By Diana Guerrero

Do you remember any of your childhood stories about wolves? Let's see, there were The Three Little Pigs; The Seven Little Goats; Brothers Grimm Little Red Riding Hood (who gets eaten by the wolf); Peter and the Wolf; Werewolves; and more assorted varieties of terror-inducing stories from all cultures and times. This must be where we have gotten all those lousy, fearful impressions of the wolf from. It started from an early age and both fascinated and terrorized our imaginations.

Wolves have attracted our attention with their beauty and their wildness for cons. The attraction to these wild animals has created an allure that catapulted some of the dog breeds closer to wolf ancestry into the urban household. For the past few decades some people had the bright idea to cross the wild beast with the domesticated animal and create a nightmare of unbelievable proportion. You could compare it to the story of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" or perhaps "Frankenstein", since you never know what you are going to get.

With the fascination of wolves, there has been a wave of people rushing out to obtain what they think is the next best thing, a wolf hybrid or "Wog". Motivating factors to obtain these pets are highly varied: Some people view them as status symbols while others own and breed them for financial reasons; marketing puppies that are part wolf (which often are not, fortunately!) regardless of breeding, socialization, or health considerations. In some states it is illegal to own or breed them.

No matter what people think, the wog is not an animal that will help perpetuate the wolf species. It actually adds fuel to the fire against the wolf. Selfish human motives continue to harm the wolf species with a global impact. The bottom line is that they are not pets.

Some wolf experts suggest that the way to integrate a wog into the home is to take a variety of steps before, during and after acquiring the animal. The first step is to get familiar with wolf behavior and to actually get some training in that behavior. Often, people who have this type of encounter decide against the adventure. It is just plain hard work and very risky.

Obtaining a wog requires that you first find a good breeder. Because of the critical nature of the upbringing, it is suggested that for optimal results you get a hybrid that is hand-reared from before about two weeks of age. Until sixteen weeks of age, the socialization must be carefully conducted and monitored. Then, once placed, they must have the proper facilities and social environment. This means not being isolated and also not chained or confined in a small space.

This commitment is a major one in comparison to a domestic animal. Only experienced people that the animal knows will be able to care for it, and the ownership of the animal must be for the entire lifespan of the wog. Not only is that important, but also having a veterinarian experienced with wolves is also important. At this time there is still no legal rabies vaccine available for these animals.

Even with the best of preparation, the challenges associated with ownership go far beyond the normal pet owner's dreams. If the animal was not properly raised or socialized, there is the danger of challenge and injury. Predatory behavior triggered by children screaming and playing is another area of concern, as is the media hype and public terror when such aggressive incidents occur.

At first, hybrid puppies are cute and can be amiable, but the horrors start pretty quickly. Because they are not a truly domesticated animal, they cannot be trained like a domestic pet. They will often display predatory behavior, possessiveness and aggression over food and possessions. They grab and shred skin as well as other items in serious confrontations and are almost impossible to housebreak. They usually exhibit denning and territorial instincts causing destruction to the home environment both inside and out.

True wogs are tremendously complex. On one side there is the domesticated ancestry, and on the other, a wild animal heritage; these forces battle each other. Depending on the cross, you can end up with an animal that is highly dangerous or downright deadly, unlike true wolves that will avoid people in the wild and display behavior which makes family confrontations more exhibition-oriented than downright deadly.

In the past, wogs have been referred to as unpredictable monsters. I've, unfortunately, witnessed this firsthand. One example was a trainer I know; she obtained a very nice wog from a "good" line. When it reached maturity (around two years of age) the wog challenged her. She lost and the event almost cost the trainer her arm from the attack. The animal was euthanized, a sad but common event . . . and better than some of the consequences. This woman is a professional in the exotic animal industry. Imagine the repercussions of a less-experienced owner!

Most people who claim to have wogs actually do not. This is fortunate since true wogs often end up mistreated and misunderstood. Usually they end up beaten, starved, locked up in small enclosures with no other animals or humans to interact with, or are emaciated and tied out on a chain. Sometimes these wogs are dumped off to survive "in the wild", are hit by cars while they are running in sheer terror, or they are shot.

In my dog socialization groups we occasionally were able to give the wog the benefit of group interactions, but more often than not, the animal was beyond help just due to the breeding and genetics. Work has to start very young and then there are no guarantees. Many problems begin young but often animals that have appeared fine will suddenly "turn" at sexual maturity.

Many of the facilities which rescue wild animals (wogs are put into that category but neither the domestic or wild roles suit them) won't take them, or can't because their facilities are already so overloaded. Occasionally one will be able to adapt into a group and integrate into the pack successfully. However, since they only really bond with their first owner, they never seem to recover from being abandoned. Many of those animals will often show great fear of strangers or new environment changes.

Confinement is often a challenge since these animals are great at escaping. They should not be kept within any city or town limits, nor should they have minimal fencing or electronic fences. Fencing with a minimum height of eight feet and an overhang to prevent escape is the bare minimum requirement. Digging precautions at the fence perimeter and a large area for running is necessary to keep these animals confined and in a better temperament.

Other risks inherent in the animal come from the predatory standpoint. Other animals, kids, and birds all become targets for that type of behavior . . . as prey. A wog jumping through a plate glass window to grab a caged bird, stalking kids from behind the fenced yard, or emitting low and lingering warning growls at the owners and a variety of other blood-chilling activities occur daily.

There are exceptions, but they are not the norm. If you already have a wog, read about wolf behavior, dog behavior, and hybrid behavior. Be prepared for a long, complicated relationship. See professional help before you get hurt. Hybrids do not help the image of the wolf. I would like the stories to change from the ones most people envision. A good example is mentioned in "Of Wolves and Men" by Barry Lopez.

In the book he describes that before an educational program on animals, the children in the classroom were asked to draw pictures of a wolf. Each one depicted the wolf with very large fangs. Once the wolf visited and they got to learn about him, see him and gain a bit of understanding, they were asked to draw another picture of the wolf. In the new pictures there were no large fangs . . . just large feet! What a change in perception.

If you care about wolves and their conservation, then don't support hybrid breeding by buying or selling them. Support those groups dedicated to actual wolf education, conservation, and most recently reintroduction and integration back into the wild. Some of the agencies that specialize in wolf behavior, hybrid organizations and wolf support or conservation groups are listed below.

WOLVES Alaska Wildlife Alliance, P.O. Box 202022, Anchorage, AK 99520; International Wolf Center, 1396 Hwy. 169, Ely, MN 55731; Mexican Wolf Coalition, 207 San Pedro NE, Albuquerque, NM 87108; Wolf Haven International, 3111 Offut Lake Rd., Tenino, WA 98589; Wolf Park, North American Wildlife Park Foundation, Battle Ground, IN 47920.

HYBRIDS National Wolf Hybrid Assn., 1059 Porter Morris Rd., Chapmansboro, TN 37035; National Organization for the Acceptance of Hybrids, 165 Woodstock Rd., White River Junction, VT 05001; Protective Association for the Hybrid, Box 335, Innisfree, Alberta, Canada T0B 2G0; U.S. American Wolfdog Assn., P.O. Box 426, Hopatcong, NJ 07843-1121.

Diana Guerrero has achieved international recognition for her work with both wild and domesticated animals. Working with some of the most endangered species in the world, she is known for her unique training methods using trust, respect and understanding as a foundation. Diana can be reached through Ark Animals Behavior Consulting and Training at (619) 599-3697 or (800) 818-7387, or you can e-mail her at arkabc@ix.netcom.com .

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