Experts: Wolf-dog hybrids don't make safe pets
SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE
They get bored, and because
they're very strong, they almost
always escape, injuring themselves
or others in the process. They go
after neighbors' dogs, they jump
fences and get hit by cars, they
jump out of windows, they eat
- Randall Lockwood
Experts in animal care virtually arc
unanimous in their recommendation to
stick to domesticated animals when
choosing a pet. Although wild animals
may be cute and cuddly in the early
months of life, they tend to become less
and less suitable as human companions
as they mature. The characteristics that
have helped their species survive
through the millennia are rarely desirable for life in captivity.
In no instance is this more poignant
than with wolves and wolf-dog hybrids.
Although wolf-dog hybrids have long
been common among Native Alaskan
sled dog teams, it's been only in the Past
decade or so that the practice of breeding dogs with wolves has spread to other
parts of the country.
"Some people think that these are
going to be some kind of cool, macho
watchdog, which is totally wrong," says
Randall Lockwood, an animal behaviorist and vice president for training initiatives of the Humane Society of the
United States. "Then there are the wolf
groupies, who see owning a wolf or hybrid almost as part of a spiritual or religious quest, as their link to the wild.
They have their wolf art-work and medallions, and while they may see something in the animal on a spiritual level,
they often are ill-equipped to meet the
animal's basic biological needs."
Many of those needs are quite different from a dog's. "We spent at least
12,000 years turning a wild animal the
wolf - into an animal that can fit well
into human society," says Lockwood.
Wolves have wild characteristics
Even the biggest dogs have smaller
teeth than wolves have, and they tend to
look to a person, not another dog, as
their pack leader, or master. While
wolves roam vast territories in search of
food, dogs have been bred to stay much
closer to home. But in addition to breeding some of the characteristics of wolves
out of their dogs, people also have bred
into domestic dogs a kind of territorial
aggressiveness needed to make good
watchdogs that is absent in their wild
Wolf hybrids contain an unpredictable mix of these features.
"Usually you have an animal that's
quite a bit larger than either wolves or
dogs, that is naturally selected for traveling miles and miles every day, that's
now essentially relegated to living on a
chain in someone's back yard or pickup
truck," Lockwood says.
Hybrids cause various problems
Lockwood, who has studied problems
related to wolf hybrids around the country, says these animals are less apt to become vicious toward people than they
are to cause other problems that often
land them in local animal shelters.
"They get bored, and because they're
very strong, they almost always escape,
injuring themselves or others in the process," he says. "They go after neighbors'
dogs, they jump fences and get hit by
cars, they jump out of windows, they eat
If wolf hybrids often turn out to be a
disappointment for their owners, they
pose a real threat to the wild wolf population. Exterminated throughout most of
the country decades ago, wolves are just
beginning to make a comeback, thanks
to the determined efforts of wildlife
groups and a gradual shifting of public
opinion in favor of restoring natural
habitats. Small numbers of wolves have
migrated from Canada to remote areas
of Minnesota and Montana, and a controversial reintroduction effort has restored healthy wolf populations to remote
areas in Idaho and near Yellowstone
National Park in Wyoming and Montana.
Owners can harm reintroduction
Wolf hybrid owners, often among the
strongest supporters of wolf reintroduction projects, may do more harm than
good to their cause.
"A lot of people who get hybrids think
they can help defuse the "Little Red
Riding Hood" myth in their community,"
Lockwood says. "And yet the first time
their animal bites somebody or gets into
other trouble, they've just made things
Owners who give up in frustration and
abandon their fertile hybrids in the
woods in areas inhabited by wolves
cause even greater harm by contaminating the wild population with dog genes.
For anyone who yearns to own a piece
of the wild, Lockwood has simple advice: "If you want to get a wolf hybrid or
a wolf because you want to help the
wolves, save the $15,000 you'll spend
buying the animal and a high fence and
give it to one of the groups that are working for wolf recovery."
From: The Oshkosh Northwestern