BRUNSWICK, Maine — One day after the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife was given oversight of the care of wolf-canine hybrids in Maine, the department found itself embroiled in a controversy that protesters claim pits an animal’s life against what a wolf hybrid refuge owner in Lincoln County says are confusing and elusive licensing requirements.
Jim Doughty, owner of Wolf Ledge Refuge and Education Center in Bristol, spent Thursday and Friday with friends and family outside a veterinarian clinic in Brunswick protesting what he said was the imminent euthanasia of a wolf hybrid that was captured earlier this week in Waldoboro.
The animal, which is suspected of killing four chickens, was captured Monday and initially taken to Doughty’s refuge, which he said was licensed under the old version of the law. Two days later, after police were informed that Doughty no longer holds a valid license to keep the animals, officers returned to Wolf Ledge Refuge to reclaim the animal — whose name is Mia — and bring it to Bath-Brunswick Veterinary Associates in Brunswick, where it has been held since.
Previously, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources oversaw licensing for keepers of wolf hybrids, but that responsibility transferred to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife as of July 1. Along with that change, wolf hybrids now are classified as exotic wild animals under Maine law, which means owning one comes with new restrictions.
“When this happened, the state was right on the cusp of changing the laws,” said Waldoboro Police Chief Bill Labombarde. “I’m still not quite sure of all these new wolf hybrid laws, which has caused a lot of stress to a lot of people with regards to who, how, when, where and what can and can’t happen with these animals.”
Doug Rafferty, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said Friday that Mia’s fate may not be as grim as some fear because at least three people have expressed the desire to adopt her. Rafferty said the law, which the Legislature passed in 2011, calls for a six-day waiting period for an at-large wolf hybrid that has been taken to a shelter. After that, the shelter must either find a properly licensed adopter for the animal or euthanize it.
“All we can do is follow the law,” said Rafferty. “But how this canine came to our attention is a story in and of itself.”
On June 30, according to Rafferty and Labombarde, a Waldoboro woman was admiring two dogs that were in the back of a pickup truck. Through circumstances that are unclear, she agreed to take ownership of Mia, who the truck’s driver told her was a wolf hybrid. The woman does not know the identity of the driver, though Labombarde said he is investigating that point.
The woman took Mia home to her apartment, but the animal promptly escaped by tearing through a screened window. Not long after, according to Labombarde, the animal killed chickens in a nearby coop. He said it took a couple of days to capture Mia, which finally was accomplished Monday with a Have A Heart Trap.
“We couldn’t catch it. It kept taking off from us,” said Labombarde. “So we put out a Have A Heart Trap with a chicken in it. We figured it liked chicken because it ate four of them.”
Because a local shelter was full, Mia was taken to Doughty’s refuge in Bristol. Doughty, who said he was licensed to keep wolf hybrids under the old law, said he has been working to meet the requirements of the new law — though he said those requirements are unclear despite his repeated queries to the state.
“The state is not following the law,” said Doughty. “The guidelines just aren’t clear.”
Rafferty took issue with that statement.
“All I can say about that is that let’s just say he is not now licensed for keeping wolf hybrids,” said Rafferty. “He has been afforded that opportunity, but he didn’t take it.”
Earlier this year, the nonprofit Wolf Ledge Refuge was found to be unclean, flea-infested and the wolf dogs were without proper food or shelter, according to a kennel report released by the town of Bristol’s animal control officer after an April 17 inspection. Doughty disputed the town’s findings, claiming the animals were properly cared for, but that he had just returned home and hadn’t cleaned up the kennels yet. He also said at the time that the animal control officer had come because of a specific animal and not for a general inspection.
According to information on the state’s website, wolf hybrid owners were required to license their animals, vaccinate them and implant a permanent identifying device such as a microchip. The new law added the restriction that all wolf hybrids must be neutered and puts a prohibition on the future ownership of wolf hybrids unless a person holds a permit to possess wildlife in captivity from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Among the requirements for keeping a wolf hybrid are a cage with a solid floor and roof that measures 15 feet long and 8 feet wide with a fence of at least 6 feet high plus a 45-degree overhang at the top and a secluded den of 4 feet by 4 feet and 4 feet high. The pen must be placed in an area that prevents unauthorized humans or animals from having contact with the wolf hybrid, and the animal must be on a leash or in a cage if it is taken off the premises. Keepers of wolf hybrids also must agree to random inspections and are required to keep detailed records of their animals and report to the state if the animal dies or changes ownership.
Rafferty said there are at least five people in Maine who are licensed to keep wolf hybrids and at least two facilities that are certified to take them in.
“There are people who have inquired about adopting this wolf hybrid,” said Rafferty. “Nobody wants to kill this wolf hybrid.”
Doughty said aside from making sure Mia isn’t euthanized, his goal in protesting on Friday is to educate the public about the new law and the fact that wolf hybrids are not appropriate pets for most people.
“I don’t think most people should really have them but the state is not going to eliminate that,” he said. “There are more of these in Maine than anyone would admit. … People need to understand that they aren’t a watchdog. They’re not going to play fetch. But I don’t believe in putting an animal down just because it’s a hybrid.”
Meanwhile, Labombarde said his department continues to investigate the case to determine the identity of the man who gave Mia away and whether it was done legally.