- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2000

RAMAH, N.M. Four miles into the drive down this long dirt road in this high-altitude pinon-and-juniper forest in western New Mexico, a hillside of large cages appears to the left.
In them are several dozen wolf-dogs, also known as wolf hybrids, the fad pet of the 1990s that has fallen on hard times.
"People had no idea what they were getting into when they got wolves," says Katie Hedges, a volunteer at the Candy Kitchen Rescue Ranch, one of about 10 shelters around the country for these large animals. "They thought they'd get an animal that behaves like a dog. But a wolf is not a pet."
A powerful symbol of America's wilderness, the wolf has been bred with domesticated dogs to produce what breeders hoped would be a superdog for pet owners. Instead they got a fiercely independent, intelligent, overly playful and predatory animal that thought nothing of ripping up the household sofa.
"Wolves are superintelligent," says the general manager, Barbara Berge, who joined forces with ranch founder Jacque Evans in 1992. "Their brain size is 30 percent larger than dogs. They are very curious. If there is a squeak in the couch, they'll take it apart to find out why.
"One woman I know has three wolves in a town house in Santa Fe. She works with them 24 hours a day. She has no social life. They should never run unsupervised, as they'll go after small pets in the neighborhood."
Starting out as cute, docile puppies, the wolf-dogs were prone to challenge their unprepared owners for dominance. Housebreaking them proved extremely difficult and, because wolves are introverted by nature, they made poor watchdogs.
Moreover, wolves and their hybrid cousins had a predilection for howling at odd hours of the morning and wanting fresh game, not dog kibble, for food. Unhappy owners started dumping these animals in shelters around the country, including the Candy Kitchen, which is at capacity with 78 of them. The shelter gets five to 15 calls a week from people wishing to unload their unwanted pets.
"We've had a lot of calls this month," Mrs. Berge says. "Other rescuers I'm talking to via e-mail; they too are turning away animals."
Miss Hedges leads a visitor to several such pets; Napi, a grey-coated male, and Isis, a white female. Isis was sent to the refuge from a Colorado Springs home after she bit one of the owners for playing with one of her puppies. She had been emotionally stressed after her mate died of cancer and one of her playmates got run over.
It took weeks for Mrs. Evans, the ranch owner, to win Isis' trust. Even so, when she points a finger and says "Shame on you, Isis," the dog leaps at her, seizing the woman's arm in her mouth. Although Isis has never drawn blood, a wolf's jaw pressure is twice that of a dog. Compared with a German shepherd's jaw pressure at 780 pounds per square inch, Isis measures at 1,500 pounds per square inch.
Situated 136 miles west of Albuquerque, Candy Kitchen is named for a ranch in the area that once produced pinon nut candy. Its three resident staff and four volunteers haul dog food, raw meat and hoses for fresh water each day to wolf pens scattered over about 20 acres. Through thrice-daily tours and their Web site www.inetdesign.com/candykitchen/ they are trying to raise funds to buy 20 more acres to house more of these creatures and pay for their $5,000 yearly veterinary bill. Eight-foot-high chain-link fences surround the pens, which range in size from 60 feet by 80 feet to an acre.
King, a silver-black mix, has dug himself a den inside his enclosure. Having been severely beaten by humans, he is considered too dangerous for any of the workers to enter his pen. They feed him through a side enclosure.
In another pen is Sequoia, a tan wolf dog from Utah who was raised in an apartment and got dumped for ripping up the couch cushions and toppling a refrigerator. Like all the other animals, her pen contains large rocks, trees and logs, made to look as much as possible like her natural habitat.
Although these animals are considered too violent for humans, they cannot be released in the wild, as they'd most likely end up at farms where they'd prey on livestock. But Mrs. Berge says it's a bad idea to ban the animals altogether, as 10 states, including Michigan, have done.
"Banning is the worst thing states can do," she says. "It creates a climate of fear. Michigan has set impossible standards for people to keep these dogs, so people are euthanizing them. Some animals are living perfectly harmlessly with their owners."

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