Ben Hull was in the market for a husky, but the newspaper ad about wolf dog puppies intrigued him, so he visited the breeder and fell instantly in love with a rambunctious black pup. He knew this was the one to bring home. Hull named the dog Shade.
He told the Dodo it was the best AND worst decision he ever made.
The pair formed a close bond, but Hull quickly noticed that Shade was much more work than the average active puppy — and he had a lot of behavioral issues.
“At first he would jump on people in a friendly way, just wanting to smell or lick their faces like any big, hyperactive puppy would do,” Hull says. “It was later, and as he got older, that this turned into being aggressive.”
Shade was very possessive of Hull, and also of the rest of his “pack,” which included Hull’s parents and their two dogs, Sasha and Chuy. He would bark and chase off anyone outside the immediate circle, even, Hull says, if he’d met them before.
Although Hull did as much research as he could and tried hard to fix the behaviors, he eventually realized that he simply couldn’t give Shade the kind of environment he needed as a wild animal hybrid. A suburban home was not the place for him.
He also looked into the breeder’s background and began to suspect Shade might be inbred, which could exacerbate the ways in which he often acted out.
“The breeder was a former animal control worker and so he trusted her when purchasing Shade, but when looking back, he figured out that Shade’s mother was also probably his grandmother,” Cate Salansky of Wolf Connection, the wolf and wolf dog sanctuary where Shade eventually ended up, told The Dodo.
Hull first rehomed Shade with a couple in Southern California. They had experience with both wolves and wolf dogs, but even here, Shade’s behavior was too much to handle. After working with him for about a year, they called Wolf Connection. It was an immediate improvement.
Here, experienced pros assessed Shade and eventually paired him with Maya, an alpha female wolf dog.
“Maya speaks ‘wolf’ very clearly and has the confidence and communication to deal with other wolf dogs who don’t have those skills yet,” Salansky said. “She’s his comfort blanket and is the one he goes to for affirmation when he starts becoming triggered.”
The pair enjoyed one another’s company for a couple of years but eventually staffers determined that Shade was, to sound cliche, a lone wolf. (Though he and Maya continued to have scheduled play dates!)
“He goes out on lengthy hikes almost daily to explore the 165 acres of Wolf Connection,” Salansky said. “Shade is so hyper-alert of every smell, sound and movement around him, and that awakens you to do the same, including your attention to Shade’s body language. He’s a very quiet, purposeful hiker and is always in the ‘now.'”
Hull, who now lives in the Netherlands, is thrilled that his old friend is happy and healthy and in a place that’s good for him. And whenever he comes back to the States, he drops by Wolf Connection to visit.
“I am so grateful to the couple that they found the people at Wolf Connection, and found Shade his new home with people that love and care about him,” Hull said. “Seeing his new life whenever I visit Wolf Connection is such a happy and emotional moment for me.”
While Shade was lucky to end up at a sanctuary, many wolf dogs are dumped at shelters when they become too much to handle. Rehoming them is tough and as the “breed” is actually illegal in some states, they are often euthanized before sanctuary can be found, as shelters can’t legally hold them.
Even the most responsible, dog-loving people, say Wolf Connection staffers, should not get wolf dogs.
“When purchased as puppies it is very difficult to discern how much wolf will actually present in the animal,” Giulia Cappelli, lead of programs at Wolf Connection, says. “The majority of owners are not prepared for true wolf physicality, intelligence and general behavior. Without the proper containment, understanding and pack orientation, the mid- to high-content wolf dogs can easily escape and end up in a shelter where they are recognized as having wolf content.
“Shade is extraordinarily lucky that he chose Ben that day to be his human,” Salansky said. “Who knows how many of Shade’s relatives were purchased by owners who simply gave up on them when their behaviors were not in line with what they were expecting and rescinded them to an animal shelter? Ben set forth the path for Shade to live safely at Wolf Connection, and Shade now has a wonderful life by being a part of a large pack of balanced wolf dogs.”