DEAR ABBY: Recently my husband's sister told us she bought a wolf-dog puppy from a couple she knows who raises them. The pup is about 3 months old and is 75 percent wolf.
I have expressed my concerns to her about the safety of keeping such an animal as a pet. She has two sons who are 13 and 15.
She says a lot of people keep wolf-dogs as pets in her state (Arkansas), and there doesn't seem to be any problem with them.
She is open to any information I can find for her on the subject, and she's told her sons that if there is any problem with the animals, she will get rid of the puppy.
That's fine, but I'd hate to have one of her children attacked and injured.
I have children her sons' ages, and have told her they are not allowed to go near this animal. She's coming to visit us next summer and plans to bring her wolf-dog along.
Abby, do you have any information or advice on these wolf-dogs? Thanks for any help you can give me. -- WORRIED IN VISALIA, CALIF.
DEAR WORRIED: Although owners may argue that some wolf- dog hybrids are less aggressive than some breeds of dogs, the experts are nearly unanimous that owning a pure wolf or a hybrid is a bad idea.
After reading your letter, I located an article by Jack Hope in the June 1994 issue of Smithsonian magazine. It states that as most wolves and wolf hybrids approach sexual maturity (at about 2 years of age), the vast majority begin behaving as the pack-hunting predators their wild genes have predisposed them to be.
"As all owners agree, the animals treat humans as other wolves. But, genetically programmed for the ongoing struggle with pack mates for food and leadership, they have no compunctions about challenging the dominant householder -- usually the male -- with warning growls and a flurry of bites (usually NOT deep bites) for his steak dinner or easy chair, or even for the attentions of his spouse.
"How to curb unwanted behavior is a subject of debate. When only swatted or yelled at, the wolves may not turn tail but growl and bite instead. Disciplined with a severe beating, they'll retreat -- but, wolflike, will attempt the same challenge an hour or a day later -- in an endless contest for dominance.
"Banished to the back yard, the wolves or wolf hybrids usually break free of all but the sturdiest chains or enclosures. Without food, confused, they may prowl the neighborhood attacking cats, rabbits, goats, dogs, even horses, all of which they see as prey. Their predatory instincts can also be triggered by humans, especially if those humans happen to be small or infirm, or if they flee or emit a frightened sound.
"Since 1986, nine children in the United States, from toddlers to a 12-year-old, have been killed (and in one case, partially eaten) by wolf and wolf-dog pets. Many more people, both children and adults, have been maimed. While relatively few of these animals actually kill, most of the former owners interviewed for this article report having been bitten."