Out of the Wild: Rescued Wolf-Hybrids Adapting In Enfield
Deborah Turcott, the executive director at the Upper Valley Humane Society, right, hands a hot dog to Animal Care Technician Emily Neily as Jagger watches during a training session at the Upper Valley Humane Society in Enfield, N.H., on Oct. 16, 2013. Jagger was one of 29 dogs labeled as wolf-hybrids that were rescued on a remote mountain in Alexandria, N.H., last month.
(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
(Left to right) Deborah Turcott, executive director, Spencer Marvin, a cruelty investigation officer at the Upper Valley Humane Society, and animal care technicians Caitlin Smith, and Emily Neily work with socializing (left to right ), Kyva, Autumn, and Jagger at the Upper Valley Humane Society in Enfield, N.H., on Oct. 16, 2013. The dogs are three of four that the Humane Society are working on rehabilitating at the shelter, with the hopes that they will be able to be adopted out.
(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
Enfield — Upper Valley Humane Society officials say the four animals they took in following a large-scale wolf-hybrid rescue operation in last week are making steady progress in their training, and are expected to become adoptable into screened homes — although no one can say when that might be.
Jagger, Kyva, Autumn and Angel were among 29 animals rescued on a remote mountaintop in Alexandria, N.H., during a 16-day operation spearheaded by the Humane Society and assisted by local, state and national agencies, including five police departments.
The animals were rescued from an organization that billed itself as a sanctuary for wolf-hybrids — the controversial mix also known as wolf-dogs — which are created by breeding domestic dogs and wild wolves and result in complex, sometimes unpredictable creatures.
Upper Valley Humane Society Executive Director Deborah Turcott said she hand-picked these four dogs to return with her to Enfield because, in her opinion, they’re just that: dogs, with no wolf ancestry.
“In my opinion, genetically, they’re dogs,” she said.
Kyva and his two offspring, Jagger and Autumn, are most likely German Shepherd-Keeshond mixes, she said, while she suspects Angel is predominately Siberian Husky.
Her professional judgment, she said, is that they have no “wolf content” based on their physical appearances and their behavior, which includes some understanding of commands like “sit” or “paw.”
They also exhibited no obvious pack-like behavior with the wolf-hybrids during her two weeks on the mountain, and range in weight from 65 to 100 lbs, far less than their 100- to 200-lb wolf-hybrid counterparts.
Somebody may have mistaken them as having wolf lineage at one point, she said — or perhaps intentionally misled previous owners to make the dogs sound more interesting.
She’s also heard stories of pet owners trying to get their dogs into wolf sanctuaries to spare them from going to a shelter, where they fear they could be euthanized.
On Wednesday, Kyva, Jagger and Autumn were ready to be led on leashes outside of their stalls, the first time the dogs had been together outdoors since arriving in Enfield last week. Autumn, who is known to be shy, was shaking with her tail between her legs — signs of stress and nervousness — and had to go inside early. Her father, Kyva, looked nonchalant about the whole affair, which lasted only a few minutes; Turcott said they arrived at the Alexandria sanctuary from Ohio as a pair, and will have to be adopted as a pair.
Jagger, meanwhile, bounced around with excitement — but still was in tune enough with his handler to recognize simple commands.
Turcott said he arrived in Alexandria significantly later than Kyva and Autumn, and probably has had more human interaction than them.
Upper Valley Humane Society animal care technicians Emily Neily, who has been working with Jagger, and Caitlin Smith, who has been working with Kyva and Autumn, said they’re using the same behavior modification training they would use with any dog who comes to the shelter in need of some assistance.
Staff began with bonding protocols, in which they build a relationship with the animals, and emphasize positive reenforcement — in the form of string cheese and hot dogs.
Good behavior — such as doing well walking on leashes, accepting petting or responding to commands — earns a treat, as does lack of bad behavior, Turcott said.
Smith said the animals have been “responding very well” and are enthusiastic about training.
Turcott said her email has been “inundated” with inquiries from dog lovers who are interested in adopting the animals.
