Even if you don’t watch it (I admit I am a fan), you have probably heard of the phenomenon that are the ‘Game Of Thrones’ books and the vastly popular television series. Packed full of action, drama and betrayal, there seems to be something about this series that has hooked millions of people across the globe. Often, when films and dramas sweep across our screens, those that love them want, or wish, that they had certain aspects of said production. In the case of ‘Game Of Thrones’, there are many things that are just impossible to have. Dragons for one and thank goodness. However, there is one non-mythical animal that is very prominent in this series and it is an animal that humans do have the potential to own. Wolves.
Ok, so let’s just get one thing straight first. It is actually illegal to ‘own’ a wolf without a special license, so unless people are prepared to break the law, what can you do? Well, they reach for the next best thing: a wolf dog. The name could not be much more self-explanatory, so you’ve probably guessed that the wolf-dog is quite simply, a hybrid between a wolf and a dog. Fabulous! Everything you want rolled into one, right? A dog that is large, looks very similar to a wolf, but is a dog! What’s not to like? Unfortunately, quite a lot. Now, I don’t mean that wolves are unlikeable, in fact, they are and always have been my ‘favourite animal’, but what people often forget is that a wolf is not a dog. A wolf is a wild animal with its own behaviour, ecology and needs. Yes, it has been bred with an actual domesticated dog, but the likelihood of getting a wolf dog that looks like a wolf but behaves entirely like a dog, is very rare indeed. After all, this is a hybrid. An animal hybrid that will have qualities of both of its parents and who knows what mix you are going to get?
Unfortunately, due to the popularity of ‘Game Of Thrones’, the demand for wolf dogs has gone up. It used to be the case that these hybrids existed as a bit of a mistake, with people’s pet dogs wandering off and mating with wild wolves. However, these days wolf-dogs are now something of a hot commodity, with people breeding them and then selling them online for thousands of dollars. However, after buying these animals, people begin to realise that caring for them is not quite as easy as they may have thought, with the wolf side of the animal soon becoming very obvious indeed. Consequently, when they become too big and too difficult to handle, wolf dogs are being abandoned, or left to charities to care for .
One charity that is beginning to see the effects of shows such as ‘Game Of Thrones’ on the wolf-dog community, is a private sanctuary is Clay County, Florida. Big Oak Wolf Sanctuary is its name and they have begun to take in and care for wolf-dogs. However, the sanctuary has recently admitted that they are struggling to deal with the amount of wolf-dogs that are coming to them. John Knight, who runs the charity with his wife, has said:
“Our original two (wolf-dogs) turned to sixty over three or four years.”
Gabriel is one of the wolf-dogs at Big Oak Wolf Sanctuary and although he is friendly and welcomes new people into his enclosure, John has claimed that this is a rare occurrence, describing such serenity in a wolf-dog as ‘one in a thousand.’ But what about those animals on ‘Game Of Thrones’? They seem pretty friendly ! They’re not attacking anyone on screen and seem quite happy to go along with their roles. Indeed. But this is because most of the animals on ‘Game Of Thrones’ are not wolves and not wolf-dogs at all. In fact, many are large dog breeds such as the Northern Inuit dog, who simply have a similar appearance to wolves.
I work with dogs on a daily basis and have had many of my own over my lifetime. Most dogs are far from perfect. I look after dogs who are playful, friendly and hilarious, but I also have dogs who, although I adore them, can be stubborn and spoilt, with some having serious aggression issues. These are just dogs. And they are part of a species who have gone through thousands of years of domestication. Throw some wolf genes into the mix and you have a whole new ball game. It is true that some people manage. In fact, I have read about a man who owns a wolf-dog named Loki. They adore each other and are their own little pack, but he spends all of his free time in the mountains with his wolf-dog, exploring the wilderness and trying to indulge the wolf in Loki.
As attractive and tantalising as it is to imagine owning an animal like a wolf-dog, it is not something to be taken lightly and is why so many are being abandoned or even put down. The Big Wolf Oak Sanctuary is struggling to support the wolf-dogs they have. It is a hugely honourable task they have taken on, but it is not without expense. Check out their sanctuary here
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