By: Norma Bennett Woolf  Date: 01/9/2012 Category: | Canine Issues |

Owners of wolfdogs received good news from the US Department of Agriculture and bad news from animal rights activists in Michigan, all in a few short weeks at the end of summer.

After reviewing evidence that rabies and other vaccines work in wolfdogs, USDA has decided to add these canines to its vaccination regulations, a move that will make it more difficult to ban or regulate the animals based on lack of vaccine approval. The agency is accepting comments on its proposal to include wolfdogs in its definition of canines that can be protected by current vaccination protocols.

At the same time, Michigan Senate Bill 705 proposed to eliminate wolfdogs from the state by banning purchase of new animals, prohibiting breeding, and requiring licenses, sterilization, and confinement for animals in residence on the date the law takes effect. Maximum penalties for violations include a fine of $1000, 1000 hours community service, 93 days in jail, and "loss of canid ownership privileges."

Introduced in late September, the Michigan bill echoes breed-specific legislation in other jurisdictions and is backed by the Humane Society of the US, the Michigan Humane Society, and other groups. It is opposed by the Michigan Association of Animal Owners and a coalition of wolfdog owners and fanciers. HSUS has long opposed the breeding and keeping of wolfdogs as pets. In 1992, HSUS vice president Randal Lockwood wrote: "The HSUS believes the ownership of wolf hybrids must be strongly discouraged, and through attrition, eliminated. This can be accomplished by restricting the sale, trade, release, import, or export of animals across state or local boundaries. . Governments should impose licensing fees adequate to cover the costs of inspecting containment facilities and other expenses associated with implementing regulations. Existing animals should be spayed or neutered."

Lockwood was outdone by Michigan resident Beth Duman, a proponent of wolfdog elimination, who has suggested that veterinarians offer free euthanasia to wolfdog owners who bring their pets into the clinic for exams or treatment.


Is it a wolfdog?

Since there is no genetic test to determine whether an animal is a dog or a wolfdog, Duman suggested that appearance be the guide, stating that "I saw a picture that was taken in Idaho, by a surveyor, of a wolf. I looked at that picture and I think if Randy had looked at it too, we would have said 'ahhh, it's a hybrid.'"

Acknowledging that no genetic tests can determine whether an animal is a wolf, a dog, or a wolfdog, Lockwood agreed in an interview: "There is something in the bearing of these animals. What I see in looking at these animals is quite different than dealing with a lot of dogs. . They are incredibly intelligent and alert, almost to a pathological degree."

Lockwood and Duman also said that wolfdog ownership is bad for wolf conservation and reintroduction programs because the dogs can escape and interbreed with wolves, thus diluting the gene pool, and because fear of wolfdogs can influence public opinion about wolves.


Wolf Park on Wolfdogs

Wolf Park, a conservation and education foundation in Battleground, Indiana, conducts public education programs about wolves and wolfdogs. Duman has claimed to represent Wolf Park as its regional coordinator in Michigan, but her position that wolfdogs should be killed is at odds with the organization's policy statement on these animals. The foundation's 14-point policy document begins with a definitive statement: "We are NOT against anyone possessing captive wolves or hybrids. Nor do we advocate legislation that would make it illegal to possess such animals."

Wolf Park appears anxious that the animals be confined properly for their benefit and for the safety of the community. To this end, they enlisted the aid of hybrid breeders, owners, behavioral scientists, and a USDA inspector to devise a set of guidelines for safe keeping of wolfdog pets. They emphasize responsible ownership and base expert testimony in court cases and legislative hearings on the need for animal owners to properly confine and socialize their animals.

The last point in the Wolf Park policy echoes Lockwood and Duman in one respect - the concern that incidents involving wolfdogs will impact the image of the wolf in the wild, but the conclusion differs from that of the anti-wolfdog brigade: instead of banning the animals, Wolf Park practices and preaches responsible ownership.


Rabies Vaccine

The September 28 Federal Register carries the proposal from USDA to amend the drug regulations by defining "dog" as "all members of the species Canis familiaris, Canis lupus, or any dog-wolf cross."

Wolfdog owners and fanciers have long pushed for acknowledgement that rabies vaccines are effective in their animals, but USDA has been reluctant to add wolfdogs to the canine vaccine protocol because this and other vaccines have not been tested in these animals.

Complicating matters was the designation of wolves and dogs as separate species until 1993 when the American Society of Mammalogists reclassified them as the same species. Wolfdog owners asked again for government approval of vaccination in their animals, but they were again turned down pending collection of data to show that the vaccines are safe for wolf-dog crosses.

Now the evidence has been presented, USDA said in its background document. Data indicating that 216 wolves and 460 dog-wolf crosses were successfully vaccinated with various modified live vaccines was turned in by wolfdog owners, and drug manufacturers reported that their products have been used extensively in wolves and wolf-dog crosses with no reported reactions.

If the proposal is approved, vaccine manufacturers will be allowed to recommend their products for use in wolves and wolfdogs without further testing. However, if they wish to add this information to product labels, USDA must approve the new label.

Comments will be accepted on the proposal until November 29. Please send your comment and three copies to Docket No. 99-040-1, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Suite 3C03, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238. Please state that your comment refers to Docket Number 99-040-1.

About The Author

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Norma Bennett Woolf -

Editor and Writer for the National Animal Interest Alliance.

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