When is it okay to own a wolf hybrid?

This was a fairly heartbreaking story when I first read it but it raises a few interesting questions about animal ownership in the United States. A family in Colorado was unfortunate enough to have their dog escape from their yard and it was subsequently picked up by animal control. Normally a situation like that can be resolved by having the family show up, claim the pet and perhaps pay a small fine, but in this case the officials refused to release the dog back to them. The reason they gave was that they “strongly suspected” the dog was actually a hybrid animal which was part wolf. That’s considered an exotic pet, so now the matter is going to court. (WHNT News)

A family says animal control officials in Aurora, Colorado, won’t give back their beloved family dog after it escaped from the yard, claiming the animal is actually a wolf-hybrid, according to KDVR.

The Abbato family has had Capone for nearly 10 years. They rescued him from the Adams County Animal Shelter in Brighton, Colorado, where he was classified as a German shepherd mix.

The family’s veterinarian also says the same thing. But Aurora Animal Control thinks Capone is a wolf-hybrid.

“It’s been real painful,” 11-year-old Ciara Abbato said.

This family has had Capone for 10 years and he was actually adopted from an animal shelter where no one seem to find anything unusual about him. Judging by the picture (below) he certainly looks like a German shepherd mix to me, albeit on the rather large side. But now the family is waiting for the DNA test results come back and if it turns out that he actually is part wolf, Capone will either be sent to a wildlife refuge if space is available or he will be euthanized if no place can be found for him.

Given my own background in animal welfare work and adoptions I have an immediate and visceral reaction to the story making me want to side with the family. If they’ve had Capone for 10 years and experienced no problems, no attacks or incidents of wild or vicious behavior, it seems preposterous to remove the dog from his home. The family is willing to pay any applicable fine for a loose dog and I’m sure some agreement could be reached with the court for them to heighten or improve their fence so Capone does not get loose again.

The larger question here is about the laws regarding ownership of actual wolf hybrid dogs which vary considerably from state to state. This 2013 article from Slate Magazine provides a breakdown of which states will allow you to own such an “exotic” animal (shown in gray), which ones only allow it with permits and various restrictions (blue or green) and which ones forbid it entirely (orange).

Unfortunately for the Abatto family, Colorado is one of the “orange” states where the practice is forbidden. But should it be? I’m not denying the problems which can arise from private citizens owning truly exotic and frequently dangerous animals such as tigers, lions, apes or highly venomous snakes. Those are best left in the wild unless they are under the care of trained professionals. But a wolf hybrid dog? First of all, we’re probably talking about creatures which are mostly dog to begin with. And even if we weren’t, where do you think we got dogs in the first place? We purposely evolved them ourselves from wolves which are among the most readily domesticated animals in that family. A true wolf could certainly still prove to be dangerous but Capone doesn’t seem to fall into that category.

I suppose from a small government conservative standpoint I would still say that this is a question best left up to the individual states. But at the same time, I would hope many more of the states would at least loosen the restrictions a bit and save a place in their hearts for animals like Capone.