ST. PETERSBURG — From the time a friend gave her a wolf hybrid puppy, Joanne Strinka was hooked. She cared for the animal, visiting it at a veterinarian's office until it was healthy enough to take home.
Like many of the other wolf dogs that would cross her path, Nikki came to Ms. Strinka ill nourished and needing medical attention.
Ms. Strinka would become president of Lost Wolf Rescue, a nonprofit organization that places abused or abandoned wolves or wolf dogs in homes throughout the country. She told friends she believed wolves can teach humans important lessons, such as compassion and forgiveness.
"It was always about the animals with her," said Sandy Topper, vice president of Lost Wolf Rescue. "It was not about her own ego. It was not about getting a pat on the back."
Most of the animals placed by the organization have both wolf and dog parentage, with the latter coming from German shepherd, malamute or husky breeds.
For the last three years, Ms. Strinka had visited Nocono, a white wolf dog with a long snout and amber eyes. She wanted to place the animal, which was staying in an overcrowded North Carolina shelter. When authorities closed the shelter in August, Ms. Strinka and a friend drove there to move Nocono, who is now happily relocated in North Florida.
A St. Petersburg native, Ms. Strinka attended local schools. Around 2007 she was laid off from a mechanic's job she had held for more than 20 years. She smoked cigarettes and had a husky voice.
Wolf dogs differ from domestic dogs, experts say, and present unique challenges. They can be difficult to house train and can chew furniture. Ms. Strinka replaced her furniture a couple of times while raising Nikki and Shaman, another wolf dog.
"When you say 'wolf' to people, you get varying degrees of response," said Kim Kapes, a rescuer. "Some people think it's really cool, and others shudder because of the stereotype."
Doctors diagnosed Ms. Strinka with lung cancer in 2009. By the time she traveled to North Carolina to move Nocono to Florida, the cancer had spread to her bones. As she dozed in a Woodside Hospice bed on Saturday, Topper touched her shoulder.
"Nocono is here," she said. "Do you want to see him?"
Handlers led the white wolf dog they had secretly brought from North Florida to Ms. Strinka, who had awakened fully.
"She was burying her hands in his beautiful white fur and saying, 'My boy, my boy,' " Topper said. "He was kissing her arm. I told her he was coming to say, 'Thank you.' " Ms. Strinka died Monday. She was 53.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.