Little Red Riding Hood has not been seen lately
OAK HARBOR, Washington––“Wolf dog is doing well,” a would-be rescuer just posted the Whidbey Island Community page on Facebook.
The would-be rescuer had snapped a cell phone photo of an immense female probable wolf hybrid who has been running at large for a couple of months, at least, in the wooded upscale West Beach-to-Fort Nugent suburban area southwest of the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
The habitat is too far from downtown Oak Harbor to attract the homeless encampments that sprawl among the closer green spaces.
“May be the new Bruiser”
The wolf dog “may be the new Bruiser,” the would-be rescuer suggested, referring to a big bull elk who somehow swam from the mainland to the area east of Deception Pass State Park circa 2012.
Bruiser the elk has harmlessly roamed the woods and swamps northeast of the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island ever since, becoming more-or-less a community mascot despite the stated ambition of many local hunters to shoot him.
Bruiser has not been shot, apparently, because he has the discretion to stay well within private property posted against hunting throughout each hunting season.
Lonely hearts club
Because several miles of runways, hangars, other military facilities, and the city of Oak Harbor itself separate Bruiser from the wolf dog, chances are good that the twain shall never meet.
Nonetheless there is slim likelihood of a happy ending for either one.
Bruiser, despite sometimes hopefully bugling toward the mainland, will never find a mate, unless a female elk wanders more than 20 miles west from the Skagit River delta, swims the Swinomish Channel or crosses the mudflats to Camano Island, and then makes the much longer swim to Whidbey Island that Bruiser did.
It is not impossible. Male black bears swam to Whidbey Island at least three times in recent years.
Two of them looked around for a while, then swam north to the San Juan Islands, making several stops to refuel on local vegetation and bird feeders, before returning to the mainland.
The third bear may be wintering in the woods between the towns of Clinton and Langley, twenty-five miles south of here, thirty-five miles south of the wolf dog, and forty miles south of Bruiser.
But female elk are much less inclined to roam than either bull elk or male bears. Bruiser, in all likelihood, will die a lifelong bachelor.
The wolf dog is much more likely to be shot, if not for chasing pets or livestock, then simply because whatever local Nimrod guns her down can claim she was mistaken for a coyote––albeit that she is much bigger than a whole coyote family.
There is also, of course, the possibility that someone will corner the wolf dog, whether in another of countless failed capture attempts or accidentally, unawares, and will be badly injured or killed.
A three-year-old boy lost his arm to a female wolf dog in in Thurston County, Washington, in April 2017, apparently while trying to feed the wolf dog a piece of pizza. The owner, wolf dog breeder Rick Miracle, had already produced two alleged wolf/malamute offspring who ended up at the Wolf Haven sanctuary in Tenino, Washington.
Wolf Haven does not normally accept wolf hybrids, but reportedly accepted those two because they appeared to be all wolf.
Daily feedings, a blanket, & a heating pad
Meanwhile back in the West Beach-to-Fort Nugent neighborhood, the wolf dog is said by observers to be steadily expanding her range, probably seeking a mate. Any big dog might do––and then, come spring, the community will have a hungry wolf dog pack to deal with, not just one wolf dog.
A resident described by acquaintances as having a “heart of gold,” known for trapping, neutering, and releasing feral cats, trying to get lost dogs back home to their owners, and trying to find homes for pit bull puppies, has been providing a home of sorts to the wolf dog.
This includes daily feedings on her porch, and putting out a blanket on top of a heating pad for the wolf dog to sleep on. The blanket is washed and dried three times a week, the “heart of gold” lady says.
Nowhere for the wolf dog to go
The “heart of gold” lady also says she has borrowed a cage trap from a sanctuary on the Olympic Peninsula. The wolf dog walks inside to eat––but the “heart of gold” lady does not set the trap to catch the wolf dog because she has not yet found anywhere for the wolf dog to go.
No sanctuary wants the wolf dog. From what we are told, neither does the local animal shelter. This is not an animal who can be easily or casually be rehomed, or, for that matter, be rehomed safely at all, having already repeatedly demonstrated the ability to escape from fenced yards.
Though Washington state law by now may hold a differing opinion, which the local courts may have to sort out if and when the wolf dog hurts a human or kills livestock or horses, the “heart of gold” lady insists she is not the wolf dog’s owner.
Hopped a fence & bolted
The owner, according to the “heart of gold” lady, is a former neighbor who had the wolf dog for all of one day before she hopped a fence and bolted.
