Magazine article Insight on the News

Wolf Pack Bites Back

Magazine article Insight on the News

Wolf Pack Bites Back

Article excerpt

Wolf-dog hybrids make cute pups but uncontrollable pets. Many end up in `rescue homes' where volunteers struggle to care for them.

Four miles down a long dirt road in the high-altitude pinon-and-juniper forest in western New Mexico, drivers come upon a hillside crowded with large cages. In them are several dozen wolf-dogs, also known as wolf hybrids, the fad pet of the 1990s that has fallen on hard times.

"People had no idea what they were getting into when they got wolves," says Katie Hedges, a volunteer at the Candy Kitchen Rescue Ranch, one of about 10 shelters for these large animals around the country. "They thought they'd get an animal that behaves like a dog. But a wolf is not a pet."

A powerful symbol of America's wilderness, the wolf has been bred with domesticated dogs to produce a superdog for pet owners. But wolf-dogs are fiercely independent and overly playful, capable of ripping up the household sofa or overturning a refrigerator.

"Wolves are superintelligent," says general manager Barbara Berge, who joined forces with ranch founder Jacques Evans in 1992. "Their brain size is 30 percent larger than a dog's. They are very curious. If there is a squeak in the couch, they'll take it apart to find out why."

Situated 136 miles west of Albuquerque, Candy Kitchen is named for a ranch in the area that once produced pinon-nut candy. Its three resident staff and four volunteers haul dog food, raw meat and fresh water each day to pens scattered over 20 acres. Eight-foot-high chain-link fences surround the pens, which range in size from 60 feet by 80 feet to an acre.

"One woman I know has three wolves in a townhouse in Santa Fe," says Berge. "She works with them 24 hours a day. She has no social life. They should never run unsupervised, as they'll go after small pets in the neighborhood."

Starting out as cute, docile puppies, the wolf-dogs are prone to challenge their unprepared owners for dominance. Housebreaking them proves extremely difficult and, because wolves are introverted by nature, they make poor watchdogs. Moreover, wolves and their hybrid cousins have a predilection for howling at odd hours of the morning and wanting fresh game, not dog kibble, for food. …

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