“You can see these dogs are not vicious,” said Candi Harlan, eager to convince.
As she spoke, Sinbad, a 133-pound blend of tundra wolf and Siberian husky, calmly took in the attentions of Jared Victor, 4. The animal acted meekly enough, wagging his tail and howling in symphony with fellow hybrids Shadow, Akita and Stasha, his mate.
“Look at this,” said Harlan. “He’s a big baby.”
The Harlans and fellow hybrid owner Judy Luck particularly want to sway Sprague city officials who recently passed an ordinance raising dog license fees for “potentially dangerous dogs,” including wolf hybrids. The hybrid owners would like the city to repeal the new fees and a requirement that they carry at least $50,000 in insurance for injuries a dog might inflict.
But Luck and Harlan are going up against more than the fears of a few officials in this town southwest of Spokane. Dog and wolf experts are about as unanimous as any group of experts can get: Wolf hybrids as pets are a bad idea.
While they may be adorable at first, wait until they reach maturity. Then, experts say, the animals’ instincts to dominate and pursue prey take over. Training and selective breeding cease to work.
“Dogs are predictable,” said Terry Ryan of Pullman, who has taught dog obedience classes around the world. “Wolves are predictable. Hybrids are not.”
The popularity of wolf hybrids, also known as wolf-dogs, has shot up in the past decade or so. There are 300,000 to 400,000 in the United States.
For some owners, the animals evoke a macho image or an image of the wild. Others simply find them overwhelmingly endearing.
“We didn’t get him because of what he is,” Candi Harlan said of Sinbad. “We got him because of who he is.”
“If you treat them with a lot of love, you are never going to know a more true love in this world,” said Nancy Taylor of Cocolalla, Idaho, who owns a wolf products gift shop and once presided over the Inland Empire Wolf Association.
Taylor insists the animals can make good pets if they aren’t bred from aggressive dog breeds and if they get plenty of securely fenced running room, the right food and lots of loving attention.
She estimates about one in four hybrid owners is capable of providing the right home for a hybrid.
Indeed, as the dogs reach ma turity, many owners find they cannot handle their pets’ assertiveness.
The Wolf Haven International sanctuary in Thurston County, Wash., fields three to five calls a day from hybrid owners who can’t control their pets, said Tom McMahon. The sanctuary turns the callers away.
“Most of the animals end up being destroyed,” McMahon said.
The Kootenai County Humane Society has killed about 20 hybrids in the last three years, said Lynn Brown, educational supervisor.
Sometimes people - usually children - die first.
Monty Sloan of Indiana’s Wolf Park has documented 11 hybrid-related deaths in the United States since 1981. The average victim is 3 years old.
A 2-year-old in East Orange, N.J., was killed and partially consumed by the family’s hybrid while sleeping in his crib. A 4-week-old infant in Anchorage, Alaska, was killed when the boy’s mother held him out to a hybrid, only to watch the animal grab the child’s head.
One of the most well-known attacks was in 1988 when the Florida Panhandle Animal Welfare Society named a wolf hybrid its “Pet of the Week.” It killed a 4-year-old neighbor two hours after arriving at its adoptive home.
Wolf-dogs have acquired a local reputation as well.
In 1994, a Greenacres man voluntarily let Spokane County destroy six wolf hybrids after three of them killed a neighbor’s terrier.
The same year, a 6-year-old Rathdrum, Idaho, boy had to have his scalp sewn up and part of an ear reattached after he had been attacked by a wolf-husky mix.
Regulations of the animals vary widely. Ten states have outlawed them. The city and county of Spokane have no rules governing them, nor does Kootenai County. The city of Coeur d’Alene requires the animals be fenced in.
And while most communities require that dogs be vaccinated for rabies, no vaccine has been approved for use on hybrids.
Concerns about rabies and the animals’ unpredictable nature led the Sprague City Council to adopt its ordinance last September.
“We’re not going to wait to see what they do,” said Dick Whipple, a council member. “We’re going to take care of them right now.”
But Judy Luck and Candi Harlan - Sprague’s only hybrid owners - insist they are being singled out because of a lot of bad press and the Little Red Riding Hood myth about the big bad wolf.
“If the dog is smart enough to dress like Grandma,” quipped Bobby Harlan, Candi’s husband, “he deserves to be left alone.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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