• Attorney Joseph M. Griffin

Wolf Dogs and Wolf-Hybrids - Allegedly

What words mean can be life or death business for clients of Boston Dog Lawyers.

Our rights as pet parents so often come down to the words used by elected officials (federal, state, and local) who at times lack a true sense of their impact on day to day life. Boston Dog Lawyers teamed up with defense Attorney Joseph M. Griffin and University of Kansas Professor Ray Pierotti to defeat the Massachusetts Environmental Police who sought to seize our client’s dogs Luna and Keanu for being “wolf hybrids” under state law. We succeed in persuading the judge to dismiss the matter after we argued that the statute under which the case was brought was void for vagueness, overly broad and thereby unconstitutional. Our client just wants to be a pet parent but an ambiguous law was being used to deny him that. His pets are Keanu and Luna. During the trial I spent an afternoon with them.

Humans have domesticated wolves into dogs for thousands of years. We argued that the criminal statute (Mass. General Law Ch. 131 §77A) is unconstitutional for being overly broad and void for vagueness. The judge agreed and dismissed the case. The law essentially prohibits people from having any dog with wolf ancestry.

Genetic testing for wolf content (just as it is for “pit bulls”) is unreliable; enforcement of the law relies on the subjective ‘eye test’ which is very similar to way breed specific legislation operated and has since been banned in MA. Oftentimes Alaskan Malamutes, German Shepherds and Siberian Huskies are mistaken for wolves or wolf hybrids.

Our client’s dogs were selectively bred to look similar to their wolf ancestors and behave like domesticated dogs. Unlike wolves, Keanu and Luna rely on their pet parents for food and they crave human attention. Keanu fell asleep while I rubbed his belly. The police relied on the state biologist who looked at the dogs from a distance and proclaimed them wolf hybrids. Our client relied on his team to look at the law and argue it was unconstitutional.

Keanu and Luna look more like wolves and act like dogs

In many states, dogs that have been blended with wolves are illegal to possess. They are sometimes called wolf hybrids. This is tough to grasp because pet dogs are merely domesticated wolves who have adapted over thousands of years to human life. Are these statutes seeking to outlaw all dogs? The Federal Animal Welfare Act recognizes these as domesticated animals (pets) and regulates their keeping and care (https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/downloads/awa/awa.pdf). However it is up to each state to make its own law regarding domesticated animals. This is similar to current laws regarding marijuana use. The Federal Government prohibits it yet each state can make its own controlling laws regarding this.

In our case the law for dogs who look like Keanu and Luna does not allow a person to possess, sell, import or export a wolf hybrid. It confusingly states that any mammal which is the offspring of reproduction involving a wild wolf or wolf hybrid is not a pet and is illegal to own. It does not specify how many reproductive generations are considered (Mass. Gen. Law c. 131 §77A). We have credible evidence showing that for at least 10 generations, no wild wolf has been part of the ancestral reproductive history of Keanu and Luna. The law is particularly poorly written as it is overly broad in how it seems to bar any person from ever possessing a dog that ever had a wolf as an ancestor, which would be all of us pet parents. Vague and overly broad laws, under our Constitution, are void for vagueness if they are so vague or confusing that the average person could not figure out what activity is being prohibited. It violates our due process rights as it fails to give us adequate notice of what we are supposed to avoid doing. Boston Dog Lawyers has built its reputation by defending a pet owner’s right to due process which includes adequate notice and a fair hearing.

Pet parents hear about laws being overly broad and void for vagueness when it comes to arguing against breed specific legislation (BSL) which seeks to prevent us from having pet kids of a certain breed. BSL sets no objective guidelines as to how one determines what type of animal is prohibited. In our case genetic testing for wolf content (just as it is for ‘Pit Bulls’) is unreliable, so enforcement of the law relies heavily on the subjective ‘eye test’. Oftentimes Alaskan Malamutes, German Shepherds and Siberian Huskies are thought to be wolves or hybrids when they are not.

The environmental police were seeking to convict our client of a crime and seize his animals. They are relying on the state biologist who looked at the dogs from a distance and proclaimed them wolf hybrids. He never examined or evaluated them with any scientific method and refused our offers to do so. A true undertaking would be to look at their genetics, their anatomy and their behavioral characteristics before determining them to be outlaws. As pet parents we need to expect more from authority figures who seek to take our pet kids using just the ‘eye test.’ The environmental police had not returned my call for 7 days and it was not until Thanksgiving Day 2016 that they called and said they were coming to take the dogs. I was not having that and no way was I going to let my client’s turkey day be disrupted. and Boston Dog Lawyers has so far prevented that. Our client was warned that once taken, he would never know where they went. We defended him in criminal court. And by the way, the dogs have never bit a person or another dog. They do scratch though while playing.

For pet parents, our Constitutional rights to due process require that laws that restrict ownership of certain dogs provide law enforcement officials with clear standards by which to enforce. In a case that struck down BSL, American Dog Owners Association vs. City of Lynn, 404 Mass. 73 (1989), the judge found no scientific means to determine whether certain dogs were ‘Pit Bulls.’ The local law had prohibited the owning and keeping of these dogs. Upon the law being challenged, the judge voided the ordinance, reasoning that police officers used subjective standards rendering the statute void for vagueness. His opinion conveyed that some dogs, due to registration, known parentage or appearance might appear to be pit bulls but belonged to a different breed. He also noted that officers did not have any training in breed identification (neither does the MA biologist in our case).

As word spread about our work on this wolf hybrid case, I received a call from someone only identifying herself by the letter M. She insisted that we had to meet because she had helpful information. Under the cover and anonymity of a dark and snowy Sunday evening at a distant Starbucks, we met; M helped, and then disappeared. Oh the places you’ll go to win a dog case.

Always wanting to surround myself with teammates who are smarter than me, I sought out the assistance of University of Kansas Professor Ray Pierotti. He evaluated the dogs in person, spoke to the breeders and reviewed their paperwork. Professor Pierotti states he is “quite confident that there has been no wild ancestor bred into the line for at least ten generations. This fits with my opinion that Luna and Keanu are fully domesticated dogs, regardless of their appearance. Their behavior does not show any evidence e of recent wild ancestry.”

Humans have been domesticating wolves into dogs for the last 40,000 years and some pet owners and movie producers seek out pet kids with the personality traits of dogs but the superficial traits of wolves. (see my squirt gun example above). In the 1990 movie Dances with Wolves, a real wolf was on set but that allegedly triggered an expensive premium for an insurance policy for lead actor Kevin Costner. Two Socks, the wolf companion of Kevin Costner was played by two trained wolves.

Some states view wolf hybrids as domestic animals or pets. As of August 2013, these are Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Private ownership of wolf hybrids is illegal in Alaska, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Wyoming. http://animals.mom.me/state-laws-wolf-hybrids-7141.html. For up to date information Google your own state’s law on wolf-hybrid dogs.

With proper management all types of dogs make great pets. Keanu and Luna have a deep bond with their pet parent. Like bully breeds, they are judged by their look and by their loudest and most vocal critics. As we see breed specific legislation collapsing more and more, we need to see local authorities interfering with our pet ownership rights less and less. We cannot allow the woefully high supply of dogs to diminish their individual importance to their family under the law.

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