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Rescued Alaska 'wolfdogs' work with veterans

Posted: May 30, 2012 - 12:03am

ANCHORAGE — The Alaska part of the Wolf Country USA case came to an end last week when Werner Schuster, owner of the facility that displayed wolf-dog hybrids, or “wolfdogs,” was sentenced for violating an Alaska regulation that makes it unlawful to possess such animals without a permit. Schuster pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay a $3,000 fine; he also was sentenced to 90 days in jail, all of which were suspended.

But the story continues at an animal rescue facility in California.

The fate of Schuster’s canines was uncertain at the time authorities executed a search warrant last summer. There was a possibility they would be killed. Word reached animal advocates, including former game show host Bob Barker, and 29 adult wolfdogs were taken to Lockwood Animal Rescue Center in Frazier Park, Calif.

They currently share Lockwood’s fenced acreage with other wolfdogs, wolves, coyotes, horses and six peacocks.

“They’re enjoying their homes, despite not having as much snow as they would like,” said Lorin Lindner, co-founder of the non-profit center. The animals have formed into small packs or formed male-female pairs, despite all having been spayed or neutered.

“They’re running around. There are ponds in the habitats. They each have houses or igloos, which they never go into. They sleep on the roofs, like Snoopy.”

Lindner said she was surprised by how “sweet and super-friendly” the animals were. “The Schusters really did socialize them well. They love their belly rubs.”

She doesn’t think it was right that the wolfdogs were chained while in Alaska, but “I wouldn’t say they were abused.”

The wolfdogs are part of Lockwood’s “Warriors and Wolves” therapeutic program in which returning combat veterans team up with the animals, spending time and working with them. Such programs have been found to help heal trauma both in humans and animals. Lindner, a psychologist by profession, said the canines and vets sort of select each other.

Located at 6,000 feet, Frazier Park is relatively cool for Southern California. Nighttime temperatures are often in the 20s, Lindner said. But the thick winter coat presents a challenge. Lockwood staff and volunteers use special Furminator brand combs to remove the underfur. And there’s a lot of it.

“We took two to the Patagonia store in Reno,” Lindner said. The trip was to thank the company for its help in getting the wolfdogs from Alaska to California. “They had an inch-thick carpet of fur before we left. I felt so bad. If you know anyone who wants wolfdog fur, please let us know.”

The animals are eating well, Lindner added. “We’re part of a land-fill diversion program. We get meat from markets that’s past its sell-by date. Filet mignons. T-bones. Roast beef. One store had its freezers go out and we got 10,000 turkeys. They gorged themselves and didn’t want to eat for a few days after that.”

In addition to the 29 adult wolfdogs, nine pups were sent to Wolfwood Refuge in Ignacio, Colo.

Paula Woerner of Wolfwood said the pups “are a year old now and doing great. We were able to keep them all together as a pack so far.”

Construction of a large new habitat for the animals is due to begin in June.

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