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Barb Goad of the Friends of Animals spends some time with Jack, a wolfdog who will be travelling to New Mexico to his new home, thanks to the support of the Wanagi Wolf Rescue.

There's something about Jack....

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The first thing that strikes you about Jack is his long, lithe body and the extreme length of his legs. The second thing is his expression — his snout is long and tapered, his forehead is flat, his ears are constantly erect and there is a hint of the wild in his amber, almond-shaped eyes. But then, you notice his quiet presence.

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Staff members at the Friends of Animals Humane Society in Cloquet recognized almost immediately that there was something distinctive about Jack when he was first brought to the shelter. They later discovered that he is likely to be a “wolfdog” — the result of a mating somewhere in his lineage between a wolf and a domestic dog.

Later this week, Jack will travel to a new home with others of his kind and a compassionate rescuer who understands his unique needs and personality.

According to FOA canine specialist Barb Goad, the shelter was contacted in late January by an investigator with the Animal Humane Society (AHS) of Minnesota who was following up on a report of abandoned animals at a house along the county line between northern Carlton and southern St. Louis counties. The heat and water had been shut off at the house and the dog, along with two rabbits and some horses, had apparently been abandoned.

A shelter rescue worker accompanied AHS Humane Agent Wade Hanson to the house. Hanson said he had been called in by the St. Louis County Sheriff, who considered the animals on the property to be malnourished.

Hanson said he was familiar with the woman who had lived in the home because he had to take away another batch of malnourished horses from her four or five years ago.

He said he spoke with her again this time, and she explained she had been struggling to make ends meet and take care of the animals, the water and heat to the house had been turned off and she had gone to live with her sister, taking only a husky she owned with her.

Hanson said the three horses on the property were very thin and the remaining dog was gaunt and living in squalor. The owner then voluntarily surrendered the animals to Hanson.

The dog and two rabbits were taken to the FOA Shelter and the horses were sent to an equine rescue organization.

The dog, named Jack, was an adult neutered male approximately 5 years old. After he was brought to the shelter, Goad said staff members noted some distinctly wolf-like characteristics in him. They called the office of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, who supplied them with a list of specs regarding wolves, as well as Fond du Lac wildlife biologist Mike Schrage. Upon seeing the animal, Schrage said he believed that Jack likely did have some wolf blood him, based on his professional experience with wolves, coyotes and dogs.

“The color is all wrong (for a wolf),” Schrage said, “but he’s a lean, leggy animal and something about his features, particularly the shape of his face and head, makes me think he does have some wolf in him — possibly one of his grandparents was wolf.”

Schrage also called attention to Jack’s apparent tendency toward wariness and subdominance when in the presence of humans as being somewhat wolf-like in nature.

Equipped with that information, Goad said the next step was to contact the shelter’s volunteer rescue coordinator, Diane Felde-Finke of Carlton, who maintains files of rescue organizations which are primarily utilized for placing purebred dogs that staff feel would be better off in a breed rescue than at the shelter. In this case, however, shelter workers were seeking a rescue organization that specializes in wolfdogs.  

Felde-Finke explained the local shelter took in another animal thought to be a wolfdog back in 2007, named Mona. At that time Felde-Finke said she discovered a wolfdog rescue group in Wisconsin that agreed to take Mona in.

“They seemed very responsible and good to work with, and they eventually found a great home for her,” said Felde-Finke. “In general, most rescue groups are very strict about where their animals go, so we feel more comfortable seeking one out in special cases such as this.”

Unfortunately, the Wisconsin wolfdog rescue shelter was full, but the director agreed to send out word to similar rescue organizations in other states. Before long, Felde-Finke received a call from Stephanie Kaylan, founder of the Wanagi Wolf Fund and Rescue near Albuquerque, N.M., who requested photos of the animal as well as its temperament and personality files from the FOA shelter.

In the end, Kaylan, who has sheltered wolfdogs for some 20 years, agreed to raise money to cover the expense of having Jack sent to Albuquerque.

“Jack is an amazing being,” commented Kaylan by telephone on Tuesday. “As soon as I saw the picture of him, I jumped into action, and people made enough donations to cover the cost of his flight to New Mexico.”

In fact, when the call for support went out on the Internet, Kaylan not only heard from donors but an independent film production company in California as well. She said they wanted to do a three- to five-minute segment on Jack’s story to pitch to major networks such as Animal Planet and The Discovery Channel, and they have already sent a film crew to New Mexico to do some preliminary filming. And while the exposure for her cause is valuable, Kaylan said she doesn’t want it to take the focus off the important mission of her rescue.

Some of the wolfdogs Kaylan takes in she adopts out to homes deemed appropriate for their particular needs, and others she keeps. Some of those wolfdogs  are utilized to encourage people to end the abuse and neglect of wolfdogs.

“I’m trying to save lives and educate and stop the breeding of wolves and dogs as pets,” stressed Kaylan. “Wolves need to be in the wild and left to balance out nature. That is the way it is intended. There are people who think it’s a really cool thing to breed these animals, but what too often happens is they end up unheeded and unwanted and get dumped. Most places have laws that say when they are surrendered to animal shelters they are to be put to death because they are deemed ‘exotic animals,’ even if they only have a small amount of wolf in them.”

Chris Balzer, area wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, explained that while it is biologically possible for wolves and domestic dogs to mate, it seldom occurs randomly.

“It is far more common to find such pairings occurring in captivity than in the wild,” he stated.

Sadly, when people take it into their hands to breed dogs with wolves, the end result is often an unhappy one.

“Breeding exotic animals — including wolves and wolfdogs — is illegal in only 11 states,” pointed out Kaylan. “I have been trying to help get stricter laws passed to stop the breeding of these animals. As wonderful as they are, the abuse and neglect that I have witnessed as the result of such breeding is appalling.”

At the instruction of Kaylan, a specially sized shipping crate was obtained for Jack, and Goad said the shelter personnel have been introducing him to it gradually each day, beginning with 15-minute sessions and working up to having him sleep in it all night.

This Friday, April 4, shelter workers will take Jack to the airport in Minneapolis and he will be shipped in his crate on a two-and-a-half hour flight to Albuquerque. There he will be met by Kaylan and taken to a neighbor of her Wanagi Rescue facility to take up residence there.

“He will be placed with a family who lives 10 miles east of me who already has two wolfdogs,” said Kaylan. “He will become part of their family, and technically, he will belong to their grown son, who just returned from a tour of duty with the U.S. military.”

Kaylan said though she believes that Jack likely has a fairly low content of wolf blood in him — believing him to be more malamute and German shepherd — she said he is an incredible animal nonetheless. Though his name will be kept the same, she admitted that she has already given him a nickname — “Kee-shee,” the Lakota word for “son.”

“I had an immediate reaction when I first saw Jack,” she commented. “So did the people who will be caring for him. There’s something very powerful about that boy. He might have had a rocky beginning to his life, but he’s going to be living pretty well here in the ‘Land of Enchantment!’”

Staff and volunteers at the FOA shelter said they will miss having Jack around, but they are confident they are doing the right thing by him.

“We have had people here in town who have wanted to adopt him,” acknowledged FOA Shelter Director Loel Seboe. “But instead, he’s set to follow a different pathway — and I think it’s the right pathway for Jack.”

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