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Wolf hybrids raise public safety issue
Sheriff asking Cascade County Commission to toughen rules

Tribune Staff Writer

Concerned about an increasing number of wolf-dog hybrids in Cascade County, officials in the sheriff's office are asking Cascade County commissioners to come up with stricter rules for dog owners.

In the past couple of months, the sheriff's office has handled two cases of wolf-dog hybrids getting loose.

"It's just an issue of public safety, and we don't want to be caught off guard," said Sheriff John Strandell. "It isn't that we want to ban them. We just want to work with the owners and have proper enclosures."

The sheriff's office is asking for an ordinance that ensures that wolf-dog hybrids are registered with the state and tattooed according to state law. State law requires anyone keeping wolves, coyotes or wolf-dog hybrids as pets to have their animal tattooed with an identifying number.

Within three days of acquiring a bear, wolf, wolf-dog hybrid, tiger, mountain lion or coyote, the owner must report to Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks.

The sheriff's office also would like a Cascade County animal control officer to inspect and issue a permit showing that the owners of any wolf-dog hybrid have a secure kennel. That kennel would be inspected each year. The county also is looking at establishing a set of criteria for the type and size of kennel required.

A dog owner would have to show proof of liability insurance, and the county would establish a permit fee to cover the cost of inspections and maintaining records.

The sheriff's office also is asking that owners who fail to comply with the rules face misdemeanor charges.

In April two wolf-dog hybrids escaped from their fenced yard and were shot the following day after killing a llama south of Sun River.

In June a wolf-hybrid escaped from a pen in the Gibson Flats area. The dog had a litter of pups, which escaped and the female jumped the fence to care for the pups.

County Commission Chairman Tom Stelling said an ordinance is needed. He expects the commission to look at tightening the rules, but not just for wolf-dog hybrid owners. He said the ordinance would likely set new regulations for the owners of all "exotic or dangerous" animals.

"I think it's warranted," Stelling said.

The city of Great Falls has a "wild animal" ordinance which requires the owners of certain animals, including wolf-dog hybrids to get a permit from the city. The ordinance also requires pet owners to have liability insurance and pay a fee, $55 for new pet owners and $35 for annual renewals. Each year the Humane Society inspects the kennels and cages.

The city has no record of registered wolf-dog hybrids in city limits.

Strandell said the county does not know how many people are raising wolf-dog hybrids or how many of the dogs are in the county. With a permit system, the county would know where the dogs are, he said.

Strandell is concerned the dogs could be loose in rural areas where children are playing.

Sheriff's Capt. Dan Smrdel echoed Strandell's concerns about residential neighborhoods.

"There has to be something in place to make these people accountable, if they are going to have this kind of pet," he said. "And the only way to do it is with an ordinance."

Linda Hughes, director of the Humane Society of Cascade County, said she would like to see the county go even further and ban wolf-dog hybrids.

"I would think it would be safer in the long run," she said. "No wild animal is a suitable pet."

The Humane Society can't accept wolf-dog hybrids because of liability concerns.

Deputy County Attorney Greg Bonilla said the county will take a close look at an ordinance, but the commissioners have not yet ironed out the content.

"There is still a lot of work to do," he said. "But we do have the statutory authority to do it."


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