What Are My Options?

What Can Be Done With a Maturing Wolf-dog?

When captive wolves or wolf-dogs become a problem for their owners, the options are few and far between.  In most situations the animal and owners have reached a point of no return, a decision has been made that the animal must go. If the animal exhibits dog-like tendencies it may be suitable to find it a new home. If the animal exhibits shy, wolf-like tendencies, it will not easily bond to new owners, and it may be best to destroy the animal if the original owners cannot keep it.

Figuring out a win-win solution to a wolf-dog problem can be difficult, but not impossible.  Roughly one-in-ten wolf-dogs are able to exist and even sometimes thrive in the human world.  Likely, these are animals that are either not very wolfy, or belong to a caring, responsible human who unselfishly puts their animal’s needs foremost in their daily lives.  Large enclosures, pack mates and as little stress from the outside world as possible (i.e. traffic, other pets, energetic and rambunctious kids), all contribute to the happiness of the animal.  Keep in mind, however, the other nine-out-of-ten animals who are not so lucky and end up meeting a premature death.  For those of you who have already discovered the difficulty of caring for a wolf or wolf-dog in your home, here are the options that you are left with…

Finding a New Home

Finding your pet a new home is most people’s first idea.  Although it may be the easiest option for you, it could cost the animal its life and cause great heartbreak and pain for all involved.  If your wolf-dog is outgoing and not afraid of people, it might not be too difficult finding them a new home.  In this case, be completely honest with the people who take in your animal.  Make sure that these kind people have the proper facilities, time, attitude and commitment to make it work.  Change is very difficult for any wolf-dog, so please try to minimize the number of moves and new owners they have to adjust to.  Even very outgoing wolf-dogs can become extremely shy and nervous in new surroundings and with new owners.  A wolf-dog is a pack animal, and gets much of its confidence from you, its pack leader.  The animal’s personality may completely change when put in a new situation.  Keep in contact with the people who have taken in your animal to make sure that everything actually works out.

However, the vast majority of wolf-dogs are shy or scared of most people.  This makes the prospect of finding them a new home much less likely.  Due to the wolf’s intricate social structure, some wolf-dogs can be next to impossible to introduce into a different home.  Most wolf-dogs will never accept a new human pack.  Similar problems occur in trying to introduce a mature wolf into an already established pack, either resulting in an injured handler or injured, and occasionally dead, wolves.  When traded off to another owner, wolf-dogs (and dogs as well) will generally try to return “home.”  The animal’s drive to escape is unnerving as it chews, digs, jumps and paces incessantly.  The usual results are: the wolf-dog is returned to the owners, euthanized, or it escapes and is shot or run over within 48 hours.  Not much of an option at all.  Really, the only answer is to take responsibility for the animal’s life yourself.

Setting Your Animal Free

Turning a wolf-dog loose because an owner cannot face the hard decision to euthanize the animal responsibly is probably the most dangerous, irresponsible and cruel thing that can happen to most wolves or wolf-dogs.  For a wild animal, especially a top predator like a wolf, to simply survive and feed itself, several components are necessary.  First, wild wolves must possess an unrelenting fear of humans.  Captive wolves almost always associate humans with food and when released to the wild they seek out humans.  Usually the humans they find are fearful and the wolf-dog’s life ends with a gunshot.  Secondly, wild wolves spend the first years of their life learning and gaining the hunting skills from their other pack members critical to its survival.

Wolf-dogs lacking this formal education will be more than likely to succumb to the harsh realities of the wild.  They do not know how to hunt or fend for themselves.  One quick, fatal kick to the head by an elk or deer is a merciful ending.  Weeks can go by without one successful search for food.  Starvation at this point is now a matter of time.  The weaker the animal becomes the bolder it becomes as it seeks food in any shape or form.  Domestic livestock and pets can now become prey. If the animal ends up on a ranch, it will likely get shot, allowing the livestock community to use this experience to negatively combat wild wolf recovery.  If the animal eats a pet (say the neighbor’s cat) the whole neighborhood is affected as the media dramatizes the issue.  When dogs do the same it is of little concern.  Lastly, there is public danger. If this frightened, staved and sick wolf-dog ends up in a conflict with a person or child resulting in injury, the animal is immediately killed and a "little red riding hood" paranoia sweeps the area - all due to a single irresponsible owner.

Giving Your Wolf-dog to a Shelter or Refuge

While this may appear to be the most appealing option, giving your wolf-dog to a shelter or refuge can be very difficult.  Realize that there are nearly 250,000 captive wolves and wolf-dogs looking for new homes in the US each year.  Dedicated and caring people across the country have transformed their lives and homes into wolf and wolf-dog refuges to help these poor animals.  However, many are working at the disadvantage of having no funding or support.  Some refuges just cannot care for their animals as well as is necessary and as they would like.  Even with all of the refuges in the US, there is only enough space for a few hundred wolves and wolf-dogs to be cared for.  And of those few hundred spaces, only a handful are open to new animals.  Remember, your odds are NOT good of finding a space for your wolf-dog, but if you can, their life may be much better than with another unsuspecting and unprepared family. (Info and Links for Refuges)

