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A Rescue to Howl About

Wolf dogs get a second chance at California sanctuary

  • Once kept on a short chain at an Alaska roadside attraction, Big Boy— and 24 of his fellow wolf dogs— have found sanctuary in California. Four others went on to other sanctuaries in Colorado and Washington state. Austin Brisco

In the wild, wolf packs often roam territories of hundreds of miles.

At Wolf Country USA, 29 wolf dogs roamed a few feet behind fencing—for years, the only space their short chains would allow them.

On a half-acre lot at 81-year-old Werner Schuster’s roadside attraction near Anchorage, Alaska, tourists paid $5 to “adopt a wolf dog for a day”—the facility’s way of skirting U.S. Department of Agriculture rules that govern the exhibition of animals for money. The fee gave visitors the chance to walk among the animals, and feed them cookies.

The Alaska legislature passed a law in 2002 banning the ownership of wolves and wolf dogs in the state (some animals may be grandfathered in under certain conditions; Schuster had not fulfilled them). Since then, a new form of DNA testing has made identification easier, leading to more prosecutions for illegal ownership. There has also been a series of cases involving owned wolf dogs who attacked or threatened someone—though Schuster’s dogs were not involved—according to Andrew Peterson, an assistant attorney general for Alaska who works on fish and game cases statewide.

These developments led state officials to take a closer look at Wolf Country USA, located in Palmer, about 40 miles north of Anchorage. The state executed a search warrant on Schuster’s property in June 2011, and determined that it had the right to seize his animals, but allowed Schuster to temporarily keep the wolf dogs on his property since the state had nowhere to house them. The wolf dogs were likely to be forfeited to the state and—with a court order from a judge—killed, since efforts to find alternate placement initially were fruitless, according to Peterson.

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