Bill aims to do away with wolf hybrids in Maine

Posted April 15, 2011, at 12:28 p.m.
Last modified April 16, 2011, at 5:10 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature’s Agriculture Committee is sculpting a bill to tighten the leash on wolf-hybrid owners in Maine with the goal of phasing out the wolf-dog mix altogether in Maine.

Under the latest version of the bill, wolf-mix owners would have to:

  1. Obtain a state permit to keep wildlife in captivity.
  2. Tattoo the animal or have a microchip installed under the hybrid’s skin.
  3. Neuter or spay the animal.
  4. Never breed the animal.
  5. Report the animal’s death.

Additionally, the owner could not sell the wolf mix. If the owner had to get rid of the wolf hybrid animal, he would have to give it to either another state-licensed person or an out-of-state wildlife refuge.

The goal is to make it expensive and difficult to own the animals. The bill imposes steep fees for anyone who breaks the rules.

“It phases [wolf hybrids] out,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro. “The [new] licensing process is very difficult. It’s time-consuming. It’s expensive and it’s unlikely people will go to that extreme.”

Trahan heard testimony in public hearings about LD 11 from wolf-hybrid experts who told him the animals are extremely dangerous and have killed about 60 children in the U.S. in the last decade. That was enough to get a unanimous vote in favor of the bill from the Agriculture Committee.

In addition to impeding wolf-hybrid ownership, the bill also makes it impossible to create new refuges, Trahan said.

LD 11 was drafted because Bristol resident Jim Doughty started a small wolf-hybrid refuge, which upset his neighbors.

Doughty is against the bill, but said it won’t change his operation much.

“It just creates another license I have to go get,” he said. “I’d have to make sure [all incoming wolf hybrids] are listed with the department of wildlife and fisheries; then each time they’d have to come and make sure. It’s double the amount of work for the exact same thing.”

The animals he and other hybrid owners currently possess, and his refuge, will be grandfathered.

Doughty keeps two wolf hybrids, Koda and Sass-ya, as pets. He got Sass-ya first and discovered she needed company. The two stay outside all day and all night and play with their favorite toy, a bowling pin, he said.

“They’re smarter than any animals I’ve ever had. They have a mind of their own. They stay outside. They are lousy watchdogs because they don’t bark” to alert him when someone comes by, Doughty said. They howl a lot, though.

“They’re like kids when you watch them play. They grab each other by the throat and it looks like they’re killing each other; then they get up and lick each other,” Doughty said.

Doughty said animals like his aren’t wild. They’re in some sort of gray area between domesticated and wild.

“If they were released into the wild most [wolf hybrids in Maine] would die,” he said.

Doughty estimated there are about 200,000 of the animals in the state. Most of them, he said, are registered as husky or German shepherd mixes.

“It’s really easy to get them. You can look in Uncle Henry’s,” he said.`

But State Veterinarian Donald E. Hoenig said he doesn’t think there are that many wolf hybrids in Maine.

Hoenig neither supports nor opposes the bill, but said the proposed legislation effectively acts as a ban, and in his opinion, “people shouldn’t own wild animals, period. So I don’t think it’s a good idea for people to own wolf hybrids,” he said. “They’re not pets.”

But for Doughty, his two hybrids are his pets, just like his Pomeranian and his pit bull are.

For the last three years Doughty has been working to build his wolf-hybrid sanctuary, the Wolf Ledge Refuge and Education Center in Bristol. Right now he has two large pens and another 1,000 feet of fencing with which he plans to build another half-acre pen.

The refuge will take in abandoned hybrids and teach the public about the animals, he said.

But refuges like his are entirely ignored in the bill’s wording. In fact, local animal shelters would have only three options to deal with surrendered wolf hybrids: euthanize the animal, find a state-licensed owner, or give it to an out-of-state animal refuge.

The Maine state director for the Humane Society of the United States, Katie Lisnik, said her organization backs the bill.

“The Humane Society of the United States supports bans on keeping hybrids as pets as well as bans on breeding hybrids. However, with any ban, existing animals should be sterilized and grandfathered in,” Lisnik said. “Our concerns with hybrids are both about human safety and the ability to care for wild animals in captivity.”

A public hearing on the bill was held in late January. The bill has been voted out of committee, but no other votes on LD 11 have been scheduled yet.

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