Wolf hybrids are still as deadly as ever––and maybe more so
OLYMPIA, Washington––A three-year-old boy lost an arm on April 3, 2017, after apparently trying to pet a wolf hybrid through a fence at a breeding compound belonging to family members in rural Thurston County, Washington.
The attack was a vivid reminder that attacks by wolf hybrids and even full-blooded wolves kept by dog breeders are not an anachronism, albeit now rarely making national headlines, as was the case circa 20 years ago.
Wolf hybrid attacks still occur, almost as often as ever––just not a fraction as often as the exponentially increasing numbers of attacks by pit bulls and Rottweilers.
Pits & Rotts take the spotlight
The 92 wolf hybrids who have participated in killing or disfiguring people since 1982, as documented by the ANIMALS 24-7 dog attack log, are now far eclipsed in number by the 5,161 pit bulls and 628 Rottweilers involved in fatal and disfiguring attacks.
Indeed, the 92 wolf hybrids who have wreaked havoc are outnumbered even by the 232 German shepherds, 131 bull mastiffs, 111 boxers, and 105 huskies who have killed or disfigured humans.
But pit bulls (5%), Rottweilers (2%), German shepherds (5%), bull mastiffs (0.2%), boxers (1.9%), and huskies (1.4%) each constitute a visible percentage of the U.S. dog population.
Uniquely predatory attack pattern
The estimated 300,000 wolf hybrids in the U.S. do not even make up a thousandth of the U.S. dog population.
Further, the 92 wolf hybrids who have killed or disfigured people have demonstrated a uniquely predatory attack pattern.
Largely because children are smaller, less dog-savvy, and tend to spend more time around dogs, most dogs breeds bite children approximately twice as often as adults, including in cases in which a person is killed or injured by a dog.
Only pit bulls and bull mastiffs have killed or disfigured adults more often than children, displaying a distinct lack of inhibition about attacking victims larger than themselves.
Wolf hybrids are by contrast at the extreme opposite end of the behavioral scale. Of the 53 people disfigured by wolf hybrids since 1982, 80% were children under seven years of age, as were 16 of the 19 people killed by wolf hybrids (84%).
“Known to law enforcement”
The Thurston County case was in many ways typical.
“The child sustained serious injury to one of his hands and forearm. The child was a resident at the home where two wolf hybrids were maintained by the family within fenced kennel,” a Thurston County sheriff’s office spokesperson told Annie Andrews of Q13 News.
“The family is known to Thurston County law enforcement and Wolf Haven International for breeding wolf dogs,” updated Andrews a day later.
“Several of the family’s ‘hybrids’ have been rescued by the Tenino sanctuary,” Andrews continued. “Officials there say DNA tests showed the ‘dogs’ being used for breeding were full wolves, a practice that is against the law,” if just barely.
“Legal to keep and breed wolf-dogs”
“Currently in Thurston County it is legal to keep and breed wolf-dogs that contain up to 98% of wolf DNA,” Andrews explained.
A “wolf-dog,” or wolf hybrid, is any dog crossed with a wolf. Because the cachet for most wolf hybrid buyers is the resemblance of the offspring to wild wolves, most breeders cross wolves or early-generation wolf hybrids with dog breeds resembling wolves. The most frequent crosses are with Akitas, Malamutes, huskies, and German shepherds.
The more superficially wolf-like the offspring, the more the buyers tend to pay. But often the offspring are much more dangerous than wild wolves, who have killed just two Americans since 1900.
“Predator who is not afraid of humans”
Explained Wolf Haven International spokesperson Wendy Spencer to Andrews, “A lot of times what happens, people think they are going to get the best of both worlds, but often they end up with the worst traits. They end up with a predator who is not afraid of humans, and that is a really dangerous combination.”
Summarized Andrews, “Spencer said the family of the hurt child maintains they are breeding wolf dogs and following the law. But, Spencer said, DNA testing has shown ‘hybrids’ the family owned and bred in the past have, in fact, been full wolf.”
Affirmed Wolf Haven International executive director Diane Gallegos, “We have three of his animals here at Wolf Haven. Two of them are wolves.”
Hoping to tighten state law
Continued Andrews, “Another ‘hybrid’ the family owned made headlines three years ago when he escaped his kennel and attacked a neighbor’s German shepherd. Lakota was rescued by Wolf Haven after they said the family was going to put him down. Wolf Haven said DNA tests showed Lakota to be 100% wolf. Lakota is so dangerous, the sanctuary said, they do not allow people in his enclosure for any reason. What’s concerning, said Spencer, is that his DNA is half of every wolf dog litter the family bred.”
Spencer and Gallegos told Andrews that they hope to tighten the Washington state law governing dog breeding to completely exclude wolf hybrids.
Olympia, the Washington state capital, is also in Thurston County, just a few exits on I-5 north of Wolf Haven and the turnoff to the wolf hybrid breeding compound. Both sides of the issue can be expected to be lobbying hard for their positions.
Second child injured at a breeding compound in a year
The Thurston County attack was the second on a toddler at a wolf hybrid breeding facility in just under a year. Marley Carreyton, age four, of Denver, Colorado, was on April 17, 2016 left in critical condition after being mauled by four wolf hybrids at her grandfather Michael Hanson’s home near Burlington, Iowa, reported Andy Hoffman of the Burlington Hawk Eye.
Des Moines County Sheriff Mike Johnstone told Hoffman that Hanson had “at least 30 to 40 dogs on the three-acre property,” Hoffman wrote.
