Tara’s babies also has a parrot rescue called the Garuda aviary in Sedona, Arizona.

After visiting with Kunzang and the volunteers at Tara’s babies, we joined Cheyenne in her pen. But before entering the pen, Mark prepped us by requesting that we remove any jewelry and hair “scrunchies” that Cheyenne may want to take. Maggie and I had both brought her socks. So, Mark let us in her pen. Both of us were nervous as to whether she would bond with us or not, but she had already licked our hands, which Mark said was a good sign that she would bond with us. I know I was a little nervous going in because of the sheer size of Cheyenne and the fact that she was a wolf! As soon as we went in, I gave her my sock which she took immediately and then dropped it. Maggie had forgotten her sock in the car, so she took off her shoe to give Cheyenne the sock she had on instead. However, Chey (as Mark calls her) immediately took her shoe and started to play with it (she later returned to take the sock and lick Maggie’s foot). Too late, the shoe was now Cheyenne’s. Maggie and I took a seat and I know I soon felt comfortable and welcomed by the presence of Cheyenne. 

For a little while, Chey was tearing apart, shaking, and dunking Maggie’s shoe in the water, while also letting us pet her. It wasn’t long before she licked both Maggie and me in the face. “Lick” is an understatement! She really licks your entire face, sometimes nipping at your skin with her teeth. This is a little intimidating, but Mark says that is a part of wolf bonding. Once you’ve been “slimed” by Cheyenne, you are part of the wolf spirit which involves “teaching skill, loyalty, perseverance, independence, and success.” Out of the 20,000 people she has met, she has only bonded with a little over 1500 people. Maggie and I were numbers 1537 and 1538. We continued to sit with Cheyenne for a while, also chatting with Mark. Cheyenne started to rub her head on me and licked me all over. According to Mark, this meant that she was scent-marking me, marking me as her own. I was honored. All of a sudden, Chey grabbed the collar of my shirt and started to tear it. I must admit I was little uncomfortable and nervous. Mark asked me if I wanted her to take my shirt, and I said, “I guess she can take it.” I wasn’t going to argue with a wolf! So, she proceeded to tear off the whole shirt. I found out later that Cheyenne likes to steal clothes off of people (and in fact, her pen is littered with articles of clothing), which she uses to later communicate and work with the owner of the clothes. We sat with Cheyenne a little longer and then left her pen to speak with Mark for a while. 

Mark keeps extra clothing for people whose clothes are taken by Cheyenne, so I got a new shirt. We then sat down at a picnic table so Mark could show us some pictures and share some stories with us. Cheyenne is truly a remarkable animal! Mark has had her since she was three weeks old, and she first started helping people when she was around three months old. She has helped hundreds to thousands of people get over emotional and physical problems. Mark shared some very touching stories of several specific visitors. For example, there was a young boy with anger problems who was comforted by Cheyenne and encouraged to open up. A diabetic man who lost his toes due to frostbite was encouraged to hike the same trail on which he had lost his toes, after visiting Cheyenne. And Chey helped a woman bury her sweatshirt and feelings after leaving her abusive husband. There are many other amazing stories, but each experience with Cheyenne will depend on the person and can only be experienced by visiting her in person.

When I asked Mark what he thinks happens when people visit Cheyenne, he says he believes that she gives people the strength to heal themselves, though many people are convinced she has healed them completely. She has detected and pinpointed cancer in 25 people, including Mark’s wife. If a person meets Cheyenne and she focuses on one particular spot, it is probably a problem area that she is working on. If it is an area with which someone is not aware of any problems, Mark will suggest that they get it checked out. Luckily, Cheyenne didn’t focus on any specific part of Maggie or me, but we certainly did bond with her. Before leaving the pen area, we received some of Cheyenne’s fur and a beautiful postcard with Cheyenne’s picture. 

Though Cheyenne usually takes the spotlight, Mark Johnson is an amazing person to meet. Cheyenne was his first wolf-dog rescue nine years ago, and then he rescued another ten wolves five years ago. He also founded the Rocky Mountain Wolf Foundation, which is dedicated to the preservation of all those that came before us, including both people and animals. As soon as you meet him, you can tell that he is passionate about his work and cares deeply for the wolves. His life’s work has been dedicated to helping people and animals come closer together and listen to each other. He would love to rescue more, but the cost and amount of space required limits him to his current 6 wolves, plus one dog. Cheyenne shares a pen with Wiggle Butt, who is a pit bull mix. The other wolves include Shone, Ladyhawke, Makia, Kia and Apollo, all beautiful wolves that have also bonded and helped some people. Mark is in the process of building them new pens in Arizona that will extend down the hillside. He invites everyone to visit Cheyenne and says that she is here for you. Not only does she help people, but she provides people the opportunity to get closer to nature. Mark does not charge anyone to see Cheyenne, but the cost of maintaining 6 wolves is no easy task. When I asked what they eat, he said tourists, smiling. The cost of the small pens alone were close to $7000, so please go visit Cheyenne and help Mark continue this wonderful work. My first visit was something I will never forget and I know I will be back to see her when I get a chance.

For more information on Cheyenne and how to make an appointment, check out Mark and Cheyenne’s website at Cheyenne is the only wolf with a working press pass, check out her articles and poems written about her online.

Maggie talking to Kunzang and Mark at the Buddhist retreat

Maggie and I (and my new friend Danielle) talking with Tara’s babies volunteers

Tara’s babies volunteers showing us the rescue dogs from Hurricane Katrina

Cheyenne kissing Mark

Maggie bonding with Cheyenn

Cheyenne stealing my shirt!

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