SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – Town records indicate that out all dogs registered in Springfield last year 83 still need to have their licenses renewed. Not one of those is a wolf-hybrid.
This week the Springfield Selectboard issued a warrant that authorized the town constable to pursue owners of unregistered “dogs and wolf-hybrids.” Town Clerk Barbara Courchesne said the town issues this warrant every year after April 1, the deadline in Vermont to renew licenses for dogs and wolf-hybrids.
The town process for licensing both dogs and wolf-hybrids is the same, she said.
Though Vermont requires wolf-hybrid owners to identify their breed when registering them, state statutes regulate wolf-hybrids as domesticated dogs.
Courchesne recalled one wolf-hybrid registered in Springfield but said there may be others not registered.
The state broadly defines a wolf-hybrid as any animal that is a progeny of a domesticated dog and a wolf; advertised, registered or described as a wolf-hybrid by its owner; or exhibits primary physical and behavioral wolf traits.
Vermont amended its animal statutes in 1995 to include wolf-hybrids. Rather than create separate statutes, Vermont legislators added “or wolf-hybrid” to each law applicable to dogs or domestic pets. Today statute chapters have titles like “Domestic Pet or Wolf-hybrid Control”, even though the statutes apply equally to both.
The controversy over wolf-hybrids escalated in Vermont during the 1990s, particularly in 1993 when a wolf hybrid mauled a three year-old boy to death in Townsend. Authorities said the child wandered away from his daycare center and entered the neighboring yard, where a female wolf-hybrid was nursing her litter of puppies. The animal control officer said there was no fence between the daycare center and the yard where the animal was kept.
Additional concern stemmed from wolf-hybrids' resistance to existing rabies vaccines. Vermont created only one wolf-hybrid specific statute, which requires any wolf-hybrid that bites a person, pet or domestic animal to be killed and tested for rabies.
Massachusetts and some other states prohibit wolf-hybrids outright, but Vermont focuses on the owner's responsibility to manage his or her animals.
Singling out specific species or breeds is not good animal control policy, said. Anne Eddy, executive director of the Springfield Humane Society.
“[All] wolf-hybrids don't behave the same way,” she said. “That's like saying all pit bulls are the same.”
The lines between a dog and a wolf-hybrid are sometimes blurry. A “hybrid” could mean a dog with a very diluted wolf lineage or an animal that is 90 percent wolf. In some cases the only real way to determine whether an animal is a hybrid is through a DNA test, which can be costly, Eddy said.
“Any kind of breed can be 'wolf-like',” Eddy said. “Wolf behaviors are basically dog behaviors.”
Eddy said she has not received any wolf-hybrids at the humane society or had any issues involving them in Springfield.
As for unregistered dogs and wolf-hybrids, Vermont law directs towns to “[notify] owners that unlicensed or uninoculated dogs or wolf-hybrids may be destroyed.”
“No, we don't put down dogs for being unlicensed,” Courchesne said, “The owners just need to pay a $10 late fee when they register their dogs.”
New Hampshire allows wolf-hybrids under several restrictions. The state prohibits the selling, reselling or releasing of wolf-hybrids into the wild. However, wolf-hybrids may be brought into the state if owner has records confirming it is spayed or neutered. Unlike Vermont, New Hampshire requires wolf-hybrids to receive a rabies vaccination, and for the owner to sign an affidavit acknowledging the vaccine is experimental. Neither the administering veterinarian nor vaccine manufacturer are held liable should the animal contract rabies.