Colorado organization rescues six suspected Haines wolfdogs

While thousands danced and dined at the Southeast Alaska State Fair in Haines last weekend, Drew Robertson of Sedalia, Colorado, was rescuing a half dozen puppies that might be part wolf.

The state suspects at least 10 dogs born at 35 Mile Haines Highway in February could be wolf hybrids, which are illegal to breed or possess in Alaska.

The owner of the litter - "Seandog" Brownell - said he suspects the mother, Inja, a lab, could have mated with a wild wolf last December on or near his property.

Robertson, who runs an organization with wolfdog sanctuaries in the Lower 48, picked up six of the Haines puppies and took them back to Colorado. The other four possible wolfdogs haven't been surrendered by their owners.

Robertson said Aug. 1 some of the puppies would be placed in sanctuaries - large, enclosed properties - but "a couple of them were so social, we already plan on them being support animals."

In addition to running sanctuaries, Robertson's organization, Mattersville Veterans, pairs rescued wolfdogs with U.S. military veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder or other health issues.

Mattersville works to promote "pack healing" - creating bonds between canines separated from their packs and veterans missing their military units. "​​They end up having really, really strong bonds," said Robertson, who started the organization about a decade ago after his friend, a veteran, committed suicide.

The organization has five sanctuaries - in Colorado, Texas, Florida, Wisconsin and Kansas - as well as a group of support animals. Wolfdogs that act more like dogs than wolves usually become support animals, while the wilder rescues live with animal care teams at Mattersville's sanctuaries, Robertson said.

"I'm just really happy that he's going to have a family," said Jennifer Marschke, referring to her puppy Biscuit, one of the dogs Robertson took with him from Haines. He thought Biscuit might be a good fit for a friend of his in Washington state, where wolfdogs are legal.

The wolfdog saga started earlier this summer when one of the dogs in the litter registered as 50% wolf on a dog DNA test. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is awaiting results from more accurate laboratory testing to prove whether or not the dogs are part wolf.

Wildlife managers sent samples from six of the dogs and are seeking contact information for the owners of the other dogs in the litter. Until the results come back, the state will consider the animals legal.

Wild gray wolves rarely mate with domestic dogs, but the two kinds of animals can have viable offspring. Some biologists contend they are two different species; others say dogs are a wolf subspecies.

It's possible that some, but not all of the Haines litter could be part wolf. There could be multiple fathers because female dogs have "numerous eggs that the sperm can mix with," state biologist Carl Koch said in an email. "Wild wolves will only have one father because of pack dynamics. The father wolf helps raise the young. But with domestic dogs they don't help the female raise the pups," he said.

Brownell for several weeks had been working to line up a sanctuary for the dog before the genetic test results came back, while the pups are still legal.

He started a GoFundMe page in July to raise money for vaccinations, rabies shots, dog food and transportation to new homes for the dogs. That page as of Aug. 2 had raised $3,061 through 41 donations.


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