Kasilof couple's pets pit them against fairly new state law

Dog? Wolf? Wolf hybrid?

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2003

A Kasilof couple who raises and shows hybrid wolves is challenging a relatively new Alaska law that prohibits people from advertising animals as part wolf by name or description.

Jeanie and George Pierce, who advertise their animal-viewing business as "Wolves of Alaska," are pitted against the state Department of Fish and Game, which wants ultimately to eliminate hybrid wolves from the state.

Jeanie Pierce was arraigned Thursday in Kenai District Court on 21 counts of unlawfully possessing wolf hybrids that are not nationally registered. She pleaded not guilty.

Husband George, who says the animals are actually his, not his wife's, claims a few years ago another Alaska court -- the Palmer District Court -- ruled against the couple in a civil suit saying the couple could not prove one of their animals was a wolf or wolf hybrid.

"In 1998, Jeanie and I bought a dog we found out was 98 percent wolf and we found it was illegal to possess a wolf in Alaska," said George Pierce.

"We tried to return the animal and not pay for it and the guy we bought it from sued us.

"The court said, 'It is nearly impossible to determine the percentage of wolf in a hybrid,' and ruled against us.

"We had to pay $800 plus court costs," he said.

"Now this court is saying we have all these wolves and we have to register them and spay and neuter them. I say, let the court prove they're wolf hybrids," said Pierce.

Last year, the Alaska Board of Game, admitting the lack of a simple genetic test to distinguish hybrid wolves, adopted regulations making it illegal to advertise for sale a wolf or any animal represented to be a wolf or part wolf by any name or description.

"For the past few decades, the law has been that you can't own hybrid wolves," said Rick Sinnott, Anchorage area biologist for the Department of Fish and Game.

"A year ago, the law was changed to say if people say it's a wolf hybrid, it's a wolf hybrid," he said.

Because the Board of Game acknowledged that many people in Alaska already owned such animals, the board "grandfathered in" people who owned wolf hybrids as pets prior to Jan. 23, 2002.

In order for those people to legally retain the animals, however, they were required to have the animals nationally registered by implantation of a microchip and have the animals spayed or neutered by July 1, 2002.

"The whole thing about registering is a compromise," said Sinnott.

"We didn't want to be seen as a bunch of jack-booted thugs waiting to take people's pets," he said.

"We tried to give people some lead time to take care of the requirements."

Several reasons exist for the state wanting to eliminate hybrid wolves, said Sinnott, including the possible spread of dog problems such as lice and Parvo virus to wild wolf packs and the possibility that eventually no pure wolves would exist in the wild.

Another reason is no proof exists that rabies vaccine works in hybrid wolves, said Thomas McDonough, assistant area biologist for Fish and Game in Homer.

"These are wild or somewhat wild animals that should not be domesticated," said McDonough.

"Some are good pets, but many are not.

"Dogs were domesticated over many centuries to become animals we want as pets. It's not something that can be accomplished in one or two generations of breeding," he said.

Fish and Wildlife Protection Trooper Lt. Steve Bear agreed.

"It's a public safety issue," Lt. Bear said.

"It's unlawful to possess offspring from the mating of a wolf or wolf hybrid, or an animal represented to be a wolf or part-wolf by any name or description," he said.

The Pierces, however, feel safe with their 21 Alaskan malamutes, some of which have been cross-bred with hybrid wolves.

"We take people around to see our dogs," said Jeanie Pierce.

"We tell them about the animals and even let them pet them," she said.

The couple charges visitors $5 to take the tour of their animals between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and advertises their business as "Wolves of Alaska" in the Milepost guidebook.

"Who would come to see 'Wild Dogs of Alaska?'" asked George Pierce.

Magistrate David S. Landry has set the trial for the week of March 4.

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