Another detail to look at in this is the role of animal shelters. Community shelter and local Humane Societies work hard to save as many animals as possible.  However, the vast majority of them are required to immediately euthanize a wolf or wolf-dog.  Regardless of the animal’s personality, most insurance companies and local law enforcement will insist upon euthanization for the public’s safety.  Even if your wolf-dog does not look or act wolfy, its chances can be limited in a shelter.  Even under the best of conditions, the most outgoing and friendly dog can become scared, shy and aggressive in a kennel situation (lots of new people, changing routines, constant barking and noise, competition with other dogs for food and attention) and be put down.  Now, imagine your wolf-dog in a situation like this… when their pack leader (you) leaves, a wolf-dog will most likely become nervous and shy on their own, compounding the effects of kenneling.  A few wolf-dogs may be able to find their way through an animal shelter to a happy home, but is it worth taking the chance?

A quick piece of advice when talking with animal shelters and humane societies:  do not mention the words “wolf” or “wolf-dog.”  While your animal’s heritage may be a source of pride for yourself, please remember that any animal coming into a shelter with that label will be immediately put down.  Any reputable shelter will run a battery of tests with your animal before adopting them out to determine their temperament.  Be honest and up-front about the problems you have had with the animal and about their history, but don’t volunteer the taboo word “wolf.”

One last place to look for help is with your local breed rescue groups.  Nearly all states have rescue groups dedicated to saving, fostering and re-homing specific breeds of dogs.  Most breed rescues will only work with pureblood dogs, but some will consider helping an animal that looks like it is a mix.  Try contacting German shepherd, malamute, husky, Belgian sheepdog, Belgian malinios, or Tervuren rescue groups… as all these breeds look and act very similar to wolves.  Chances are that they won’t be able to help you, but it may be worth a try.

The Only Real Choice:  Making It Work for You

Without question, your wolf-dog friend will be much happier living with you, once bonded to you than it will with any other person.  With a lot of understanding and even more patience, most owners could successfully provide the home their animal needs.  It may take some hard adjustments in terms of relationships, lifestyle and possible location, but all will be worth it if the ‘pack’ remains intact.  The only true answer to the question “What are my options?” is to take responsibility.  The creature will be happier with you if you give it understanding and have patience.

Most important is the amount of space your animal will need.  Ultimately this space could figure significantly in their overall health and happiness.  First, make sure your animal has a good, secure enclosure that includes space for them to run around, shade from the sun and a place for them to retreat away from humans if they desire.

Another necessity is to get your animal a companion if they do not already have one.  It does not have to be another wolf-dog, just another canine, preferably around a similar size.  Wolves have developed incredible social and communication systems that depend on constant contact and reinforcement of their position within the pack structure.  Keeping them in the back yard at night when the rest of its pack is indoors cuddled around the TV is extremely frustrating and confusing for them.  Another canine companion might help make this situation a little more tolerable.

Exercise is vital to both the physical and emotional well being of your friend.  If you have a large enough enclosure and a companion for your friend to play with, your animal will get the exercise they need.  Walking wolf-dogs on leashes is not recommended and should be limited to times away from home, such as when the family takes a vacation and knows better than to leave their wolf-dog at home.  Unexpected encounters with other dogs and pets could result in dead or injured animals.  Learning to steer wolf-dogs away from potential problems, rather than having to physically pull them away from something after they have already discovered it, is both easier to do and less stressful on the animal.

Free-running your animal off the leash, seeming to be a treat, can cause many problems.  Once they have learned the joy of free-running, they will want to run all the time.  This is especially important from the very first day you take them home. Puppies that are taken out to the park, field or open space and allowed to free run will be much harder to contain in a fenced enclosure when mature adults.  Once freedom is tasted, freedom is desired.

For more detailed information on what it takes to care for a wolf or wolf-dog in captivity, please see: Recommendations for Care and Housing

Learn as much as you can about wolves and wolf-dogs so you understand yours better.  This includes reading the books on raising wolf-dogs as well as those on wolf behavior.  Always remember, a wolf-dog is part wild animal and your ability to understand and accept that wild side might be the difference between providing a quality home and your wolf-dog being destroyed.  Don’t just accept anything you read or hear from others at face value.  Learn from other peoples' mistakes.  Wolves are as different from one another as people are different from each other, and knowing as much as you can might prepare you for the unexpected to come.

When You Can't Make It Work

If you feel none of this is possible, then you are faced with the only other alternative- take the ultimate responsibility for the life you have sought out and have your pet euthanized.  Euthanasia is, sadly, often the only responsible option that ends this tragic cycle.  The only difference between euthanizing the animal at the outset of major problems and waiting until later is a lot of stress and suffering for the animal and your family.  To those of you who have found yourself stuck in a similar position, we can empathize with you and the frustration you must endure.

If you are positive you will not be able to make changes either in location or lifestyle, your only true alternative is euthanasia.  The other so called “alternatives” are only alternatives to you, and not to your canine friend.

Many thanks to Annie White for her contribution to this page.