The owner, says another Whidbey Island Community page denizen, “stopped at a rest area on his way back from helping a lady with wolves, but he did not get her there. He said he stopped at a rest area near Las Vegas, and there was a lady in a broken down van with a bunch of dogs. She gave him this one. He took her because she was so thin.”
Which means this particular giant wolf dog has already been through at least two homes. The “heart of gold” lady could be counted as her home #3 in less than a year’s time. Assuming the “lady in the broken down van” was not the breeder, the wolf dog may have had four or more homes so far.
Predators of the Heart
Predictably enough, someone suggested around a month ago that the “heart of gold” lady and/or other would-be rescuers should contact Predators of the Heart, a former traveling wildlife show headquartered southeast of Anacortes, on Fidalgo Island, just across the Deception Pass bridge from Whidbey Island.
Predators of the Heart now calls itself the Because We Matter wildlife sanctuary.
According to the Because We Matter web site, Predators of the Heart had been “captivating and educating audiences since 1998 and had become one of the largest traveling exhibitors in the Northwest,” not quite the Tiger King but perhaps the Wolf King, at least of the region.
According to Anacortes neighbors and public officials, Predators of the Heart was at best a dangerous pain in the ass.
Lobbied against law to keep wildlife out of private hands
Founder William David “Dave” Coleburn in 2003 and 2008 reportedly led lobbying efforts against state legislation to ban private possession of dangerous wild animals.
The bill passed anyway, but Coleburn won an exemption for the owners of traveling animal shows. Partnering with a pet bobcat and puma keeper who lives on the far side of Greenbank, Washington from ANIMALS 24-7, Coleburn formed an entity called the Alliance for the Conservation of Exotic Felines to continue to try to thwart the efforts of communities to protect themselves from dangerous “pets” who were never intended by nature to be “pets.”
Over the next several years, after a wolf reportedly escaped in 2012, Coleburn blocked several attempts by Anacortes elected representatives to evict Predators of the Heart.
Escapes & casualties
Meanwhile there were more escapes.
“In September 2017, two leashed wolves broke away and killed the dog of a hiker in the Little Cranberry Lake area who had mistakenly walked onto [Predators of the Heart] property,” recounted Jacqueline Allison for GoSkagit.com.
“The incident prompted the city to install signs and try to clarify the trail boundary between the forest lands and [Predators of the Heart],” Allison wrote.
Less than a year later, Allison continued, three wolf dogs escaped, causing Anacortes Community Forest Lands to close the community hiking trails until the wolf dogs were recaptured.
“While on the loose,” Allison wrote, “the wolf dog hybrids attacked and killed a neighbor’s dog, the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office said.
Eventually Predators of the Heart underwent an internal meltdown.
Complained Coleburn in a June 2, 2021 Facebook posting, “It has been almost a year now since I was banned from going to the property I actually own. I’m not allowed to visit with my animals at all, whom I traveled with for many years. My wife Denise and my daughter Ashley, as well as Tony Cloud and Danny Overman, the board of Predators of the Heart, voted me out of my position on June 7, 2020.
“My divorce date has been changed four times. I have not been allowed to work in the animal industry due to a court order stemming from false allegations of my daughter Ashley. My name has been removed from almost all company documents and licensing.”
According to Coleburn, “All this began when I signed up to be an Airbnb experience and the company made over two and a half million dollars in a short time. Now my daughter and wife want the house, the land, and the business.”
As of January 11, 2021, with the divorce and related litigation apparently still underway, Coleburn posted, “Isn’t it funny that I could travel for 18 years on the road, speaking to thousands of people, and never have one complaint?
From traveling show to Airbnb zoo
Apparently Coleburn did not count the complaints from neighbors, hikers, and other concerned people in the Anacortes community.
According to the Because We Matter web site, Coleburn’s ex-wife, daughter, and team have “now switched to keeping our traveling animals home and retired.”
The ten-acre Because We Matter menagerie “houses wolves, cougars, bobcats, birds of prey, many different species of reptiles, and small mammals, insured and licensed” to provide “the safe keeping, proper care, and humane exhibition of our animals in the comfort of their new forever homes. Guests now come to them in small groups through Airbnb’s ‘Howling with Ambassadors’ experience.”
In other words, the former Predators of the Heart traveling show has metamorphized into the Airbnb version of a roadside zoo.
Wishful thinking will not save the day, or the wolf dog
If Because We Matter wants the wolf dog who is still roaming the West Beach-to-Fort Nugent area, the “heart of gold” lady has not said so, nor has she acknowledged Because We Matter as, in her view, an appropriate destination for the wolf dog.
From here, the whole situation looks as if there will be no happy endings, no matter how much or how many well-meaning people want there to be one.