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'Twilight's' Kristen Stewart Has a Wolf-Dog ... Is It Dangerous?

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Recently, "Twilight's" Kristen Stewart talked to David Letterman about her pet wolf-dog hybrid:

A few days later, I was walking my dog with my kids in a Southern California park and saw a HUGE dog being walked on a leash. The owner told me it was a wolf. I instantly felt protective of my small kids ... are these animals dangerous?

We called Dr. Randall Lockwood, the ASPCA's senior vice president for forensic sciences, to find out.

momlogic:First of all, are wolf-dog hybrids legal?

Dr. Randall Lockwood:California and many other states have passed laws restricting the ownership of wolf-dog hybrids. Having pure wolves as pets is illegal almost everywhere, and first-generation wolf-dog hybrids are illegal in California. [Check to find out the laws in your state.]

When enforcing the law, it often comes down to he said/she said, or how the animal is represented. The law is most effective for cracking down on people breeding dogs as wolf-dog hybrids.

[Editor's note:Stewart told Letterman that her family had gotten their wolves in Florida. Florida only regulates wolf-dog hybrids if the dog genetics are 25 percent or less.]

ml: With celebrities like "Twilight's" Kristen Stewart having wolf-dog hybrids,the breed seems to be gaining in popularity. But how safe are wolf-dog hybridsas pets?

RL:I have bred several myself in my research, and worked with them -- my dissertation was on the wolf. People who seek out wolf hybrids often do it for selfish and egotistical reasons. They want something exotic. It's a mistaken belief that somehow they are honoring the spirit of the wild. Yet they have produced an animal that cannot usually live safely or happily with humans. It can't live as a wild animal, nor does it have the adaptation of a dog.

Wolf-dog hybrids are not necessarily more aggressive, but they are often very easily
frightened and aroused. They're escape artists -- virtually almost every one I have
ever known has escaped. They can be predatory.

They are not suited to the wild world or the world of companion animals. They are
difficult to train. Wolves have enormous control over their aggression -- wolves rarely fight
other wolves. But when you breed wolves with dogs (especially protective breeds like Rottweilers), it's potentially a very dangerous combination.

ml: A study by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association found that wolf-dog hybrids are the fifth most dangerous dog in America, causing 14 fatalities between 1979 and 1998. Should these dogs be allowed around children?

RL: I have been brought in as an outside expert in cases where wolf-dog hybrids have killed children. It's not that common. On average, there has been one hybrid-caused fatality a year over the last twenty years in the U.S. But if you are choosing a companion animal for the family, the wolf-dog hybrid should not even be a consideration. There are so many better options out there.

Wolves have strong social needs that people can't really meet. Wolves in the wild cover twenty to thirty miles a day finding food and communicating with their pack. If you put them behind a chain-link fence in a backyard, they get bored. That can be a dangerous situation.

ml: How many wolf-dog hybrids are there in the U.S.?

RL: We don't really know how many there are. The hybrid promoters tend to exaggerate the numbers to make them seem more popular and to seem like bad reports are more rare. But if the wolf-dog owners are talking to animal control, they'll often say their dog is a husky mix. So it's hard to get an accurate read.

Owning a wolf is almost like a cult for some people. It's this whole werewolf generation. But if you want to have contact with the wild, go to the real wild -- don't chain it up in your basement. How can you claim to appreciate the spirit of the wild and then put it behind a chain-link fence? Many owners say they're trying to help defuse the antipathy and bad press the wolves have had. I was doing wolf-appreciation programs thirty years ago. But all you need is the neighborhood wolf-dog hybrid to get out and kill a neighborhood cat or dog -- or worse -- and you'll undo all the good that our programs have done.

ml: Do you think that owning wolf-dog hybrids should be illegal?

RL: It certainly should be severely restricted and require a permit. Many states do specifically list wolf-dog hybrids on their lists of presumed dangerous animals; they require special housing conditions, insurance and permits -- as they should. Wolf-dog hybrids certainly have unique housing needs, and require special medical care. There are several reports of rabies-vaccine failures in wolf-dog hybrids. Even if the animal has been vaccinated, it is assumed to be unvaccinated. That means that if it bites someone, either the person who has been bitten has to start rabies treatment, or the wolf-dog has to be put down and tested for rabies.

ml: What happens to abandoned wolf-dog hybrids?

RL: If the owner is irresponsible or runs afoul of the law, the animal is very difficult to relocate. If a wolf-dog hybrid is picked up by animal control, it's usually euthanized. There are very few sanctuaries for wolf-dog hybrids.

I used to work with a wolf sanctuary in St. Louis -- the hybrids were kept in groups of five or six. They had an enormous amount of space and good veterinary care, but it's very labor-intensive and expensive to keep animals this way.

ml: What would you say to someone who wanted to get a wolf-dog hybrid?

RL:I can certainly understand their appeal: They are beautiful, intelligent creatures. But whether you're keeping tigers, wolves, chimps or whatever, this is simply not the way these exotic animals are intended to live.

next: Why Do I Try to Fix My Brother's Kids?
36 comments so far | Post a comment now
MooWolf October 24, 2010, 5:35 AM

Lockwood’s opinion may not be a good one, but after being in wolves/wolfdog rescue for 10 years now, he has made several good points.

