GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – The recent mauling death of an eight-day-old baby in Virginia is sparking debate on social media about whether it's safe to keep wolf-dog hybrids as pets.
The baby girl died after she was found bloodied in her crib at her Lee County home last week with the family's wolf-dog hybrid standing over her, according to published reports.
The pet was later removed from the home and euthanized.
News4Jax spoke with John Knight, an expert on the breed and owner of Big Oak Wolf Sanctuary in Green Cove Springs. His sanctuary cares for and rehabilitates wolves that are born in captivity or those that came from homes where they were abused, neglected or abandoned.
"It's tragic. I feel bad for them and the animal. People shouldn't own these animals, in my opinion," said Knight, adding that hybrid breeds require far more attention and care than the typical family dog and should not be treated as pets.
He said the wrong people are getting these animals for the wrong reasons.
"Unfortunately in this day and age, most people who get these animals, get them to be perceived as something special among their peers," said Knight. "In that stage in their life, it’s all about them and how they’re perceived, which means they can’t meet the needs of the animal."
Laws governing ownership of these breeds vary from state to state.
There are 11 states, for instance, where it's illegal to own wolf-dog hybrids, including Georgia and Virginia. In 24 states, hybrids are treated as domestic animals that can become family pets. And in 15 states, including Florida, they're allowed with some restrictions.
“If it’s indistinguishable from a pure wolf, then it can be owned in Florida," said Knight. "The problem with that is that if you have part wolf and part dog, it’s either going to behave all wolf or all dog at various times. Obviously in this situation with the child who was killed, it went all wolf."
People who want to own wolf-dog hybrids should be prepared to provide the animals with plenty of space, Knight said. He said owners should be aware that hybrids can be extremely destructive and tend to chew up anything they can find -- including other pets around the house.
He went on to say that these hybrid breeds are not pets to chain to a pole or put in a crate because that kind of confinement without daily interaction can cause a wolf’s instinct to kick in, transforming it into a deadly, predatory animal.
"Be prepared to be with that animal all the time as if it were a developmentally disabled child. They need a tremendous amount of care and physical contact," Knight said. " ... Wolf dogs never stop chewing. They tear up everything in the house. That’s just what they do in the wild."
Knight said wolves possess brains that are 30-percent larger than those of canines, which makes them more intelligent than their domesticated peers. He said they're closer to a cross between a lion and man than they are to dogs, giving them advanced instincts.
Unlike wolves, which can weigh more than 100 pounds, wolf-dog hybrids typically weigh anywhere from 70 to 90 pounds. Knight said they tend to be much stronger, more powerful and more focused than a dog of similar size.
Another thing to consider is the strength of the animal's bite.
According to PetComment.com, wolf-dog hybrids can bite down with as much as 406 pounds of pressure per square inch. To put that in perspective, pit bull terriers are known to bite down with as much as 235 pounds of pressure per square inch.
"When we get bit out here, because the wolves we rescue are typically abused, we never feel the teeth," said Knight. "We feel the crushing. They can break the femur bones of a large caribou."
News4Jax found several breeders online that claim to sell wolf-dog hybrids. They run anywhere from $600 to $1,800. While the breeders appear reputable at a glance, Knight expressed more concern about the non-reputable breeders who have no idea if their hybrids are more wolf than dog.
"They're just cashing in on people who want to own a wolf as a result" of their popularity from films and television shows, such as Twilight and Game of Thrones, Knight said. "You can never really be sure that the animal you want to look like a wolf is going to always behave like a dog."