-Rowdy," born in a cage at a Texas roadside circus and sold as a wolf-hybrid pup to a 10-year-old boy in Colorado, used his mouth the way people use their hands. As he grew larger, Rowdy would drag the boy around his pen by an arm or a leg. It was all in good fun, but then the boy went away for a few weeks. When he returned, Rowdy was eager to play rough; this time the boy became frightened.
His alarm fired Rowdy's
predator instinct, and the boy's resulting injuries required 72
stitches. Rowdy was caged in a Texas oil field for a year before
his owner brought him to Mission: Wolf, a refuge in southern
Colorado for these difficult hybrids.
story illustrates the unpredictable behavior of wolf-dogs and the
problems people may run into when they try to make them into family
pets, says Kent Weber, Mission: Wolf's
Now, two recent attacks - one which left
a woman dead in the Colorado Springs area - plus a couple of
earlier maulings of children, have spurred the Colorado Legislature
to look at wolf hybrids and perhaps come up with restrictions on
them. Ten states ban the wolf-dogs.
But it is
likely the Legislature will learn that any generalization about
wolf hybrids is probably wrong. Its task will be further
complicated by the fact that it is virtually impossible to
determine whether a hybrid truly has any wolf
"If you put your beagle in a blender and
look at its DNA, you couldn't tell it from a wolf," says Ed Bangs,
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wolf-recovery director for
Montana and Idaho. "Your dog - genetically speaking - is a wolf."
In relative terms, wolf-dogs are not a threat.
The Humane Society of the United States has estimated that
wolf-dogs kill an average of one child every two years: Bangs says
that about 200,000 people seek medical attention each year for dog
bites, and about 20 people are killed. Animal-control experts say
German shepherds are responsible for the most attacks on
"Yet, when a wolf-dog hybrid attacks
someone, it becomes a big deal," Bangs
Which isn't to say there is no problem with
wolf-dog hybrids, as Rowdy's story illustrates. Remixing the wild
animals with their domestic relatives creates a volatile brew, most
experts agree. Unlike wolves, dogs don't fear humans. And, unlike
wolves, dogs allow humans to dominate
"We've taught dogs and bred dogs to attack
and kill dogs, and to attack and kill people," says Weber. "Wild
wolves just don't behave this way. But when you combine the
aggressiveness of a dog with the strength and independence of a
wolf, that's when you get a time bomb."
Wolf-dogs are hot items in the pet market, in
states where they're legal. But the buyer never knows what - if any
- percentage of his new purchase is wolf. The slanted, mysterious
eyes might just come from Alaskan husky genes. The higher the
reputed percentage of wolf, the more marketable the
"It's the old elbow-in-the-rib and wink
routine," Bangs says. "(The breeders) tell the buyer, "We say it's
50 percent, but it's really 95 percent (wolf)." It's just a
Most wolf-dog experts say
they are baffled by the desire to own a wolf-dog. They're not good
pets and can never be chained up, says George Stapleton, a staffer
with Candy Kitchen Rescue Ranch in New
"Everybody wants a piece of the wild," he
says. But when buyers get what they think they want - a
high-percentage wolf hybrid - they also get a passel of problems,
"People will pay as much as $1,500 for a
pup," says Darlene Kobobel, of the Wolf Hybrid Rescue Center in
Lake George, Colo. "But by the time it's reached maturity, around a
year old, they are desperate to get rid of it."
Wolf hybrids tear up furniture and yards; they
cannot be housebroken; they are extremely rough with children; and
they kill small pets.
A minimum facility to take
decent care of a high-percentage hybrid is a one-acre lot with an
eight-foot fence, Stapleton says. The animals that have less than
that often wind up at a pound or animal shelter, where they are
euthanized. Due to liability, few animal shelters will allow a
wolf-dog to be adopted. Around four-fifths of hybrid pups will be
dead by the time they're 3 years old.
taking a troublesome pet to the pound, Bangs says, some owners try
to release it into the wild. "Those animals usually die a slow
death by starvation, get run over or are killed by other predators,
even by wolves."
Tamer animals often end up
hanging around remote homes looking for human contact and food,
Bangs adds, and these are often shot.
wolf-dogs are not accepted into established wolf packs, they
present no problem to established recovery efforts, Bangs says. But
Weber fears the attention given to wolf-dog attacks on humans has
hurt Colorado's chances for wolf restoration, because people have
heard that "wolves killed the woman."
experts recognize the special nature of these animals, few say
owning one is a good idea.
"I do not recommend
hybrids as pets," says Bangs. "The constraints of pethood are
particularly unfair to high-percentage hybrids: Keeping wild
animals under captive conditions is inhumane."
* Ron Baird
about wolves and wolf hybrids, contact the Wolf Hybrid Rescue
Center, P.O. Box 212, Lake George, CO 80827 (719/748-8683);
Mission: Wolf, P.O. Box 211, Silver Cliff, CO 81829 (719/746-2919);
Candy Kitchen Rescue Ranch, Star Route 2, Box 28, Ramah, NM 87321
Ron Baird writes about
environmental issues for the Colorado Daily in Boulder,