Legislation, The Press, Why Own a Hybrid?

 

Legislation and Health Care

The current trend in this country is to regulate the ownership of wolf hybrids. This is being done at State, county and city levels. Although this may prevent a few individuals from casually acquiring a hybrid or purchasing a pup from their local paper on a whim, in the long run such legislation seems to be doing little to curtail ownership. Legislative bans may also prevent people from being properly educated about the animals needs and thus create a potential problem. Legislation does have the effect of driving people underground. Both those within areas where the animals are currently regulated, and those living in areas where a fear of such regulation exists, many wolfdog owners are claiming that their animals are just dogs.

Bans on the ownership of hybrids in effect might curtail ownership to a limited extent, but would have the following possible negative results:

  • Make it difficult for owners to communicate ideas and get needed help.
  • Veterinary care might suffer — animals may not get properly vaccinated.
  • Loss of reputable owners/breeders while those who don’t care or worry about legitimacy continue.
  • Makes it difficult/impossible to do anything positive (i.e. education) with the animal.
  • It won’t stop hybrid ownership. Prohibition does not work in this country. Even in states where hybrids are banned, their existence, propagation and importation continues unabated.
  • In a few cases, wolfdogs were advertized as mix-breed dogs due to local legislation against owning and advertising the sale of hybrids. They were sold to individuals who were looking for a dog, not a hybrid, and this led to bad results for the animal.
  • If hybrids are outlawed, only outlaws will have hybrids.

Currently about a dozen states have enacted legislation which greatly restricts, or in a few cases outright bans, the ownership of hybrids. However, the numbers of animals owned by individuals seems to be fairly evenly distributed across the U.S., including the regulated states. In most cases this is because, despite the existence of a law, little to no provision was made to deal with individual situations or the animals themselves once confiscated. Wolf Park has received numerous calls from local agencies regarding animals which were confiscated. These often were perfectly friendly, outgoing animals whose only “crime” was existence. Although some animals may make it to one of the many wolf hybrid rescue facilities in the country, these facilities are being inundated with calls for help and are filled to capacity. All too many of these animals end up euthanized.

Perhaps a better solution would be to enact regulations which would educate rather than regulate. Many individuals decline to get a hybrid once they learn about the responsibilities, potential problems and dangers involved. Those who do get an animal generally have a better understanding and are therefore usually more successful in giving the animal an adequate, safe home. Regulation should not focus on the banning of ownership of these animals, but should direct its power to the underlying problem of the breeding and sales by individuals who produce far more pups than could ever be placed in “good” homes. Puppy-mill operations have long been a problem with “fad” breeds of dogs, and some are now creating serious problems with wolf hybrids.

Rabies

The effectiveness of current rabies vaccines on wolves and wolf hybrids is highly controversial and is still under debate. In some cases, legislation has been based on the lack of a recognized vaccine. Among wolves and wolf hybrids only one case of a rabies vaccine failure is known, Jay, et. al. (1994), and that was of an animal which only received one inoculation. Rabies vaccine challenge tests which were conducted in dogs, actually only one breed, beagels, showed that the first innoculation is not 100% effective.

Although no challenge tests has been conducted on wolves or wolfdogs, the Wildlife Education and Research Foundation is attempting to secure official USDA approval and licensing of a rabies vaccine for use in wolves and wolf hybrids. Another organization, the Wolf Dog Coalition is gathering data for all vaccines so that wolves and dogs can be accepted as one species for the purposes of vaccine approval. This acceptance would benefit all captive wolves, including those in zoos and wildlife parks.

Clinical evidence does exist to support the current vaccine’s effectiveness in wolves and hybrids. Titer levels in captive wolves and wolfdogs are similar to those in dogs. A number of vaccinated animals have been exposed to the rabies virus and survived. One notable example occurred at the Folsom City Zoo, California. A rabid skunk was killed by four wolves. The wolves had been previously inoculated and were re-vaccinated against the disease and survived with no symptoms of the disease.


The Press

Figure 66

Figure 66

Overall, the wolf hybrid has been presented negatively by the press. Attacks by hybrids, often on children, are unfortunately sensational and make headline news. The public is given the impression that these animals are “genetic monsters”: confused, even “schizophrenic” and “unpredictable”. The press paints a picture of a dangerous “vicious” animal snarling and baring its teeth, figure 66. The truth is that the animals often receive blame for what essentially is not a “vicious animal” problem, but is a people problem. Figure 66 is not a “snarling” hybrid, it is a yawning hybrid.

For any number of reasons, people are attacked by pets. Canines can be especially dangerous around children whose behavior often mimics that of distressed prey. Popular reports such as was published by Animal People (1995) where wolf hybrids rank third in the number of serious attacks as reported in newspaper accounts, are a survey of the number of reports which have received publicity. Attacks by most breeds of dogs are not newsworthy, so they receive little public attention compared to a “wolf attack”.

Figure 67

Figure 67

The result of all this negative publicity is a public which is becoming sensitive to the issue of hybrids. In some cases, animals are regulated or even banned.

Animals, such as those in figure 67, which were living on a roof-top in New York City, were confiscated when a reporter spotted them and followed up with a story about the animals.

The animal in figure 68 was located in a semi-residential area. The animal had just been acquired along with five others for breeding purposes. The owner claimed they were “safe” and that there was nothing to worry about. The neighbors were not completely satisfied with this, having read many reports of how “dangerous” hybrids could be. Although the neighbors were not against his owning the animals, they were very concerned about the risk posed by animals that were in insecure enclosures.

