Brother Wolf: Careful Stewardship Goes a Long Way - TribPapers

Brother Wolf: Careful Stewardship Goes a Long Way

If they're like most rescues, Miss Kitty and BabyBel will only stay at Brother Wolf a couple weeks before becoming a special addition to somebody's family. Photos courtesy of Brother Wolf.

Asheville – Brother Wolf Animal Rescue is probably one of the most beloved operations in Asheville. They do good work, and just about everybody at least knows somebody who has volunteered there. Since 2007, the animal rescue organization has been sheltering animals, caring for them until they can find foster homes and/or move on to adoption. They have internal veterinary services for spaying and neutering, as well as handling the everyday wounds and other afflictions that animals bring with them to the shelter.

For more advanced medical needs, they have working relationships with veterinary practices and other shelters throughout Western North Carolina. (See sidebar for statistics.) While some shelters in Western North Carolina are forced to make euthanasia decisions based on available space or resources, a caring and generous community of donors, fosters, adopters, and volunteers has strengthened Brother Wolf enough to save animals from underresourced shelters every week.

Leah Craig Chumbley, the organization’s executive director, said that Brother Wolf is currently seeing a lot of pets surrendered for economic reasons. “Since COVID,” she said, “veterinary costs have risen with the costs of everything else, and pet owners are being forced to make difficult choices.” 

People have had to downsize and move into more affordable residences, many of which don’t allow pets. Brother Wolf has even been visited by people who tried living in their cars so they could stay with their pets. These surrenders are heartbreaking because the owners are showing their love by saying good-bye.

Chumbley admits, “Working in animal welfare can be emotionally challenging, but I find that the moments of joy and celebration far outweigh the instances of sadness that are inevitable in rescue work.” And, behind each impactful act of service performed by Brother Wolf, there’s a donor.

Brother Wolf receives no government funding. Instead, it relies on the generosity of individuals and businesses, large and small. Cash and items as simple as towels and sheets are accepted. Without leaving the comfort of their homes, concerned individuals can order and ship items off Brother Wolf’s wish list on

There was a time when Brother Wolf, while providing great services in the animal world, was struggling behind the scenes. Chumbley was brought in as a turnaround artist in 2019 to fix “a million-dollar funding gap, a failed capital campaign, mission creep, a shelter operating far outside of best practices, and a mostly unhappy and frustrated workforce.” 

Chumbley had been an animal lover from the get-go. She credits her parents for cultivating her love for all living things. They were always taking in stray animals and finding adoptive homes for them. Also, since her parents were public school teachers with summers off, the family engaged in voluntourism, most memorably at animal shelters.

Chumbley said it is typical for animal lovers to be steered toward careers in veterinary medicine, so she first majored in that at North Carolina State University. Nonplussed by all the math and science, she was looking around for another major when she had a timely conversation with a long-time animal welfare professional who told her that the world of animal rescue is full of people with good hearts but less who know how to run a business. And something clicked.

Chumbley realized that in order to keep helping animals in impactful ways, rescue operations had to be run sustainably. Donations had to be stretched to do the most for the most. “We are scrappy, and we make things happen, even when we face challenges,” reads one bullet point on the list of Brother Wolf’s core values.

Chumbley said everyone on her management team has seen the best of employees or volunteers burn out, and that was not consistent with Brother Wolf’s desire to “create a place where all living beings thrive.” Dealing with traumatized animals daily is stressful enough without the low pay and extended hours common to the field. 

So, management got serious and creative about giving employees what they needed to thrive. Before that, they had to ask the employees what that was, and before that, they had to make sure everybody felt comfortable opening up for the team. Work-life balance, boundaries, people helping people, positivity, and good internal communications were some standouts.

Chumbley believes the responsive changes to the organization have paid off. In 2022, Brother Wolf scored in the top 1 percent of shelters ever participating in the UNC-Charlotte Shelter Employee Engagement & Development Survey. 

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