THURSTON COUNTY, Wash. – A 3-year-old boy is in serious condition after his family's "wolf-dog hybrid" attacked the child, biting off his hand.
The family is known to Thurston County law enforcement and Wolf Haven International for breeding wolf dogs.
Several of the family’s “hybrids” have been rescued by the Tenino sanctuary; officials there say DNA tests showed the "dogs" being used for breeding were full wolves, a practice that is against the law. Currently in Thurston County it is legal to keep and breed wolf-dogs that contain up to 98 percent of wolf DNA.
“A lot of times what happens, people think they are going to get the best of both worlds but often they end up with the worst traits, they end up with a predator who is not afraid of humans and that is a really dangerous combination,” said Wendy Spencer, who runs the sanctuary at Wolf Haven International.
The sanctuary saves wolves and, on the rare occasion, wolf-dogs from breeders and overwhelmed owners. The calls for help, she said, come in almost daily.
“It is a huge issue. I think a lot of people don’t realize this is happening in our own backyard,” said Spencer.
In Thurston County, Spencer said you have breeders and pet stores willing to sell the hybrids.
“It is a lucrative business -- there are people in our state who breed and sell these animals and make a lot of money, these animals sell for thousands of dollars apiece.”
Spencer said the family of the hurt child maintains they are breeding wolf dogs and following the law. But, she said, DNA testing has shown “hybrids” the family owned and bred in the past have, in fact, been full wolf.
“We have three of his animals here at Wolf Haven and two of them are wolves and it is against the law to have wolves in captivity and breed in captivity in Thurston County,” said Diane Gallegos, executive director of Wolf Haven International
Gallegos and Spencer suspect the female that was confiscated Monday on the property, the one that is accused of biting the boy, is a wolf.
“It was a time-bomb waiting to happen,” said Spencer. “It was a really volatile situation.”
Spencer said there’s no good way to put high-energy animals like wolves in small kennels, but it is common practice among breeders. They said they witnessed the family’s operation over the years, and were on the property as recently as last October.
“We go out to the kennel and those animals are lunging and snapping at the kennel, so imagine a child sticking his arm through,” said Spencer, shaking her head.
“It’s frustrating to see things like this happening, it breaks my heart for this family because their lives will never be the same,” said Gallegos.
Another “hybrid” the family owned made headlines three years ago when it escaped its kennel and attacked a neighbor’s German shepherd. Lakota was rescued by Wolf Haven after they said the family was going to put it down. Wolf Haven said DNA tests showed it to be 100 percent wolf. Lakota is so dangerous, the sanctuary said, they do not allow people in his enclosure for any reason.
What’s concerning, said Spencer, is that his DNA is half of every wolf dog litter the family bred. Many people don’t know the temperament of the parents, and, she said, often breeders will lie about them being family pets.
“It’s a tragedy for the animal, it’s a tragedy for the families that are involved,” said Spencer.
Spencer and Gallegos are hoping to change Washington state law regarding the breeding and captivity of wolf dogs. They said current law lists a number of wild animals that people are not allowed to breed or own in Washington.
“They specifically excluded wolf dogs,” said Gallegos.
They are hoping the tragedy of the 3-year-old child having his arm amputated will bring light to the issue they see every day.
“It’s really tragic because it could’ve been prevented,” said Spencer.