The Apex Team




In 2009, Paula Ficara and Steve Wastell discovered a place that would change the course of their lives forever; a young wolfdog rescue just getting its start in Los Angeles County. With a lifelong love of wildlife, particularly wolves, they found themselves volunteering as much time as possible to the growth and development of the small rescue, eventually leaving their former careers behind to become full-time staff members. In 2014, with their true passion being realized and a strong desire to fulfill their mission, Paula and Steve created Apex Protection Project. Since then, they’ve continued to help rescue and rehabilitate wolves and wolfdogs, developed educational events and programs, and have been active advocates for both captive-bred wolves and wolfdogs and wolves in the wild. The goal of Apex Protection Project is to continue the quest of protecting wolves and wolfdogs through educational experiences, rescue, and advocacy with the dream of living in a world where the wolf and all species are highly valued, protected and respected for the balance they bring to the ecosystem and for the gifts they offer to humanity.



Ian Winer

Ian Winer is an investor, philosopher, writer and public speaker who connects people to the truth of market places and human behavior. A regular contributor to CNBC, Fox Business, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and Reuters, to name just a few, he is known for seeking connections through non-consensus thinking and making it relatable to everyone. 


Kelly McCall

Kelly McCall has been working as a Producer and Project Manager for over 20 years. She has worked in nearly every aspect of film and television production as well as commercials, videos, web content and has also produced simulator content for The Department of Defense. Along with her logistical expertise and long term strategic thinking, Kelly also brings her communication skills and professionalism to every job or project regardless of scope and size. She has been a long term activist for Human & Animal rights. And along with marches in Washington and at Standing Rock, she has a vast history with wildlife and animal care. After a year as a guide at The San Diego Zoo, she decided she would rather work helping to rehabilitate wildlife. She spent several years as a full time volunteer at The California Wildlife Center in Malibu caring for every kind of animal and bird as well as marking, rescuing and transporting seals and seal lions.


Kim Bubbs

Originally from Canada, Kim is a passionate animal and wildlife advocate. A longtime volunteer at the California Wildlife Center whose mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and release local wildlife, Kim has worked with all sorts of wildlife from hummingbirds to squirrels and baby Elephant Seals and is now very proud to be a part of the Apex Team. She is a classically trained actor, and has appeared in Mad Men (AMC), The Thing (Universal Pictures), On The Road and has lent her voice to characters in the Dreamworks animated feature Mr. Peabody and Sherman as well as the video game series Deus Ex. Kim lives in Malibu with her family and her mini pack of wolf wannabes.



Originally from Switzerland, Margareta has worked in many industries with responsibilities involving financial compliance and operational processes with Master’s degrees in Business Administration and Public Education. She is a seasoned professional with over 20 years of extensive experience in international finance, administration and accounting with extensive teaching experience. Today she oversees global finance operations for a US headquartered humanitarian not-for-profit organization. Margareta realized from an early age that animals are a critical part of her life. Upon moving to the US in 2009 she started volunteering at the Wetlands and Wildlife Center in Huntington Beach, CA where she soon was leading the weekend shift to ensure that injured wildlife would get the first assessment and proper treatment upon arrival. During that time, she was also appointed to the Board of Wetlands and Wildlife Center.



PATHH facilitator at Boulder Crest Retreat for Military & Veteran Wellness, Clinical Director and Co-founder at BIG Heart Ranch, Malibu.

Before becoming a therapist, Suzi managed professional theater companies in Boston, directed live theater, wrote several feature film scripts that were produced and directed a short film. In 2003, Suzi earned her Master’s degree in Clinical and Community Psychology at Antioch University and became certified in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. Suzi created her own EAP program called Horse Inspired Growth and Healing (HIGH) and Horse Inspired Psychotherapy (HIP), an experiential horse program that increases personal insight, inspires emotional and spiritual healing and encourages behavior change. In 2006, Suzi co-founded BIG Heart Ranch,, in Malibu, California that provides HIGH and HIP services to children, families, veterans and treatment centers healing from trauma and mental health issues. Since January 2007, Suzi has been providing horse related activities to Native American youth through her program called Red Horse Nation,, a division of Lifesavers, Inc. RHN provides Native American Horse Inspired Growth and Healing (NAHIGH) and Psychotherapy (NAHIP) services to Native American youth and families with the support from traditional Native principles, practitioners and culture as well as sound clinical practices.  As Vice President of Lifesavers, Inc., ( America’s largest wild horse rescue, Suzi and the Lifesavers staff help veterans, suffering from trauma and PTSD, heal through their Wild Horse Warrior Journey where veterans are taught to gentle wild horses. Suzi also works as a therapeutic facilitator for Boulder Crest Retreat’s Warrior PATHH and for other veteran and military family programs such as Gold Star Families and the EOD Warrior Foundation.



