This is Bits. He is a hybrid wolfdog. Or maybe some coyote, no one knows. He is drop-dead gorgeous and is flat out terrified of strangers. He has been living with Jayne and Mike Belskey at the Grey Wolf Central Wisconsin Rescue for two years now, having been rescued by them as a panicked, huddled, terrified mess from a shelter. It made me happier than I can say that after two hours after I arrived in the house he relaxed enough to lie down only a few feet away from me, albeit with a table between us. Maybe it was because I did lots of look aways, yawned a lot, avoided eye contact and kept my voice down. Maybe not, but I hereby admit to being thrilled to be in the same room with him, and was absolutely overwhelmed by his beauty. And heartbroken, because wolfdogs should break everyone’s heart.
I got to meet Bits only because it was the day of the annual veterinary visit at Grey Wolf Rescue. Jayne and Mike figured the wolfdogs would be stressed already by the veterinary work, and that one more person wouldn’t make a difference. Bits is on a leash only because he is about to be vaccinated and have blood drawn to check for tick-borne diseases, and for one brief moment he looked directly at me and I snapped the picture. I am positive that there is a message in his face, I just can’t say that I know what it is.
I’ve met a few wolfdog hybrids as a consultant. The two that I remember best were both adolescents: a four-month old living in an upstairs apartment with a young couple who got him because, well, they were idiots and didn’t have a clue what they had taken on. The wolfdog, 75% wolf reportedly, was gorgeous and brilliant and virtually unstoppable. While we talked, she climbed on the table, then the top of the couch, chewed on my hair, began eating my notebook, then played with the coffee cups, then squatted to pee, then lept at the blinds and pulled them down. Rinse and repeat. Of course we intervened whenever possible, but it was like trying to stop water coursing over a water fall. She had energy radiating out of her like mist rising from a lake, a jewel of a sparkle in her eyes and an overwhelming need to DO SOMETHING every single second. It did not end well. The couple eventually realized that there was no way they could manage a wolfdog and tried to find her a place to go. The breeder wouldn’t take her back. (I will refrain from expressing my reaction to that here. I’ll just mention that it is unprintable, and leave it at that.) I couldn’t find a rescue organization that had room, they were all bursting at the seams and exhausted from trying to take care of the misfits they already had. I don’t know what happened to her, but I’m sure it wasn’t pretty.
I remember the other wolfdog especially well because while he was sinking his teeth into my hand he looked me dead in the eye and clearly, oh oh ever-so-clearly, communicated “Don’t you EVER do that again.” I believe there was a curse word in there too, but I don’t know canine curses very well. He was also young, perhaps six-months old, but with a massive head and huge paws and his owner thought it a tad amusing that the animal was biting his wife and downright hysterical that he bit me after I traded the toy he had for a piece of chicken. The wolfdog ate the chicken while I picked up the toy, and then I offered the toy back to him. (“See? If you let me take your toy, then you get something better and you get the toy back too! ” This works beautifully with dogs. Not so with wolves, as I learned in my “Possession is the Law” training session with this particular individual, in which case I became the trainee and he the trainer.) The next week I heard that the wolfdog badly bit his male owner and was euthanized.
For years I struggled with what to call wolfdog hybrids. Should I call them wolves? Dogs? “Wolfdogs” doesn’t flow off the tongue, it is awkward to say. And yet, it is thus the perfect name, because they are not wolves, they are not dogs, and they are trapped in the awkardness of being neither. They can’t live in the wild, and many of them can’t live with us in our homes, and so they are trapped in a never-never land of never being comfortable in their surroundings. Yes, I know that some wolfdogs do well with their human family, and even get along with other dogs. Yes, I know that. I will no doubt get comments from wolfdog supporters and breeders who defend the practice of breeding wolves to dogs. When I testified as an expert witness in support of a woman who went to court to force her ex-husband to keep her young children away from the wolfdogs that her husband had purchased, I was put on the official Wolfdog Blacklist, and heard about it for years afterward. The fact is, it doesn’t matter that in some cases, some wolfdog hybrids are happy and safe to be around. It doesn’t matter because the practice of breeding a dog to a wolf creates a flood of suffering. Wolves simply are not designed to live in houses with people. They need to trot miles and miles every day. They do not, and will never, look to their human for guidance, or boundaries, or anything but to live together as equals. You do not, ever, tell a wolf what to do. If you need more evidence, read the beautifully written and heartbreaking book, Part Wild, by Ceiridwen Terrill. (I reviewed it in a previous blog.)
