Wolf-dog hybrids: Harmless pets or wild by nature?
Douglas Quan , ctvbc.ca
Published Friday, February 19, 2010 3:09PM PST
Critics of wolf-dog breeding say they hope a recent precedent-setting court ruling in B.C. will make people think twice about keeping the animals as pets.
In December, a Kamloops judge found the owners of a seven-year-old wolf-dog hybrid liable for damages after the animal attacked a woman. The judge wrote in his decision that wolf-dog hybrids are essentially wild animals that "are not as a class harmless by nature."
The ruling came a few months after the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals came out with a position statement opposing the keeping, breeding and importing of wolf-dog hybrids.
The hybrids are difficult to train and show a high incidence of predatory and idiopathic – or unprovoked – attacks on humans and animals, the BC SPCA statement said.
People must exercise "extreme caution" if considering these hybrids as pets, said Bob Busch, the BC SPCA's general manager of operations, in an interview with ctvbc.ca.
Wolf-dog hybrids have been shown to become more unpredictable as they become older, he said.
But Keyhan Modaressi, who has been breeding wolf-dog hybrids in Kelowna for the past few years, insists that they are not anymore dangerous than dogs.
"I haven't had one customer tell me, ‘My child got bitten,'" he said.
"They love people."
He said wolves are not inherently aggressive towards humans, and that if a wolf-dog hybrid shows aggression, it's exhibiting the traits of the dog.
Wolf-dog hybrids are extremely intelligent and very loyal, he added.
Modaressi imports wolf-dog hybrids from overseas – he wouldn't say where – and then crosses them with German shepherds. According to his website, prices for his hybrids range from $800 to $1,000.
Forty per cent of his customers are from B.C. The rest are from Canada and overseas, he said.
Currently, there are no provincial regulations governing the sale of wolf-dog hybrids. While most municipal bylaws ban the keeping of wild or exotic animals, they typically do not mention animal hybrids.
One exception is the District of 100 Mile House.
The court case in Kamloops stemmed from an incident that happened in August 2006.
Marjorie McLean brought over some vegetables to the home of Raymond and Sharon Thompson in Ashcroft, B.C.
The Thompsons' son, Ryan, and his fiancée, Tanya, were visiting from out of town and had brought along their seven-year-old pet, Harley, which is part Arctic wolf, part Malamute.
According to court documents, when McLean approached the home, Harley jumped up and put his front paws on the Thompsons' fence, which made McLean nervous. Raymond Thompson told McLean it was safe to come into the yard.
When Thompson opened the gate, Harley lunged at McLean and bit her on the right leg. Thompson was unable to control Harley, and Harley bit McLean a second time on the left thigh.
McLean sued for damages.
The question of whether the owners should be held liable hinged on a key question that had never been dealt with in a Canadian court before: Are wolf-dog hybrids inherently dangerous or ferae naturae, such as bears and lions, or are they ordinarily harmless or mansuetae naturae, like dogs and cats?
Generally, the owner of an animal that is classified as normally harmless is liable only if it can be proven that the owner had previous knowledge their pet was dangerous. But in cases where the animal is classified as inherently dangerous, the owner is held automatically liable.
Both sides presented their arguments during two days of hearings in November.
According to court documents, Harley's owners testified that Harley had never been aggressive until he bit McLean. They said he once growled at a pet store Santa Claus but had calmed down for a photograph.
They said he wasn't always behaved at veterinary visits and so he had to be muzzled. He had also gotten into two or three dog fights in public spaces, prompting a decision to have him neutered.
The Thompsons said they treated Harley as they would have treated any large dog.
Richard Polsky, a California-based animal behaviour expert testified on behalf of the claimant. Polsky said while wolf-dog hybrids can be trained to be more manageable, they inherit sufficiently strong natural wolf characteristics that make them unpredictable.
This unpredictability persists even when a wolf hybrid has had a favourable history with humans, he said.
In December, Judge Stephen Harrison ruled that the Thompsons should be held liable.
"There is no doubt" that while some wolf-dog hybrids may be well-trained and well-behaved pets, "wolf hybrids as a group are in the class of animals ferae naturae and are not as a class harmless by nature," Harrison wrote.
Harrison cited a 1926 court ruling in Saskatchewan that concluded coyote-dog hybrids are wild animals.
The Thompsons declined to comment.
A decision on how much in damages they will have to pay is still pending.
Rachel Lammers, McLean's lawyer, said her client has had to have surgeries to correct scarring on her legs.
"It's a mystery to me why people think it's good to breed (wolf-dog hybrids)," she told ctvbc.ca.
Officials with the BC SPCA say if they come into contact with a wolf-dog hybrid, their policy is to euthanize the animal. In the past four or five years, there have been five such instances, according to the organization.
SPCA officials recommend that people who own a wolf-dog hybrid take the following steps:
- Have them spayed or neutered
- Have them vaccinated
- Contain them in a secure pen
- Keep them muzzled when outside their pen