The jingle-jangle of the door bells chimed as a couple with two children walked into the Vail pet store. Behind the counter peered a dark figure, its eyes blue, watchful and haunting.
The two children spotted her and ran toward her to touch her soft, peppered coat – the coat of a wolf hybrid, a half-wolf.
The canine sniffed the children, who were under the age of 5, and plopped on the floor, allowing the children to rub her stomach.
“That’s an act of submission,” said Minturn resident Kathy Muller, who owns the wolf-dog, Shanti. “When wolves roll over onto their stomach, they’re giving themselves to you.”
Muller works for Mountain Dog in Vail, and Shanti, who is part wolf, malamute and husky, stands by her side wherever she goes. Shanti is never left home alone or unattended, but her manner and demeanor remain calm.
Her 4-month-old counterpart, Kiska, an Alaskan malamute, play well together.
“She’s so intelligent,” Muller said about Shanti.
“She’s her own woman,” said Nancy Kosloff, owner of Mountain Dog in Vail.
Company of wolves
The growing number of wolf-dogs as pets has increased, but wildlife officials warn that owning a half-wolf isn’t a good idea. Muller has mixed feelings, she said. She partially agrees that people should not keep wolves as pets, but cannot help but spoil her own Shanti.
“I have a biased opinion because I have such a good one,” Muller said. “But we have created this, and we have to take care of this.”
The myth that wolves are evil has been around since time immemorial. Images of wolves have been depicted in folklore, literature and film as vicious and monstrous creatures. The haunting howls of the wolves are a stock sound effect adding tension to many a lonley wander in countless films.
The cult-horror flick “The Company of Wolves” shows wolves in a variety of lights: good and evil. The premise of the film – sometimes dark and ominous – indicates that the main character – a young, teen-age girl – preferred the company of wolves to the company of men.
The perception of wolves has changed as people become more interested in the wild animals and half-wolves grow in popularity as pets.
“Half-wolves are not all bad and evil,” Muller said. “It’s something we created, and it’s our responsibility as a race to take care of all the animals on this planet.”
Shanti is two generations removed from a wolf, Muller said, which means that her grandmother probably was a wolf. But the exact number of wolf genes in her is unknown.
“There’s no way of knowing how much wolf is in a dog,” Muller said. “You could get a Heinz 57 out of a litter.”
Muller knows Shanti is mostly husky. Her mother was part wolf and malamute. Her father was a husky. But for breeders, the more wolf in a hybrid’s genes means for money in the pocket.
According to the Animal Welfare Information Center’s Web site, many breeders are profiting from the breed’s popularity.
And while the popularity of the half-wolf is growing, the hybrids have become the center of a controversy. People have begun to question whether half-wolves belong in the community, the Web site said.
“Wolves used to live with tribes of people way back when,” Muller said. “It’s a stereotype that half-wolves are aggressive. It’s the type of person who has these dogs that make them aggressive. Any person with an aggressive personality will have an aggressive dog.”
Muller said people will get one dominant alpha male out of a litter, and sometimes they are not trainable. Training any dominant animal takes work and dedication.
“It’s a good thing to tell people not to keep wolves as pets,” Muller said. “It’s a huge commitment. I gave up snowboarding to take care of these dogs. It’s like having a kid.”
Shanti went through intense discipline classes and doggie day care, something Muller said any half-wolf owner should attend.
“You cannot let them take off without supervision,” Muller said. “If you make a commitment, they turn out pretty well.”
But half-wolves are not for everybody, said Char Quinn, director of the Eagle Valley Humane Society.
“It’s really not a good idea to have one,” Quinn said. “These animals can be dangerous because they have natural instincts that kick in and make them run off. They are wild animals.”
Quinn said half-wolves and wolves are immediately euthanized when brought to the shelter because they cannot be adopted back into homes.
“They are not considered an adoptable animal,” Quinn said. “It’s not a dog. It’s a wild creature, whether it’s half-blood or not.
“When you have a wild animal as a pet, you have to be on your toes,” Quinn added.
Shanti has lived in various places and settings. She was born and raised on a horse ranch, where children would hop into a pet pen with her litter and play with them.
“The pups were socialized pretty early on,” Muller said about Shanti’s upbringing.
Muller owned her first two half-wolves in 1989. Back then, she learned as much as possible about the breed, but mostly, she says, she fell in love with them.
Muller spent time as a volunteer in Ramah, N.M. at a wolf sanctuary called the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, formerly the Candy Kitchen Wolf Sanctuary. Muller has been volunteering for the sanctuary since 1993. In 2000, Muller stayed at the sanctuary for the summer.
About 75 wolves reside at the sanctuary, mostly coming from abused and neglected households. Most of the wolves and wolf hybrids at the sanctuary when she started volunteering are now dying of old age.
“Some of the wolves had been left in someone’s basement and were extremely malnourished,” Muller said. “The wolves come to the sanctuary and are able to get veterinary care.”
Muller said the number of wolves at the sanctuary is less than the number of animals at an animal shelter.
“A lot of animals go to rescues,” Muller said. “It’s a problem for every animal.”
Most animal shelters – not rescues or sanctuaries – do not allow full-bred wolves into the shelters, Quinn said.
“Wolves aren’t a good thing to get, because they’re like a pit bull,” Quinn said. “They cannot be adopted into homes, and they cannot be put back into the wild because they’re already domesticated. In a sense, it’s cruel to put them into this position.”
Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or at email@example.com.