Apr 24, 2014
09:24 AM
Connecticut Today

Beware Wolfdogs in Connecticut? No. Animals in Ledyard Area Are Dogs

Beware Wolfdogs in Connecticut? No. Animals in Ledyard Area Are Dogs

Jean-Christophe Verhaegen AFP/Getty Images

A picture taken on August 3, 2010 in the zoo of the eastern city of Amneville in France, shows an Arctic white wolf.

Editor's note: The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection announced April 24 that DNA tests on samples taken from seven animals in North Stonington showed them to be domestic dogs with “no recent wolf ancestry.”
“These tests show that these animals are not an illegal wolf hybrid and that it is legal for the current owner to have them in his possession,” said Susan Whalen, DEEP’s Deputy Commissioner for Environmental Conservation.  “We have notified state and local animal control officials of the test results, as they now have jurisdiction over any future issues with these animals, including licensing, vaccinations and roaming.” Check back for a longer update.

Something is on the prowl in Connecticut.

For the past few years there have been sporadic reports of snow-white canines with pointy ears roaming the Long Pond area in North Stonington and Ledyard in packs of up to seven. Recently things turned deadly.

In late February, a man in the area was reportedly outside his horse barn when three large, white canines without collars surrounded him. The canines seemed to be preparing to attack and did not disperse when he yelled at them.

The man (who has not been identified)  then called his neighbor, who brought a shotgun and shot and killed one of the animals. After the animal was killed, tissue samples from it were sent to the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California, Davis—the lab concluded that the animal was a “dog-wolf hybrid,” a potentially volatile genetic mix of a domesticated dog and wolf that is illegal in Connecticut.

As a result of a  March story about the incident in The Day newspaper of New London, the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP)  has taken tissue samples from seven animals belonging to local resident Ashbow Sebastian. These tissue samples have also been sent to University of California, Davis. The results of those tests are expected back soon, says Dennis Schain, DEEP’s director of communications.

“It should be about a week or ten days,” he says, adding that his department began looking into the matter after a reporter from The Day contacted him and said local residents believed the animals could be wolfdogs, which made it a DEEP issue. At that point, the department’s Environmental Conservation (EnCon) Police began investigating.

“We’ve had some general awareness over the past couple of years of some residents’ concerns with dogs in that area,” Schain says, "but it was something that the state animal control officer and local animal control had been handling. If you’re dealing with dogs they’re domestic animals and that’s not our jurisdiction.”

Sebastian, who owns the animals in question, is the war chief of the Eastern Pequot Tribe. Sebastian told The Day in late March that his dogs are not part wolf, and that the animal killed did not belong to him.

(Above a European grey wolf at The Wild Place Project at Bristol Zoo Gardens. Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Schain says Sebastian has been cooperating with the investigation.

“He allowed us to test the dogs," Schain says, "and we also advised him that he needed to keep them under control and on his property and we haven’t had any word of issues with them roaming since then.”

If the tests indicate that Sebastian’s dogs are in fact wolfdogs, EnCon police will likely take them. If not, complaints against the animals will be handled by local and state animal control.

Wolfdogs are illegal in Connecticut as well as several other states, yet they are not all that rare. By some estimates there are as many as 250,000 in the U.S. A quick Google search revealed several sites claiming to sell wolfdogs. And this is not the first time there have been suspected wolfdog sightings in Connecticut.

“We had one other case that we were actively involved in about a year ago, down around Norwalk I believe,” recalls Schain. “There were concerns that an animal was a hybrid and testing was done and the testing showed that it wasn’t.”

Dogs and wolves are technically members of the same species, but they have vastly different temperaments and wolfdogs can inherit a potentially dangerous combination of behaviors. Wolves have greater intelligence and a wider roaming range than most dogs, they are more adept at getting into or out of enclosures, and don’t respond to training the same way dogs generally do. Yet wolves are afraid of humans and tend not to be aggressive to them; that’s not always true of wolfdogs.

“When you breed a wolf and a dog what people want is one that looks like a wolf, beautiful long-legged, yellow-eyed, and acts like a dog and you do get a few of those,” explains Kent Weber, co-founder and executive director of Mission: Wolf, a Colorado non-profit that provides a sanctuary for wolves and wolfdogs. He adds that if a wolfdog gets “the aggressive behavior of a dog and the independent intelligent mind of a wolf, you can have a time bomb. Dogs are aggressive to humans, wolves are afraid of humans. So out of any litter of wolf dogs you’re going to have a crap shoot of behaviors and a crap shoot of appearances.”

Wolfdogs are seen during a demonstration against a sanctioned wolf hunt, in central Stockholm on February 6, 2011. Photo by: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Gett Images

(Left: Wolfdogs are seen during a demonstration against a sanctioned wolf hunt, in central Stockholm on February 6, 2011. Photo by: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Gett Images)
 

 

 

Weber says that there’s no more reason to be afraid of a wolfdog than a regular dog that is not well trained. “Things get sensationalized when the word ‘wolf’ gets used,” he says.

Last year, the gruesome story of a Kentucky woman evidently eaten by her wolfdogs attracted national press, and tales of the “Beast of Gevaudan,” which terrorized south-central France have been told for centuries (by some accounts “the beast” killed more than 100 people in the 1760s; many modern observers believe the attacks to have been carried out by a pack of wolfdogs).

Despite this sensationalism, Weber argues that what’s really important is the behavior of the animal. He says that laws against wolfdogs are difficult to enforce, as the genetic makeup of a wolfdog can be hard to determine, and what is needed is to enforce responsible ownership of all large canines. He adds that domesticated canines are more dangerous to humans than nondomestic ones. According to the American Humane Association, 4.7 million dog bites occur in the U.S. per year and 800,000 of these bites require medical care.

“It happens so much that we don’t’ even hear about it in the newspapers,” Weber says.  

Contact me by email eofgang@connecticutmag.com and follow me on Twitter, and connect with Connecticut Magazine on Twitter, on Facebook and Google +

 

Beware Wolfdogs in Connecticut? No. Animals in Ledyard Area Are Dogs

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