Alleged wolf hybrid hoarding case
The Thurston County attack was also the second case involving an alleged wolf hybrid breeder to break within three weeks.
Reported WSAW Channel 7 of Wausau, Wisconsin, on March 17, 2017, “A Crandon woman is expected to face criminal charges after 30 wolf-dog hybrids and 14 horses were seized from a Forest County property,” after “authorities received numerous complaints about the owner breeding wolf-dog hybrids. It was also reported the animals frequently escaped, posing a public safety risk,” WSAW continued.
Finished the WSAW account, “Upon arriving at the scenes, members of the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response team found wolf-dog hybrids living in deplorable conditions, many kept on chains without access to proper food or water and suffering from various untreated medical conditions. Some were found running loose on the property.”
Aurora bashed for being careful
While all that was going on, Aurora Animal Control in Aurora, Colorado took a month-long online and media bashing for trying to do their job properly by ascertaining whether an 11-year-old black German shepherd mix named Capone, found running at large on February 24, 2017, was in truth a wolf hybrid before returning him to owners Tito Serrano and Tracy Abbato.
Serrano and Abbato had adopted Capone from the Adams County Animal Shelter “where he was classified as a German shepherd mix,” reported Tammy Vigil for KDVR-TV in Denver.
The question was what exactly Capone was mixed with. Capone was returned to Serrano and Abbato on March 22, 2017, after DNA testing suggested Capone is a mix of German shepherd and Labrador retriever.
Already under attack
Serrano pleaded guilty to not having current proof of vaccination and licensing, and to having a dog running at large. Two additional charges, illegal possession of a wild or exotic animal and owning an aggressive or dangerous animal, were dropped.
Aurora Animal Control enforcement of breed-specific city ordinances had already been under online attack since the 2005 passage of a bylaw requiring pit bull owners to carry at least $100,000 in liability insurance, less than the U.S. national average for homeowners, renters, and business owners; keep pit bulls confined within securely fenced and locked yards when allowed outdoors on the owner’s property; and keep pit bulls muzzled and on a four-foot leash when off the owner’s property. The Aurora bylaw also forbids introducing new pit bulls into the city.
A 2014 attempt by pit bull advocates to repeal the bylaw was crushed, 65% to 35%.
Decades ago, when wolf hybrids first became a visible public safety issue, most were fakes, of little or no verifiable wolf lineage. Fake or authentic, though, they were dangerous, in part because unscrupulous breeders selected their most skittish, reactive wolf-like dogs to sire and bear alleged wolf hybrids.
The humane community was slow to respond to wolf hybrid proliferation and marketing, largely self-convinced that the infusions of dog genetics into “wolf” lines that were largely dog anyhow would only produce dogs much like any others.
From the first dogs adopted from U.S. animal shelters in 1858 until 1988, no dog rehomed from a U.S. shelter killed anyone.
On September 24, 1988, however, the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society, of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, rehomed a husky/wolf hybrid named Chief to his fourth home in under four months. Two hours later Chief killed four-year-old Nathan Carpenter, a neighbor of the adopter.
The Houghton Humane Society, of Houghton, Michigan, must not have been paying attention. On February 25, 1989, the Houghton Humane Society rehomed a Malamute/wolf hybrid to a boyfriend of a woman named Tammi Alderton, who gave the wolf hybrid to her.
On March 2, 1989, Alderton’s five-year-old niece Angie Nickerson was killed and partially devoured by the wolf hybrid soon after she stepped off a school bus near her home in National Mine, Michigan.
Mother won change in Michigan law
Nickerson’s mother, Patti Nickerson Manning, fought for legislation to prohibit owning and breeding wolf hybrids and other dangerous pets until Michigan finally adopted the law she wanted in July 2000. But only two months later, on September 21, 2000, her second husband Donald Manning confessed to fatally shooting her.
The leading role in advocating against wolf hybrid breeding had already long since passed to Beth Duman, a biologist and behaviorist who investigated the Angie Nickerson death, and has performed necropsies on four wolf hybrids who had killed children.
Wolf hybrid mayhem stopped––briefly
Duman went on to do wolf hybrid identification and education for the Michigan Humane Society, the Wolf Park sanctuary and research center in Battle Ground, Indiana, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Citizens Committee for Endangered Species.
Fatal and disfiguring attacks by purported wolf hybrids occurred at the rate of about one per year from 1982 to 1993, but after 1994 exploded in frequency to as many as 10 per year, coinciding with the publicity surrounding the 1995 reintroduction of wolves to the northern Rocky Mountains of the U.S., including Yellowstone National Park.
Influenced by Duman, state after state redefined wolf hybrids as regulated wildlife and took at least baby steps toward restraining wolf hybrid proliferation, until in 2003, after more than 50 fatal or disfiguring wolf hybrids in the preceding 10 years, there were suddenly none.
Victim may have been crackers
The lull was illusory. There have been at least 31 fatal or disfiguring wolf hybrid attacks in the U.S. since 2004, the most recent fatality having been wolf hybrid rescuer Patricia Ritz, 67, of Fordsville, Kentucky, who had a 27-year history of arrests for alleged animal hoarding when her remains were found in September 2013.
Indeed, the wolf hybrids of today may be more dangerously unstable than ever, since the advent of inexpensive, easily accessible do-it-yourself DNA testing has enabled breeders to “back-breed” to produce ever more wolf-like animals, which are nonetheless still part dog.