29 Wolf-Hybrids Rescued: Upper Valley Humane Society Leads 16-Day Operation on Alexandria, N.H., Mountain
Deborah Turcott, executive director of the Upper Valley Humane Society, works with McKenzie, a 5-year-old wolf-hybrid, during a bonding protocol exercise prior to transport off the mountain. Humane society officials assessed the animals' medical condition and behavior prior to transport. Jesse Cloutier photograph
Emerald, an 8-year-old wolf-hybrid, waits for a piece of cheese during a bonding protocol exercise with Upper Valley Humane Society Executive Director Deborah Turcott. Jesse Cloutier photograph
Danbury Police Chief David Kratz helps Spencer Marvin, cruelty investigation officer and field services manager at UVHS, load a Humvee with clean water. UVHS carted 50 gallons of clean water up the mountain each day. Jesse Cloutier photograph
Alexandria, N.H. — Almost 30 wolf-hybrids, the controversial animals also known as wolf-dogs, were rescued from a remote mountaintop property here in a 16-day operation led by the Upper Valley Humane Society with support from at least five local law enforcement agencies and national and regional animal welfare groups.
The owner of the animals had been evicted from the property, said Deborah Turcott, executive director of the Upper Valley Humane Society.
The humane society responded after receiving requests for assistance from the landowner’s attorney, the former owner of the animals and the Alexandria Police Department, Turcott said.
When rescue team members arrived they found 40 wolf-hybrids in about 20 different pens on the property. One was found dead immediately and a second was found dead a few days later. Nine others were humanely euthanized at the site after they were found to be either too ill to be transported or so aggressive they were considered a safety risk.
The 29 remaining animals received medical and behavior evaluations before being transported down the mountain as part of the operation that concluded last week. Four are now housed at the humane society’s shelter in Enfield, where they are undergoing behavior modification training and are expected to become adoptable.
The rest were taken in by the Lockwood Animal Rescue Center, a California-based nonprofit that recently acquired the former Loki Clan Wolf Refuge in Chatham, N.H. Those 25 animals were determined to be the ones who “truly need a sanctuary lifestyle,” Turcott said.
The 29 animals were estimated to range in age from 4 to 14 years old.
“It actually has been a little surreal,” Turcott, who spent nearly the entire 16 days on the mountain, said Saturday afternoon.
“We handle quite a few hoarding or rescue situations that number over 50 (animals),” she said, but the nature of wolf-hybrid and the location — a remote property atop Oregon Mountain, northeast of Cardigan Mountain, at the end of a 21/2-mile washed-out logging road accessible only by four-wheeler or a military-issue Humvee — made this rescue “logistically the most complex.”
The humane society was alerted that a rescue might be necessary about a year ago, but eviction was averted at that time. When the eviction was completed on Sept. 20, the operation began immediately, Turcott said.
“It was an opportunity of a lifetime ... for myself,” she said, “and also an incredible chance for the Upper Valley Humane Society to show the community what we do — for the community and for the animals that we serve.”
The Upper Valley Humane Society contracts with more than 30 towns to respond to animal welfare situations.
Alexandria Police Chief Donald Sullivan identified the owner of the dogs as William Russell, who ran Dancing Brooke Lodge, a wolf-hybrid rescue organization that had been on Oregon Mountain for about six years. Sullivan said he was not sure why Russell, who also lived on the property with his wife, Anna Jean Russell, was evicted. On Saturday, the website for the organization, which said it was a nonprofit, still had a notice asking for fundraising help. “We need your help to raise money to purchase the land we are on,” it said. “We have a (tentative) lease to purchase deal.”
Sullivan said there are currently no charges in the case related to the animals who were found dead or sick.
“At this point, there are no charges, but I can tell you that there is an active investigation … as far as the potential cruelty (charges),” he said.
Sullivan said the cost for his department’s contribution to the rescue has already topped more than $3,000.
“We’re extremely grateful for the Upper Valley Humane Society because without them, we wouldn’t have been able to place any of the dogs anywhere,” he said Saturday. “They really were the ones that spearheaded finding placement for these dogs.”
Danbury Police Chief David Kratz said in a news release issued by the humane society that the operation represented “a true collaboration of departments and agencies … who came together to provide a powerful alternative to what could have been a public safety or animal welfare catastrophe, and the towns surrounding Alexandria, such as mine, recognized that if left unattended, several communities would eventually be impacted.”
The humane society has plans in place for different rescue scenarios, but a mountaintop wolf-hybrid rescue is different, Turcott said, than 50 cats being hoarded in an apartment.
“This plan took quite a bit of time to pull together,” she said.
Turcott and the humane society’s cruelty investigation officer, Spencer Marvin, a retired Lebanon police officer, spent the first 12 days of the operation on the mountain. They left after dark, but the area was continuously guarded by police to make sure no animals escaped and nobody tried to harm them, Turcott said. The humane society’s veterinarian, Dr. Lindsey Rothe, and photographer Jesse Cloutier also assisted during the course of the operation.
Turcott called her time with the animals “my own Dances With Wolves.”
“It was definitely the most unique experience that I’ve had in this part of my career,” she said. “It’s not often that you get to sit face to face with a dog that’s probably very high-content wolf and try to understand what should come next for them.
“It’s very interesting to evaluate the behavior of an animal that looks like a dog, acts like a dog, but also has the pack mentality of a wolf,” she added later.
“You’re not only watching the one dog you’re trying to work with at that moment, but you’re also trying to discern what’s going on with the entire pack. That part was fascinating.”
When the time came to transport the surviving animals off the mountain, a team of eight from the humane society participated, along with at least eight others from local law enforcement agencies, including the Alexandria police and fire departments, and the Danbury, Hill and Hebron police departments. They loaded the wolf-dogs into crates, performed medical evaluations, including rabies shots and microchips, and brought them down by Humvee two at a time.
“It was taxing on our organization, as well as on municipal resources,” Turcott said.
Turcott said the New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Food and Markets, the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, and the Global Foundation of Animal Sanctuaries all helped in the effort to find new locations for the animals.
“It was an incredible partnership,” said Turcott, who is president of New Hampshire Federation of Humane Organizations and was able to tap into that network for support. “I was able to get all of those great minds on the phone,” she said.
Turcott said humane society officials plan to meet with lawmakers to help improve the laws that govern wolf-hybrids. As it stands now, the animals live in a legislative “no man’s land,” Turcott said. They are not domesticated like dogs and are therefore not “traditionally adoptable,” but they are not wildlife, so they are not handled by fish and game officials.
“There’s no governing agency,” she said. “No one is responsible for licensing or for the sanctuaries themselves.”
The former owner was cooperative in seeking assistance once evicted, Turcott said.
Because of New Hampshire’s vague legislation, she said, “I believe there are very well-intentioned people who collect animals who otherwise may have nowhere else to be, and sometimes it gets out of hand. … By the time eviction was served, he realized he needed help.”
Maggie Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3220. Ernie Kohlsaat can be reached at 603-727-3302 or email@example.com.