Lake Tahoe Wolf Rescue is a small, grassroots program located in Incline Village and run entirely by volunteers.
The organization was founded in 1994 by executive director Pamela Jo Hormiotis, who still receives 25 to 50 calls a day from people looking to re-home their wolf or wolfdog.
“It’s the same story for all dogs, but heightened for the wolfdog breeds — I wish I was getting that many calls from people looking to adopt,” she said.
There is a dire need to re-home dogs of wolf lineage, but not to just anyone. Hormiotis has been rescuing wolves and wolfdog breeds since 1986 and believes one major preventative step in keeping wolf breeds from being abused, put in shelters and mechanized is to educate potential adopters on how to properly care for these sensitive dogs.
Candidates for adoption are vetted extensively before Lake Tahoe Wolf Rescue adopts out. LTWR created a network of reliable and knowledgeable foster homes that stretches from California to Colorado, but additional donors, fosters and adoptive families are always in high demand.
“You have to have been around them and worked with their behaviors to train them correctly and be able to take care of them and give them a good life,” Hormiotis said.
STIGMAS ABOUT WOLFDOGS
Wolfdogs are exotic animals, dogs that have been bred from wolf genetics. Over generations, the level of wolf DNA dissipates as it’s replaced by domesticated dog genetics.
“Depending on how much of the wolf genetics are in the dog, you’re going to get more let’s say, ‘wolfy’ or ‘doggy’ behavior,” according to Hormiotis, who co-founded the Incline Village-based Pet Network Humane Society in 1991 and has dedicated her life to rescuing and re-homing wolves, wolfdogs and Northern breeds including Malamutes, Tamaskans, Huskies, Inuit and Native American dogs after realizing the lack of an established, far-reaching wolfdog rescue network.
“The stigma is that they’re dangerous, and that is a falsity,” she said. “They are not any more dangerous than a domestic dog that is aggressive.”
In fact, their instinct is to run from man; they’re naturally afraid of people after generations of being hunted and opt to flee in their fight-or-flight reaction.
“I haven’t ever come across any wolfdogs that were aggressive toward humans unless they were cornered,” she said.
Well-intended people buy wolf breeds because they’re such high-performing, loyal and absolutely beautiful animals.
“They’ve got great endurance, they’re wonderful companions of course, but they really are a lot of work,” Hormiotis said.
What Hormiotis and other rescuers have witnessed over the years is proud wolfdog owners finding themselves overwhelmed after caring for the dogs through puppyhood — “they’re very high maintenance dogs.”
“Of course, when they’re re-homed, they aren’t puppies anymore either,” she added.
Knowing how to assume the role of the “pack leader” and planning for proper maintenance, training and attention for wolfdogs will make for a wonderful experience for both dog and owner.
And if you’re interested in adopting, you’re in luck, as North Tahoe is the ideal atmosphere to raise a dog of this caliber — the weather and terrain are perfect for northern and wolf breeds, and the people who live here are more appropriate to own these dogs because they typically lead a more outdoor lifestyle.
“People who live in Tahoe who are active are perfect. They seem to be more motivated to give the dog a good lifestyle because they want a good lifestyle,” Hormiotis said. “If they work from home, that’s even better — these dogs just want to hang around you.”
WE’RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER FENCE
That said, wolfdogs are notorious escape artists: Unless you opted for 9-gauge, chain-link fence stretched seven feet high when you moved in, you’re going to need a bigger fence.
Fencing must be secure, with a dig-guard to prevent tunneling underneath, and an overhang or lean-in to prevent them from jumping out.
Also, don’t feed your wolf breed that run-of-the-mill kibble: Wolves and wolfdogs are especially susceptible to diseases and digestive problems that can be brought on or agitated when feeding them commercial dog food.
They need a much more complex, highly nutritious diet compared to a Labrador, for example. The wolf diet requires raw and some cooked meats, vegetables, vitamins, minerals and bone meal to create a well-balanced meal.
Wolfdogs are sensitive; please forego “old school” training methods: Loud scolding or hitting to train dogs right from wrong is a terrible move, Hormiotis said, especially when training wolf breeds. Fear-based training reduces trust, and a lack of trust instills anxiety in wolfdogs.
They follow a hierarchical social structure and you need to be the pack leader. Use body language such as blocking and nudging to demonstrate that you are the alpha leader.
Lastly, a tired dog is a good dog: Wolves have a huge energy capacity and require plenty of exercise for a quality life.
Potential owners who work 9-to-5 are not encouraged to adopt these particular breeds as they become very attached to their families and experience separation anxiety when left alone, which can result in you sacrificing your couch.
All told, Hormiotis cautions that these breeds are misunderstood, and ownership takes real dedication, perseverance and patience.
Cassandra Walker is a features and entertainment reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at email@example.com, 530-550-2654 or @snow1cass.