Todd’s career in corporate finance has included leadership roles in tax, treasury, finance, IT and supply chain management at several publically traded multi-national corporations. In addition to traditional corporate finance responsibilities, Todd participated in the establishment, operation and compliance for both Private Foundations and Donor Advised Funds created by his corporate employers to support the communities in which the respective companies operated. Todd has had a passion for the well being of animals since childhood that has led him to provide a permanent home to numerous rescued pets and provide continuing financial support to numerous animal welfare and environmental organizations. Todd brings extensive business experience to our Board to help guide the continuing expansion of operations as we pursue our mission.




Nicole is an internationally recognized, award-winning author and lecturer, as well as a professional canine behavior specialist. She has specifically worked with rescued wolves and wolfdogs for over twenty years and is considered an expert in the field. She was Executive Director for Villalobos Rescue Center, a sanctuary for rescued wolves and wolfdogs, as well as pit bulls and exotic animals, and specialized in socializing the fearful wolves who were to live out their lives at the center. Nicole has presented wolfdog education seminars to animal control officers, schools and specialty groups. Her eleven books include So You Want to be a Dog Trainer, Help for Your Fearful Dog, and Wolfdogs A-Z: Behavior, Training and More. Nicole presents seminars worldwide at conferences and for training clubs, humane societies, and other groups. Nicole is also a photographer and artist who loves to use her talents to help animals in need.


Sally SeelEy

Sally comes to Apex with a lifetime love of all animals large and small. Her background includes a 25+ year career with the PA Department of Agriculture in which she was involved with many divisions, including animal health.

She has many years of board experience with the Central PA Arthritis Foundation, including serving in positions of all chairs levels, the most recent being Board Chair and serving as Regional Vice Chair during the Foundations reorganization. Sally currently resides in Arizona with her dog Cooper and visits Paula, Steve and the pack whenever possible.



Yuka Kobayashi has over 20 years of experience in the Entertainment Industry and is the Co-Founder of Trifecsome Media, LLC, consulting, creating, and executing high level strategy for digital, social, and original content.  Formerly the Director of New Media and Alternative Content at Stan Lee's POW! Entertainment for the past 15 years she developed and produced content across all verticals: web, social, video, gaming, live events, publishing and consumer products.  With a previous background of 10+ years of on-set experience, Ms. Kobayashi has also transitioned to being a Producer of numerous independent feature films, music videos, web series, and digital shorts as well as an Advisor on several startup companies in Technology, Entertainment and Consumer Products. 




Alison channels her creative energy as a Film & TV music supervisor in the entertainment industry and also represents the music catalogs of The Rolling Stones and James Brown. She has also combined her passion for animal advocacy with music supervision in her work on the documentaries MEDICINE OF THE WOLF directed by Julia Huffman (featuring renown National Geographic Photographer Jim Brandenburg, Jane Goodall, and Apex Co-Founders Paula Ficara and Steve Wastell) and HOW I BECAME AN ELEPHANT directed by Tim Gorski (LOLITA: SLAVE TO ENTERTAINMENT). Alison has volunteered with various animal rescue and advocacy organizations including Wildlife Waystation and was a board member, writer, and volunteer at Bunny World Foundation. Apex Protection Project blends Alison’s dream of working with wolves with her dedication to animal advocacy work, rescue, education, and protection of the species. She lives in Los Angeles with her 3 rescue dogs and 2 rescue rabbits.


Bette Babbitt

Bette has always had a strong love and respect for animals, especially wolves. Although her first path in life was the become an orchestra player, her passion for wildlife grew stronger.

She met Steve in a Lowe's parking lot by chance and didn't hesitate to become a volunteer. Everything seemed to fall into place and she's dedicated to grow with Apex Protection Project, as well as protect these amazing creatures alongside the equally amazing people in this community.