The remaining 25 wolf-dogs were sent to a fenced-in sanctuary in Chatham, N.H. Formerly overseen by the Loki Clan Lodge, a nonprofit that has since dissolved, the location was recently acquired by the California-based Lockwood Animal Rescue Center, which Smith called a “blessing.” Before Lockwood acquired the Chatham location, it appeared that there might be no place to send the wolf-dogs and that they might be forced to euthanize them, she said.
Since announcing the rescue last weekend, Turcott has lamented New Hampshire’s vague regulations, which prohibit the sale or transfer of wolf-hybrids in the state. It includes language defining a wolf hybrid as any canine that has had a wolf ancestor within the past four generations, but also says that any animal “shall be considered a wolf hybrid if it has been represented by its owner or former owner as having wolf ancestry.”
But Dr. Stephen Crawford, the state veterinarian, said that, after a review with legal counsel for the Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food, his understanding of statute is that the four animals are legally adoptable.
“We did a review of the legislative history of the statute with our legal counsel ... (and) based on our understanding of that analysis, when dogs are rescued from a situation like this, there was no intent from the legislature to prohibit them from being placed into new homes. The intent … was to prevent individual owner-to-owner transfer of those dogs,” he said.
While the response to Saturday’s rescue has been mostly positive, some have questioned the safety of bringing wolf-dogs into the community, suggesting that if they were placed in the wrong home or were able to escape from a sanctuary, they could pose a threat to livestock.
Several livestock farmers in the Upper Valley and eastern New Hampshire this week acknowledged that wolves are more difficult to defend against than coyotes and other predators because of their intelligence and climbing abilities. But, they said, they were less concerned about whether the four animals at the Humane Society would be adopted out, and more concerned that the Humane Society found the right fits for new owners.
“I don’t automatically think the wolf-hybrids are a bad thing, but I do think they can be a very tricky situation,” said Jenn Colby, who raises sheep and pigs at her East Randolph farm. “One of the things I was really impressed about was it seems like they’re really trying to put in the time and care that they assess (the four dogs in Enfield) well” to ensure they’re adoptable.
“The hybridization of any animal has the ability to bring out the best of both sides and the worst of both sides, and there are lots of examples of the worst sides coming in a wolf-dog hybrid,” she added. “The thing that concerns me is less about the animals themselves and more about the people who live with them.”
Turcott said that while she recognizes people have “valid concerns” about adopting out wolf-hybrids, she said that’s not the case here. She spent all 16 days of the rescue operation on the mountain; she enjoyed interacting with some of the wolf-dogs who clearly had wolf ancestry, she said, although she felt like she could never fully trust them.
“We are not in the business of placing wolves into homes,” she said.
Turcott said the humane society’s budget for last week’s rescue has already topped $10,000, not including staff time, and she is seeking grant assistance from various organizations. Alexandria Police Chief Donald Sullivan said his expenses are at $3,000 and counting. The remote location atop Oregon Mountain, slightly northeast of Cardigan Mountain, was accessible only by a pair of military-grade Humvees.
The rescue was triggered last month after the wolf-hybrids’ owners, who were living at the off-the-grid property and running a wolf-hybrid sanctuary called Dancing Brooke Lodge, were evicted. Two additional animals were found dead at the site, and another nine were euthanized after it was determined they were too sick or dangerously aggressive to be transported.
Through their official email address, Dancing Brooke Lodge officials declined to comment.
Sullivan, the police chief, said an investigation continues into potential animal cruelty charges against the owner, William Russell. It is unclear why he and his wife were evicted from the property, where they had operated for six years. They were previously convicted of having nuisance dogs — including seven wolf-hybrids who at one point escaped — when their facility was located in Lempster, N.H., according to news reports.
Turcott said she’s continuing a push for more defined legislation around wolf-hybrids in the state, including identifying an agency that would oversee regulation. She said she met with a state legislator Wednesday morning to begin that conversation.
Maggie Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com.