Here’s what Jayne Belskey, who has dedicated literally every minute of her life to wolfdogs since 1999, has to say about them:
I started our rescue in 1999 by default. It was never my intent to have a Wolfdog in my life, let alone open a sanctuary and rescue. But everyone involved in rescue can understand about those life changing moments when a certain animal points the way to a new life path. For me it started with one abandoned Wolfdog pup that had 2 choices, either come home with me or be euthanized and so the journey began. I will be the first to say that after sharing the last 14 years of my life with them, I fully understand the draw these magnificent animals can have on the human heart. I have loved each and every rescued animal unconditionally. I have met some very loving and committed owners who do a wonderful job accepting life with these animals and giving them the best life possible, I work with a national network of rescues and sanctuaries around the country that do a fantastic job and I have met some very happy and well-adjusted animals. But for some (many) there is such a bone crushing sadness. They don’t fit in our domestic world with our domestic expectations and they wouldn’t fit in the wild world either. So they are doomed to life at the end of a chain or stressing and fearful in a small pen out back where the owner can use them for a show & tell ego boost. When an owner realizes they are in over their head, there are few options for a happy ending. If I could build 20 new enclosures today, I could fill them all tomorrow with wolfdogs needing rescue.
The ethics of captive wildlife is a struggle for me. I view *Captive Wildlife* is an oxymoron, you can be one or the other but you cannot be both. Our wolves belong in the wild, not chained out in your back yard.
Grey Wolf Central Wisconsin Rescue is a testament to the power of commitment. Mike and Jayne have constructed huge, safe enclosures which each house a male/female pair of wolfdogs. Containing wolfdogs is no easy feat, and the work the two of them has done is no less than amazing. Every individual animal they have has a horrendous, heartbreaking story behind it, and every individual receives attention and care from them both every day, every hour. They do not travel. Their lives revolve, 24/7 around the animals in their care. It was an honor to be able to visit and spend time with them and the wolfdogs. Most of the time I merely observed while Jayne gently captured each wolfdog, muzzled it for safety sakes, and then DVM Pam Prochaska of Tomah WI gave it a once over, what vaccinations were needed and took blood to test for diseases. Please know that it is not a public facility; the wolfdogs are easily stressed by strangers, so although they accept and welcome contributions, they do not let visitors come “see the wolfdogs.” I felt honored and lucky to be there. I’ll be sending The Grey Wolf Rescue a contribution. If you are so inclined, it would be a wonderful thing if you would too. They deserve all the help they can get.
Here’s Flint, muzzled for safety sake and held by Jayne while the medical work is completed as fast and gently as possible.
I’m curious: Are wolfdog hybrids a problem in your area? I have heard that there are a lot out west in the states, but a surprising number in the midwest too. What about other countries? Is this an issue where you live?
On a related note: Anyone who wants to help the effort to disallow the use of free running packs of dogs in the wolf hunt in Wisconsin can check out the Ride for Wolves sponsored by the Dane County Humane Society in Madison, WI. “Bikers against using dogs to kill wolves”… gotta love it.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm. Willie’s check up at UW didn’t go well. After 3.5 weeks of extreme restriction and lots of adjunctive medicine and PT he was no better. A dark day for me. We’ve upped the restrictions (he’s crated so much that I just don’t even want to be home anymore, I take any excuse I can get to leave the house) and started laser therapy. I’d write more about it, but at the moment it is just best to say that I am doing everything I can and that, someday, this too shall pass.
Here’s something beautiful: A fawn who stopped to check me out while I was on my way to Grey Wolf Rescue. Lovely, yes?
And then, ah well, here’s something not so beautiful. We are doing major work in the backyard to better manage water flow (the house is at the bottom of a long, steep hill) and are having retaining wall built. Of course, once everything was ripped to shreds the company’s truck broke down so that the wall construction is now on hold until, well, until it begins raining again and then they won’t be able to work either…. You know how it goes. This is a bit rough on a woman who loves her plants and flowers (many precious native wildflowers I’ve been nurturing for years were dug up and are temporarily transplanted in another place) but I keep repeated trite phrases like “You have to break eggs to make omeletes” and deep breathing. Patience is not my virtue however. I’m just saying.