Caroline Wolf - Volunteer Manager

Caroline works as a freelance American Sign Language interpreter in Los Angeles and is a recent graduate from Cal State University, Northridge. Keeping with her namesake, she was raised to love and revere wolves. At a young age, Caroline received her first introduction to wolves with a pet wolfdog named Shayna who taught her the sweet and loving nature of wolfdogs. Working in animal rescue and rehabilitation for years, Caroline was drawn to Apex Protection Project, which has allowed her to continue in combining her passions for both working with animals as well as her love of wolves. In the near future, she plans on returning to Cal State Northridge to earn a master’s degree in public administration in the non-profit sector to further benefit the organizations she serves, like Apex Protection Project. Caroline was born and raised in Sherman Oaks, California but has relocated to the Antelope Valley. When introduced to Directors Steve Wastell and Paula Ficara, she was eager to support their efforts in creating a wolf and wolfdog rescue from its initial concept. Now, Caroline spends most of her days at Apex which has become her “home away from home” working closely with the pack, training the volunteer team, and acting as official “wolf-sitter”.


CHELSEA SCHAEFER - Pack Healthcare Manager

Chelsea has had a strong passion for animal welfare and husbandry since a small child. She began working with wolves and wolfdogs in 2009, which sparked her interest in wolf advocacy and rescue. Aside from her volunteer work with Apex, she works full-time in the ER/ICU department of a veterinary specialty hospital in Hollywood. Chelsea also has been a Veterinary Technician since 2011, with a background in exotic and avian patients. She uses her veterinary background and resources to ensure that the Apex Pack has access to the best veterinary care possible.



Cole grew up with wolfdogs and has developed a deep respect and appreciation for them. For this reason, Cole is committed to working with and supporting Apex Protection Project as they are dedicated to protecting these amazing animals and to educating the public in a manner which will improve the lives of all wolves and wolfdogs.

Cole has worked in several fields including television, radio, customer service, and the restaurant industry. Additionally, Cole was the administrator for a home for disabled individuals, and served as the President of the town council where he resided for two years.

Cole has a twin brother who is Deaf and who afforded him access to both the Deaf community and to American Sign Language from birth. He has worked as a sign language Interpreter for over six years in a variety of settings and for a variety of individuals including presidential candidates. Additionally, Cole is a faculty member at California State University Northridge and is the Department Chair of World Languages and Philosophy at Antelope Valley College. Cole holds a Master’s degree in Humanities, a Baccalaureate degree in Deaf Studies, and four Associates of Arts degrees spanning several disciplines.

Currently, Cole is working on publishing research which examines both the influence of audism (an ideological construct which humanizes hearing people and their perceived associated characteristics while simultaneously oppressing and dehumanizing Deaf people and their perceived associated characteristics) on the identity development of hearing people and the process by which a hearing person replaces an audist, hearing-centric world view as their primary filter with a filter which allows for the development of an identity that rejects audism.


Denéa Buckingham

Denéa Buckingham was born in the USA to an Australian father and Canadian mother. She moved to Australia as a girl and grew up in Sydney. Throughout her life, Denéa has loved and worked with animals including horse programs in the Pacific Northwest, volunteering in the animal husbandry department of the Pacific Science Center, and working with koalas at Taronga Zoo. In 2009, following the success of her self-published magazine, Denéa founded a social media consultancy and has worked for clients in over 6 countries ever since.

After relocating to Los Angeles, Denéa serendipitously found herself invited to a friend's birthday hike at Apex Protection Project. It took all of 10 seconds and one wolfdog kiss before she had fallen head over paws in love with the Pack, the people, and the passionate heart of Apex. She filled out a volunteer application form before leaving that night with hours of Thor and Loki snuggles after the rest of the group had departed.

Originally, Denéa applied as an associate volunteer but her status was unanimously changed to a handler after continuously spending several days per week at Apex and getting Thor tattooed on her left shoulder during a trip to Guatemala. Denéa is an explorer, PADI Divemaster, freediver, photographer, filmmaker and world traveler. No matter where in the world she goes, she says that Apex is home.



