Wolf-Dog Gets a Reprieve, Ticket to a Canada Sanctuary

APPEAL: Animal activist works around strict Alaska law to keep shy hybrid alive

Doug O'Hara / Anchorage Daily News / February 8, 2004

Sasha, thought to be a shepherd-husky cross by her owner, escaped from a Jewel Lake pen and was darted by a state biologist in January. Unspayed hybrids are illegal. (Courtesy of Municipality of Anchorage)

The plight of the animal, named Sasha, had drawn hundreds of e-mail messages and phone calls to state officials, with alerts going out on the Internet. In the end, Anchorage wildlife activist Karen Deatherage persuaded state officials to issue a permit allowing the shy, wolfish canine to be sent out of state to a new home.

"It's not her fault that she got into this situation," Deatherage said. "And if there's an opportunity to get her placed into a sanctuary where she can be with other animals of her kind, then that's the best thing to do."

The animal's former owner, Aimee Cozad, did not return messages asking for comment Friday. But Cozad had helped pick up the animal from the animal shelter Friday morning, Deatherage said. The two women took it to a veterinarian to be spayed and receive a microchip under the skin for the national registration required by law for hybrids, Deatherage said.

She planned to put the animal on a flight today to Toronto, Ontario, where it would be met by a veterinarian and a representative from the Kerwood Wolf Education Center.

"This animal was not receiving the care that it needed, and it is going to a place where it can be cared for," she said.

DeeAnn Fetko, who administers the animal control contract for the city, added: "I think it was unique in that there was a place for her in a sanctuary, and that's fortunate that the owner and Karen Deatherage were able to arrange that. If there had not been (a successful appeal) and if the state had not issued a permit, then the animal could have been euthanized."

Sasha had been in municipal custody since early January, when she escaped her pen in a Jewel Lake neighborhood and was darted by state wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott.

Cozad told wildlife officials at the scene that she had always thought the animal was a shepherd-husky cross, according to Sinnott. But the animal clearly had the appearance and behavior of a wolf, and it was turned over to animal control authorities, Sinnott said.

"It was obvious in this case," he said.

The very shy animal has a wolf's narrow chest, long legs, big feet, flatter head, broad jaw and yellow eyes, Deatherage said. "You'd be hard-pressed to tell a difference between her and a wolf in the wild."

The situation reignited a long-running discussion over how to identify wolf-dog crosses and what should be done with animals whose owners violate a law that prohibits any nonregistered wolf hybrids in Alaska.

After the animals were blamed for several attacks in the 1990s, some people argued that crossing a wolf with a dog produced offspring with unpredictable and potentially dangerous temperaments.

Wildlife officials worried that escaped hybrids could introduce disease or interbreed with wild wolves.

In an effort to eliminate hybrids from Alaska, the Board of Game in 2002 tightened rules and made it illegal to own, breed or sell wolf hybrids. Existing hybrids could remain alive if their owners got them neutered or spayed, implanted with a microchip, licensed and vaccinated.

Because no practical genetic test exists can conclusively tell the difference between wolves and dogs, the law also made it illegal to advertise any animal for sale as a hybrid or wolf.

"In all fairness to Fish and Game and others, we're not looking for these huskies that may have a little wolf in them, or a malemute that has a little wolf," Deatherage said. "We're looking at animals that would be hard to differentiate from wild wolves.
"I would like to see wolves stay in the wild and dogs be in the home. There's too many of them that end up abused, neglected or dead," she added.

People in the Jewel Lake neighborhood had been sending out messages about Sasha before the animal was taken into custody, and word that the animal could be killed spread through a national network of wolf advocates.

People contacted Deatherage because she had rescued an injured and dying hybrid running loose in Connors Lake Park in 2001, she said. After spending several months and about $3,000, she nursed that one back to health and found a home for it in a Colorado wolf sanctuary.

Deatherage is the local representative for Defenders of Wildlife.

This time, she has spent about $1,000 for Sasha's plane ticket, vet care and a large pet carrier.

"This is a personal thing that I'm doing."

Deatherage believes both hybrids came from Wolf Country USA in Palmer, a company that advertises puppies for sale and invites people on its Internet site to "adopt a wolf."

Not so, responded Wolf Country owner Werner Schuster. "To my knowledge, that animal absolutely did not come from Wolf Country. But we would gladly take her in, and keep her for free, and let her owners come out and see her. She's a beautiful animal."

Schuster, who has long argued that the state's wolf hybrid rules are misguided and impossible to enforce, said his 51 animals are all husky mixes.

Daily News reporter Doug O'Harra can be reached at do'harra@adn.com .

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