Owner, public urged to help save wolf-dog

A possible wolf-dog hybrid lies on the grass on the edge of Pennypack Park on Tuesday. Responding to a complaint, the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania tried to capture it. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )
A possible wolf-dog hybrid lies on the grass on the edge of Pennypack Park on Tuesday. Responding to a complaint, the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania tried to capture it. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )
Posted: June 28, 2012

The folks trying to safely catch the wolf-dog of Pennypack Park have two messages:

The public needs to stop feeding it and intentionally scaring it away.

And the former owner could save its life by coming forward.

"Help us out with this thing. Help us capture this thing. Help us have a peaceful, happy ending for everybody involved," said wildlife conservation officer Jerry Czech of the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

"I'd hate to see it maul somebody or bite somebody, and we end up having to kill it," he said.

The animal's way too big to be a coyote, but it sure is wily.

For several days, Penny, as neighbors dub the arcadian canine, has evaded the efforts at least nine workers from the game commission and a wolf sanctuary employing live traps, nets, snare poles, sedative-laced hot dogs, and even a tranquilizer dart-gun.

A dart hit the animal Tuesday after dark, but neither beast nor drug-delivery-device were recovered, despite a tracking transmitter.

The search was called off a half-hour before midnight.

Searching was also suspended at least through early afternoon, in case the creature was groggy or spooked, and thus more prone to aggression, said Darin Tompkins of the Speedwell Forge Wolf Sanctuary in Lititz, Pa.

A new tactic might be to use another dog, to make the quarry comfortable, he said.

Unlike recent days, the animal wasn't hanging around this morning, said neighbor Sharon Newman Ehrlich.

"I didn't see it at all," she said shortly after noon.

Often, Penny would leave the woods to lay down in a clearing, sometimes stepping forward to grab free food left by strangers or approach other dogs.

"It was definitely someone's pet," Tompkins said. "It's a docile animal when you're not chasing it around."

"It looks like, 'Hey, pet me,' " Czech said.

That's why, at least a handful of times Monday and Tuesday, just as would-be catchers neared, onlookers started yelling and evened honk car horns.

"They're yelling, 'Run!' 'They're going to shoot it!' And all we're trying to do is safely capture it," said Tompkins.

"They think they're doing good, and they're not," Czech said.

As media coverage increased, so did the crowds.

"Now everybody and their mother is out there," he said.

He would love to see one stranger, though: the animal's owner, who might be able to to coax it into a leash.

Even just knowing the ex-pet's name might help officers lure it forward.

Owning a wolf dog is illegal in Pennsylvania without a special permit. But a deal could be worked out, so the violator would pay only a small fine, akin to a traffic ticket, Czech said.

The person might be hailed as a hero, for helping to save the wolf dog, Czech said.

On the other hand, if the animal has to be put down for attacking someone or another dog, the owner would suffer a less kindly fate, including more trouble with the law.

(Czech be reached through the Game Commission's regional office in Reading, at 610-926-3136.)

In any case, custody of the canine, if illegal, would be forfeited.

If the animal's part-wolf, a home would found at a sanctuary, Tompkins said. Adoption's an option if it's all dog, and there's no known owner.

It looks like a wolf-husky mix, said Mark Peralta, chief operating officer of the Pennsylvania SPCA. While working in Colorado, he saw 20 to 30 dogs that were part-wolf, and usually part German shepherd, Siberian husky, or Alaskan malamute.

An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 wolf-dog hybrids live in the United States, he said.

In his three years in Philadelphia, though, including overseeing city animal control with the PSPCA until a few months ago, "I haven't seen one," he said.

It could even be a quasi-breed of companion pet known as a Native American Indian Dog.

But no one can be sure until the animal's captured and its DNA is tested, how much, if any, wolf is in its family tree, according to Jerry Feaser, game commission spokesman.

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

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