Erika Kelly works as a financial adviser and lives with her husband Joseph, along with three dogs and cat in Palmdale, CA. She started volunteering with dog rescues in her hometown in Indiana, where she quickly fell in love with helping animals in need (and along the way adopted the family dog, Potato, after saving him from being euthanized). Erika recently rescued a pregnant pit bull who was abandoned and left to roam the desert. This little mama had nine puppies! She managed to find them all homes! She has been volunteering with Apex since August of 2015 and loves hanging out with “the pack.”  Erika loves training and hiking with the wolves, and is always fascinated with all of the things wolves can teach humans.


Gin Gavran - Donor Relations

Gin Gavran graduated from Illinois State University with a Bachelor of Science in Art in 1997. She has been a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) since 1991, and has been teaching Pilates and Yoga for the past twenty years. She has added many other disciplines to her practice, including Reiki, various forms of bodywork, and neural plasticity.

Her love of animals grew from riding horses as a child and her family’s love of rescue dogs. Even her great grandmother taught her how to help birds that had from fallen from their nests. After moving to California, she spent two years volunteering at The Healing Equine Ranch where she studied natural horsemanship and ground work. Learning how to have a relationship truly built on trust with these magnificent animals using only your body, breath, and energy was a humbling experience.

Gin found Apex Protection Project through a friend and participated in The Alpha Experience offered at the sanctuary. Her life was forever changed during this “Bucket List” moment. She had always loved wolves and felt a connection with them through the Native stories of the Raven and the Wolf. Her last name means Raven, and this affinity, love, and fascination with wolves all made sense in an instant. She knew she had to work with Apex and help with their mission any way she could.



Originally from Idaho, Jack relocated to Los Angeles in 2007. Jack works as a Software Engineer and has been involved in companies ranging from massive scale online advertising to multimedia, specializing in data validation, application automation and product testing. Jack’s first best friend was his dog and that imprinted a deep love and respect for animals for the rest of his life. In 2010 Jack began transporting rescue animals from the shelters to rescues and adoptive homes and volunteering with national rescue organizations specializing in Chihuahua and Pit Bull rescues and helping with large scale adoption events. He and his wife Tracy are the proud parents of a family of four spoiled rescue dogs. In 2017, Jack joined Apex Protection Project as a volunteer after seeing them at a work event.


JAN MEDEMA - Lead of Advocacy

Jan has been a passionate animal rescuer her entire life and for as long as she can remember, an advocate for wolves.  Articles about the decimation of wolves in the United States by hunters in the early 1900’s left her determined to become a voice for this amazing but maligned being.  When advocacy groups embarked on the historic re-introduction of the Gray wolf into Yellowstone Park in the mid-nineties, she took her young children there to experience this event and to share her love of wildlife.  Jan and her children spent hours at a popular wolf crossing, hoping to get a quick glimpse of a wolf.  While that was not to happen on that trip, her children took away an awareness of the importance of wolves in the circle of nature.

Jan was employed as the Director of Human Resources for a school district for 26 years but feels that her most important legacy was a program that she helped organize and fund which paired at risk students with wolfdogs.  This program proved to be a huge success, and is attributed with helping many students escape the revolving door of the expulsion system.

Jan met Steve and Paula in 2012 and was drawn to their passion, their involvement in rescue and their advocacy for wolves in the wild.  Recently retired, Jan plans to spend more time volunteering with Apex, which she refers to as her “Happy Place,” and in advocacy work.



Southern California born and raised, Jolie has been an ASL interpreter in the K-12 school system for over 25 years. It’s Jolie’s passion to facilitate communication to help her students understand and succeed. As a child her family raised a wolfdog but “Banjo” chose Jolie and her father as his own. They shared this bond for years and never forgot their beloved boy. After Jolie’s father passed, she sought out that bond again eventually finding Apex Protection Project where she dialed into that energy and hasn’t looked back. Being a part of Apex lets her connect and honor her Dad and Banjo’s spirits as well as allowing her to be a servant to this wonderful community. “It takes a village…” She truly loves taking part in Apex’s growth and development. Snuggles and kisses from the pack ain’t too bad either!


