Hybrid Breed of Wolf, Dog Can Pack Nasty Disposition : Animals: Mixture of domestic and wild canines makes for unpredictability. Special permits are required for ownership.
This spring, Rick Rhode bought his children a gray wolf hybrid pup just like one he owned that died several years ago.
“It’s the only type of pet I like,” the Camarillo resident said. “They are very loyal, very family-oriented. Because of that pack instinct, they become very attached to the family they’re raised with.”
Rhode’s 6-month-old pup, Conan, is one of an estimated 200 wolf hybrids in Ventura County, according to local veterinarians and animal regulation officials.
But county animal regulation officers say the animals, which are created by breeding wolves with dogs, are dangerous.
Wolf hybrids are domesticated just enough that they are no longer afraid of humans but are still wild enough that they will attack unexpectedly, county animal regulation director Kathy Jenks said.
Indeed, one of Jenks’ animal control officers was mauled and seriously injured by a wolf hybrid in Saticoy last year, she said.
“They’re not dogs,” Jenks said emphatically. “They can’t be licensed as dogs.”
Wolf hybrids generally result from breeding malamutes, German shepherds or Siberian huskies with wolves, or more commonly, by crossing one wolf hybrid with another, animal control officials said.
Under state law, only first-generation wolf hybrids, which are half wolf and half dog, are wild animals requiring special permits from the state Department of Fish and Game, said Phil Nelms, the department’s permit captain.
All wolf hybrids beyond the first generation, neither of whose parents is pure wolf, are domestic animals requiring no special permits under state law, Nelms said.
But in Ventura County, as in Los Angeles County and many other counties and cities around the state, wolf hybrids cannot be licensed, primarily because there is no state-approved rabies vaccine for the animals, according to Jenks and officials from the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control.
Some local veterinarians said that unless they feel sure an animal is a wolf hybrid, they inoculate it with a dog rabies vaccine just to be safe.
A dog vaccine “is better than nothing,” said veterinarian Sam Thomas of the Pet Headquarters Veterinary Clinic in Camarillo.
It is impossible to prove whether an animal is a wolf hybrid or just a dog, fish and game officials said.
So veterinarians, like animal control officers and even pet owners, look for characteristics common to wolves: piercing yellow eyes, narrow chests, long legs, bushy manes and distinctive coloring.
Jenks said some pet owners are bilked by breeders who advertise dogs as wolf hybrids and sell them for as much as $1,500.
And many of the breeders who are selling the real thing don’t educate their customers on how their new pets are different from dogs, Jenks said.
Jerry Thompson, 50, who runs the Raptor Rehabilitation and Release Program in Simi Valley, owns a 9-month-old wolf hybrid that he uses in his presentations about wildlife to elementary schools and colleges.
Most wolf hybrid owners don’t realize they need to train the animals differently from dogs, Thompson said.
“You can’t hit them,” he said. “You can’t play tug-of-war. You can’t play rough with them.”
As puppies, wolf hybrids can be just as playful as dogs, Thompson said. But by the time they are 1 to 2 years old, they become more like wolves: more aggressive and conscious of their own position of power in the family, he said.
Because wild wolves run in packs ruled by a few dominant wolves, it is critical that wolf hybrid owners maintain dominance over the animals from the time they are pups, Thompson said.
“The hybrid has to be submissive all his life,” Thompson said. Otherwise the wolf hybrid will grow up thinking it runs the family, just as dominant wolves lead a pack.
Ojai resident Julian Gonzalez, 33, said he learned the hard way how to train his wolf hybrid, Chinook.
Gonzalez, the founder of the Tri-County Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation program, got the animal when it was only 6 weeks old. By the time Chinook was 2, it began attacking Gonzalez.
“I wouldn’t say my dog was out to kill me,” Gonzalez said. But Chinook attacked him three separate times, at least once causing wounds that required stitches.
Then a vet told Gonzalez to demonstrate his dominance over the animal.
And the next time Chinook began biting, Gonzalez fought back with his fists, grabbed the animal by the throat and pushed him to the ground. “I never had another problem with him,” he said.
But Gonzalez and other wolf hybrid owners said the animals can be ideal pets if they are raised correctly.
“They’re beautiful dogs,” Gonzalez said. “I plan on getting more when he’s gone.”
Jenks agreed that many wolf hybrid owners are responsible, loving pet owners.
“The majority of people that have them know what they have and don’t let them run loose,” she said. “They understand the liability.”
Although the county will not issue dog licenses for wolf hybrids, owners can apply for the conditional-use permits required for all wild animals. The county Planning Department issues permits to residents of unincorporated areas while cities issue permits to pet owners in their boundaries.
County or city code enforcement officers could force owners of wolf hybrids to get permits or get rid of the animals. But, most code enforcement officers in Ventura County won’t go after the pet unless there are complaints, Jenks said.
Still, Jenks and some wildlife specialists said they disagree on principle with breeding or owning wolf hybrids.
“They’re an unnecessary pet,” Jenks said. “They’re just the latest yuppie fad.”
And Thompson said he worries that some people just want the thrill of owning and showing off a wild animal.
“People like to possess wildlife because it’s some sort of power over wild animals,” he said. “As a rule, most people with wildlife are on ego trips.”