A Cruel Case of Animal Abuse

Posted April 11, 2007 12:56 p.m. EDT
Updated April 16, 2007 12:59 p.m. EDT

The first time we met the wolf dog he had just arrived on the animal control truck and it was difficult to believe what we were seeing was actually a dog and that he was still alive.
A Raleigh animal control officer had responded to a call about an abused dog in a neighbor’s back yard. When she arrived to investigate, she found the dog abandoned without food or water, and bound by a heavy steel logging chain, which was embedded in its neck. A clear case of cruelty, the officer’s first priority was to get the dog to safety. She removed the dog immediately, brought him to the SPCA and returned with police to arrest the owner.
“Merritt,” as we dubbed him, had no energy, his eyes were dull and he could barely walk. When we lifted him off the truck and into the SPCA clinic for some first aid, he gazed up at us and wagged his tail weakly. Even when he felt his worst, he loved people and he loved letting them know it.
Facing the decision between a risky but life-saving surgery and humane euthanasia, the SPCA wanted to try and give Merritt another chance at life.
Merritt survived and 13 pounds of heavy chain were removed from the dog’s neck.

Don’t Cry “Wolf Hybrid”
Merritt slowly began to heal and put on weight and it became apparent that he wasn’t a run-of-the-mill dog. In fact, we began to suspect that he wasn’t 100% “dog” at all.
The healthier he got, the more Merritt resembled a gray wolf hybrid – and a gorgeous one at that. He loved to play with older puppies and always remembered pounce and chew gently. He loved to play with squeaky toys and loved to have his ears and belly rubbed.
If it weren’t for his decidedly wolf-like appearance, Merritt could easily have been mistaken for a big, family-friendly Golden Retriever.

A New Problem
Despite his improving health, Merritt had a problem.
Keeping wolves and wolf hybrids as pets is against the law in Wake County. So where could this gentle giant wolf dog go?
We began searching for an appropriate residential situation for Merritt. We knew that Merritt would need a special kind of owner with experience with wolf dogs and a set of realistic expectations about his size and behavior. We knew he’d need someone willing to respect him as a wolf hybrid, but love him as a companion – because that’s who Merritt had shown us he wanted to be.
After lots of research, we found the Wolf Sanctum owned and operated by Liz Mahaffey in Bakersville, NC. It’s five hours west of Raleigh at the very peak of a mountain in the middle of a beautiful, peaceful, serene corner of nowhere. The Wolf Sanctum is home to dozens of wolves and wolf dogs who, for various reasons, found themselves homeless.
On a cold day at the end of November, I loaded Merritt into my car and we headed west. When Merritt and I arrived, there was a kennel waiting for him. Fresh bales of hay had been added to the sparklingly clean concrete enclosure, as had a large doghouse, a 5-gallon bucket of water, and another large bucket of kibble. Once he had settled into his hay bed, he was given a quartered raw chicken.
Merritt, who had come such a long way even before he braved the five-hour car trip, was clearly in his glory. The owner spoke to him while he ate, and she spoke to me, too, making sure that we both felt comfortable with his new environment.
It was a happy time for both of us. I shed some tears – but Merritt didn’t. By the time I needed to leave, he seemed to have forgotten me entirely, even though we’d spent a lot of time together during his recovery and had grown fairly close.
When I called out to him to say goodbye, he looked away from his chicken treasure briefly, met my eyes, wagged his tail as if to say “thanks for the ride!”, and then went straight back to his prize.
It was a moment I will not soon forget. Since the second any of us met Merritt, all we really wanted for him was a reason to wear that goofy, happy-dog grin. The Wolf Sanctum was that reason.

What the Future Holds

Many wolf dogs are unable to live in households as “regular dogs,” mainly because they’re not regular dogs and most people aren’t trained to handle their special needs. The wolf dogs at the Sanctum all have a permanent home there in the woods, and they thrive happily there.
Merritt, on the other hand, is different. Because his temperament is so reliably domestic dog-like, Liz, the owner feels confident that she’ll be able to place him in a home where he’ll play the role of the trusted, loyal, indoor companion.
Until then, he’s been welcomed to remain at the Wolf Sanctum indefinitely.
Merritt’s unfortunate beginning is well past him now and it’s about time he got a taste of the “good life!” We are so glad that we were able to find it for him.

Owner charged
Merritt’s owner was convicted of animal cruelty on March 20th, and was ordered never to own a pet ever again.
The owner was also ordered to pay restitution for all medical bills incurred by the SPCA for Merritt’s life-saving surgery, one-year suspended jail sentence and 45 days in jail.