Lindsay “vega” Golding

From a young age, Vega felt a deep connection to animals- especially wolves. Her family and friends loved comparing her to a wolf because of her odd yellowish eye color,  her love of the wild, and her Viking ancestry. After spending some time in the forests of Northern California, she moved back to finish school in Los Angeles with a degree in fine art and photography in 2014. During this time, Vega spent 9 years in school practicing Sabre fencing until a birth defect in her bones forced her to quit and was told her time left to walk would be limited. She then met Paula and Sarge outside a Starbucks and jumped at the chance to help protect the animals she loved and respected. She fell in love with the pack instantly and became determined to keep “running with the wolves” and can’t imagine her life without them now. Outside of Apex and her day job, this modern day Viking continues to work on her art, weaponry skills, and leather-smithing.


Lisa Darcy

Lisa fell in love with wolves for the first time after hiking with the Apex pack as a guest! After stalking the social media pages for a while, she took the leap to join the volunteer team. Now she is happily learning about how to care for, work with, and advocate for the species.

When she is not at Apex, Lisa teaches elementary school and runs the adoption program for Live Love Animal Rescue in Long Beach, CA. You can also find her snuggling her Great Dane, Drogo and German Shepherd, Zeppelin!



Merissa grew up in Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles. Her mother worked at a vet office so she was exposed to animals from a young age, growing up with dogs, cats and occasionally pet rats. She recently graduated from Antelope Valley college with a certificate in Deaf Studies: Interpreter Training Program and volunteers for the Deaf Community in Los Angeles. Merissa joined Apex in 2017. “I love working with wolfdogs because each one has such a great personality. It makes me want to protect each and every one of them.” says Merissa.



Michael started working with wolves and wolfdogs in 2012 at the age of 18, training under Paula and Steve. Over the years, he developed not only a deep love of the animals but he was able to hone his skills in welding and construction as well as other skills. After attending one year at Moorpark College, Michael decided to continue his education through the military. Michael recently joined the Army and is presently serving in South Korea. Michael volunteers at Apex during breaks and participates as much as possible remotely but will always be a key member of the A-Team.


Rami Balagangenyan

Rami is a speech pathologist. She has worked in various hospitals for 12 years and is passionate about rehabilitation, both for humans and animals. Growing up with influences of spirituality in her life, she always had a deep love and respect for nature and animals. She found Apex Protection Project on Instagram, went on their website and scheduled a hike. After meeting the pack, she fell in love and signed up to volunteer. She hopes to continue helping in any way she can and learning from these animals and the amazing staff.


Ron Shields

Since early childhood, Ron has felt a keen affinity, affection, and connection with animals. He grew up in Southern California while being owned by his pets, amongst which included hamsters, dogs, cats, mice, a red-tailed boa, and a Jenday Conure. His love of animals led him to an interest in the great outdoors, and in his teenage years he joined the Boy Scouts of America. During his ascent to Eagle Scout, he fell in love with everything wild, and espoused the philosophy of taking care of the environment which one visits and lives in by remembering some simple advice: take only photographs and leave only footprints. Since then, he has spent the past 24 years working as an American Sign Language Interpreter, mostly in post-secondary education, while freelance interpreting both in the community and for various state agencies. In regard to being a part of the “A-Team”, Ron feels a certain kinship with his brethren wolfdogs in that while looking to make a pack, instead he’s been rescued, adopted into, and accepted by a pack – a family – of four-legged, and two-legged, people. Home is where the howl is.



Tyler Lewis

Tyler's earliest memories are rescuing and caring for injured baby birds, dogs, cats, lizards, bees and any other creature in need in the home she grew up in, which belonged to Edgar Rice Burroughs and carries that Tarzan jungle energy. She was the junior vice president of a dog rescue in her tweens and grew up to be a surrogate mom to orphaned baby monkeys at Bambelela, a vervet monkey rehabilitation center in South Africa. After recognizing that her babies would one day be released back into the world that brought them to her, she realized she could best serve them by returning to Los Angeles. She is headed for grad school to deepen her understanding and capacity to create ecosystems of healing and teach coexistence with children as the audience. The transition back to America was not an easy one, but was made beautiful when she met APEX and recognized a shared vision. Both wolves and monkeys carry the weight of the same false stories in their respective countries. Tyler is honored to be a voice for them and help facilitate the truth about these magnificent beings. In her other life, she works in animation and is creating content that promotes self-healing and conservation. She hopes that through the physical and imaginal worlds, kids will be empowered to be the change the world needs.