One thing people often forget is the amount of wolf in each individual animal. A lower content (or mostly dog) which is what most people have, despite their claims of their animals being wolf or mostly wolf- can indeed make good pets. However, your higher contents (mostly wolf- generally speaking upwards of 70% wolf) are in NO way, shape or form, pet quality animals- even when raised by experienced people (you ask anyone that has owned a real high content, and they will tell you they are not pets). They are not family animals, they are not good guard dogs. Most can clear a 6ft fence from a standstill with ease.

And by seeing video’s like this of Ms. Stewarts animals (which look to be low-mids) well this is doing absolutely nothing in helping these aniamls- that are already in a dire situation.
As well as giving the already ridiculous amount of breeders- I am mostly talking about the ones that so many people get their “wolves” from- these breeders that sell low-no content “wolfy looking” dog mutts as wolves and wolfdogs- spewing about how they make such great pets and so on. And people actually believe them and believe what they are getting is a real wolf- when the Poodle next door probably has more wolf in it then that animal.

I own 2 rescued wolfdogs (a foster failure I am) and my one young female is the poster child for why wolfdogs do not make good pets. And I am a very experienced owner/handler.

If you want a wolfy dog- get a husky or malamute. Be careful though, becuase those breeds can be very stubborn and difficult as well.


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matthew baldauf March 29, 2011, 8:48 AM

Articles like this really get under my skin. People who take a stand against wolfdog ownership have the same ignorance as people who think no one should be allowed to own a gun. Their opinions are biased,ignorant, and uninformed and are based on irrational fear. I grew up with a wolf dog before he sadly passed away from heartworms. Yes they are escape artists but no other dog would come back as loyaly as a wolf dog. Yes they take more time, attention, and socialization than other dogs but that simply means they have to be treated the way every dog truely deserves to be treated. Honestly if you can’t handle taking care of a wolfdog you don’t deserve to have any dog. They are the most inteligent,loyal,and freindly dogs you’ll ever own if you treat them right. People need to stop putting us down because our dogs can’t be hit when they get into the garbage or chaned up and forgoten like other dogs. Anti wolfdog owners say that wolfdogs are unfit family dogs because they actualy require you to treat them like family

Anonymous  April 20, 2011, 4:28 PM

According to the Humane Society of the United States, after a wolf x dog mix has been bred 5 generations away from a pure wolf, it is no longer a hybrid but a domestic dog.

Blue Bay Shepherd April 20, 2011, 4:31 PM

If you want a dog that is bred to look like a wolf, google blue bay shepherds

Blue Bay Shepherd April 20, 2011, 4:38 PM

If you want a dog that is bred to look like a wolf, google blue bay shepherds. They are not the only breed of dog that is bred to look wolfy, but a good starting point. Beautiful animals with wonderful temperments.

Lori April 20, 2011, 5:02 PM

I have had wolfdogs for the past 18 years. As a “breed” they can present many challenges. I read somewhere LONG ago that if you want to live with a wolfdog, you HAVE to have a sense of humor. You have to be able to laugh and take it in stride when your couch is eaten or your carpet is pulled up and out into the yard through the doggy door. Over the years I have had to remind myself of this many times. They ARE excellent escape artists…but so are many other breeds. You can prevent escaping by building a nice escape proof dog run. Currently, my domestic dog is much much more interested in escape than my wolfdog. They CAN have a high prey drive, as much as I advocate rescue, if you have small children or other small animals, I feel it is generally best to raise ANY large breed dog from a puppy around these sights, smells and sounds. It is also imperative that you NEVER leave a child unattended with ANY animal, because it only takes once to cause a lifetime of regret. There was a story of a St Bernard that killed a child once…after that child stuck a pencil stub in its ear and brain. It doesn’t matter how “safe” your dog is, if you don’t leave your child unattended, there won’t be an accident. Yes, wolfdogs dig…so do labs…so did my friends little mutt.

I do have to say I slightly disagree wth the person above who said that higher content animals can not be trained. There are people out there with higher content wolfdogs that are trained in SAR (Search and Rescue). Higher content wolfdogs can be trained, it just takes a commitment of work and time.

In general, wolfdogs are a “breed” and have pros and cons like any breed. As with any breed, you should do your research and know what to expect before you decide to get one. Once you do decide they are the right breed for you, then research your breeders.

Again, as with any breed, there are good, honest, reputable breeders out there wo breed animals with sound temperments…and there are people who breed indiscriminately. Unfortunately, unlike with most other breeds, you will also find MANY people who breed husky/malamute/shepherd mixes and LIE and tell you they are wolfdogs. If you haven’t done your research and don’t know what to look for, you will end up paying $1000 plus for a mutt you could have adopted and saved from the local shelter. (That dog can be just as loveable and just as beautiful…but why pay someone that amount for a mutt…??)

Finally, if you DO decide a wolfdog is the right dog for you, please do not go around telling people it is a WOLF (as Kristen did in this interview). Mostly you should say it is a mal or shepherd mix to avoid controversy…but if you want to tell people and educate people, then tell them truthfully it is a wolf dog mix.

“there are no bad dogs - or wolfdogs. Only bad owners”

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