Figure 68

Figure 68

This animal, which looked like a pure wolf, was being kept in a small 2×4 welded wire mesh pen without a top or overhang. The photo was taken from an adjoining neighbor’s yard. There was no perimeter fence of any kind separating the animals’ enclosure from the rest of the neighborhood. This was one of several animals all acquired as adults about three weeks before this photo was taken. Residents were keeping their children inside for fear that they would just walk up to the enclosures and possibly be bitten. The presence of the animals made them feel trapped and unsafe.

Two days after this photograph was taken, this animal did get out, but was soon caught by the owner. Several of the other animals had escaped on a number of occasions. It was obvious that the containment was not secure. None of these animals were very social and he had a very difficult time handling them. They were not meant as pets, only as breeding stock. He bragged about plans of producing puppies and even offered the neighbors each a free puppy if they would allow him to keep the animals.

The owner did not check local ordinances and had exceeded the number of animals he could keep without a kennel license by six animals, the very six which he had just brought in. Public pressure eventually led him to return all the animals to the breeder. In this case, media publicity paid off for the benefit of the neighborhood, but as usually happens, not for the animals.


Why Have a Wolf or Wolfdog?

Why people get wolves or wolfdogs is probably one of the most difficult questions to answer. The reasons are as varied as people. Some want them as a macho pet, but that is actually quite rare. A lot of owners, like many dog and even some cat owners, enjoy the idea of having a special animal, something unique, something unusual, or novel. Most wolfdog owners simply love wolves and culturally what we love, we want to own.

Owners, both good and bad, can be found across all social and economic levels. Millionaires, to the poor, blue collar workers and professionals including doctors, veterinarians, lawyers — even animal control officers, can be included into the sphere of wolfdog owners. The press’s personification of a wolfdog owner as some ignorant, poorly educated and misinformed individual certainly does not hold true for many owners.

Figure 69

Figure 69

What attracts people to wolves and hybrids and maintains this attraction in adversity?

  • Ego: Wanting a “macho” animal or proving one can control a dangerous beast, is a reason frequently given. Actually this is only one of many reasons people have for owning hybrids.
  • Strong bonds: The bond achieved between hybrid and human is often stronger than that generally seen between dogs and humans. There are several explanations for this:
    • A person must put in many more hours socializing a wolf or hybrid pup and must start before the pup is weaned.
    • The socialization is a process which continues throughout the animal’s life and considerable thought and energy continue to be essential to cultivating the relationship; it will likely be a high maintenance relationship which cannot be allowed to “coast.”
    • (Figure 69) The amount of social feedback a wolf or hybrid gives often has the subjective quality of being more intense, so the human feels he or she is getting more back from the animal.
    • To the extent that a “sense of dedication” is seen as meritorious in our society, and given the greater investment of time, money, and effort than is typically needed to maintain and socialize a dog, the owner of a wolf or hybrid may be rewarded with a greater feeling of dedication to his animal and this may also give the owner the belief that he or she is a much better human for having made this effort.
  • Romanticism: Some people want a special relationship with an animal who represents “the wild.” Some people who are consciously rebellious against human laws or social mores may identify with a wolf or hybrid because they are less tractable than the average dog. Such people may get a hybrid, feeling that they are adding a fellow rebel to the family.
  • Figure 70

    Figure 70

    Rescue: Other people simply feel sorry for a particular animal and want to intervene to save it from a bad situation or impending euthanasia. Some animals come from very bad situations indeed, such as one illegal game farm in Minnesota (see figure 70.) The problem is that in purchasing an animal from such a situation to “rescue” it, you are supporting those conditions. One should never purchase an animal where the conditions are poor, or do not meet the standards you want to set with your animal.

Blind spots and good intentions

The behavior of their animals, and their owners:

  • To the extent that some wolfdog owners feels misunderstood or threatened by the community, a situation is created in which an owner may feel entirely justified in flouting the law.
  • Not all individuals can accurately separate their feelings of dedication from their actual degree of competence in socializing and maintaining a wolf or hybrid.
  • Some owners set themselves up for behavior problems by a belief that the social life and amount of interaction they give their animals on a daily basis is adequate to generous when it may be neither.
  • Many owners may have blind spots about the quality of their enclosures. Some owners are reluctant to acknowledge that they must not only keep their animals in an enclosure or well fenced yard. Any continued toleration by their neighbors may depend on keeping children, pets and other interlopers out of their yard. In other words, setting up a perimeter fence. Essential improvements to an enclosure may be put off in the belief that they sincerely mean to make the improvements – some day.
  • Some owners do not regard training or proper socialization as important, or they fail to understand the degree of commitment they must a lot for these tasks. Some unintentionally reward undesirable behavior without being aware of this, or they intentionally reward bad behavior without understanding or realizing the potential consequences later on.
  • Some owners persistently regard potentially dangerous behavior as “play.” Anything from the initial stages of predatory behavior, to growling and even biting is written off by many canine owners, both wolf and dog.

Yet owners of hybrids or wolves who have such blind spots may, during their introspective moments, be completely and truthfully convinced that they are dedicated and responsible and need not change their behavior in any way. In short the road to confiscation and euthanasia of innocent animals is frequently paved with GOOD INTENTIONS.

It’s hard to be sure, but after years of working with them, I don’t think their opinion of humans is all that high…figure071


Introduction
Identification
Percentages
Misrepresentation
Quality of Life
Social Testing & Predation
Socialization & Medical Care
Are Wolves and Hybrids Trainable?
Legislation & Health Care
The Press
Why Have A Wolf or Wolfdog?
References