Call of the wild
Four hybrid canines on the loose in Otis area
By Gail Palmer
Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, MA)
OTIS -- Six animals, alternately referred to as wolves, dogs or
have been a popular topic among town residents, and the subject of
among some, since a resident's call to 911 on Aug. 3 alerted
The animals had been maintained by Christine "Spirit" and David
Parrett at 44 Rocky Top Road, a private dirt road off Route 23
center of Otis, until last February when health problems
the couple to leave their home -- and the animals -- behind.
Friends of Christine Parrett fed the canines daily and cleaned
pen throughout the winter, while Melissa Hamm, a state
officer, attempted to locate a home for them.
Complaints about odor
By early summer, however, neighbors -- some of whom said they
the animals at night, exchanging calls with nearby coyotes --
complain about the odor emanating from the area of the enclosure.
The town's Selectmen investigated, confirmed that a problem
existed and, in
a letter to Christine Parrett dated July 21, asked that the owners
"a solution to this problem by Aug. 18."
But, before that deadline arrived, the animals suddenly appeared
neighbors' yards, prompting the 911 call placed from the Rocky Top
home of James and Susan Ebits. But the animals were nowhere in
Another neighbor, Tax Collector D. Ann Pyenson, also encountered
in her yard following their escape.
"People shouldn't be afraid of them," she said. "They are very
timid. When I
walked out the door, they ran."
Two of the animals later returned to their pen and were captured.
others remain at large at last report.
Permits issued in 1994
Robert Arini, a Boston-based state fish and wildlife management
in charge of special permits in the state Division of Fisheries
Wildlife, said state records show that a permit for two wolf
issued to David Parrett in 1994. The animals, a male and a female,
1/2 and 2 1/2 years old at the time, he noted, and now probably
are "at the
end of their life span."
The permit for the animals is "grandfathered," Arini said, as
as domestic pets was outlawed in 1994, and breeding the animals
against the law.
Thomas Keefe, western wildlife district supervisor in the state
Fisheries and Wildlife, said the law requires that those animals
grandfathered must be confined, adding, "The rabies vaccine is not
for protection of wolves."
The division's literature, however, states that "dog or cat rabies
probably provide good protection for a hybrid."
Otis town records show six crossbreed dogs registered to David
provided current rabies vaccination certificates for the animals,
Alaska, Greylock, Kengii, Kita, Skylo and Wozoli.
Hamm, the environmental officer who has worked with the Parretts
became unable to care for their animals, said the couple
first two animals with the state because, when they obtained them,
told that they were wolf hybrids, and "they took that on faith."
No hard science
Thomas French, an assistant director in the Division of Fisheries
Wildlife, said of the identification question, "Wolves and large
dogs are so genetically close, there is no real hard science to
The division, he added, uses a "suite of characters" that
physical and behavioral characteristics. He has determined that
younger canines, believed to be offspring of the original two, are
The coats of two of the offspring have a considerable amount of
said, common among "breeds that are sled dogs -- wolfie-looking
dogs." If she is having white offspring, he said of the original
could be husky or part husky.
He acknowledged that the division accepted the 1994 registration
original male and female, which it was required to do when told
wolf hybrids. But, he added, "My guess is that the parents weren't
Some residents concerned
Wolf, dog or dog/wolf, the presence of the animals has created
among area residents.
"We have received a number of calls from Otis and Becket
said, many of whom believe they have seen one or more of the
A caller on Tuesday morning reported seeing an animal resembling
coyote," describing its behavior as nonthreatening and adding that
appeared to be limping.
A Norton Road resident blamed the killing of a goose on the
other callers have expressed concern that the animals would mate
Animals are timid
" 'Rumor Central' is working overtime," Hamm acknowledged, adding
animals have been neutered and are timid. "Don't picture dead
hanging out of their mouths."
They were raised on dry dog food, she said, adding that their diet
wild probably has consisted of berries and small rodents, during
when food is plentiful.
French agreed. "They can make a living off grasshoppers in the
field at this
time of year," he said. But animals that haven't been conditioned
"are going to get hungry" when cold weather arrives.
"I am not optimistic that we will be able to have them captured
added. "Catching stray dogs is very, very difficult. And these
going to be a real challenge."
Trapping techniques used on wildlife often don't work because
elusive and cunning" in a way that bears and other wild animals
"Darting is an option," he said, introducing tranquilizers or
transmitters into the animals.
However, he added, a dog is likely to stop and remove the dart
becomes effective. And, assuming the animals are staying together,
"If you g
et one, it just makes the others more wary."
But, French said, "You can't let stray dogs live in the wild. As a
we have decided that's not appropriate."
So the search continues. The division has called upon Alan Borgal,
enforcement officer with the Animal Rescue League of Boston and,
to French, "one of the foremost specialists in animal rescue."
"I haven't given up," Hamm said. "It has been hard, and it has
frustrating. But I'll just stay the course. I'd like to think
back when winter comes and food isn't as plentiful."
She acknowledged, however, the likelihood that the four animals
spent their lives in a small pen now are "feeling grass under
and savoring their freedom.
Reflecting on that image, she acknowledged, "There's a part of me
at the hopelessness of the situation."
Hamm described the chain of events, beginning with the Parretts'
ending with the dogs' escape, as "an incredibly
long series of unfortunate
She had searched "from here to California to Alaska" to find a
home for the
animals, believing that "they deserve more and better than this
kennel they are in." And she had imposed upon herself a six-month
knowing the animals could face euthanasia if her efforts were
The many hours she had devoted -- 95 percent of which she said
were her own
"off-hours" of personal time -- seemed to be rewarded in the weeks
before the animals escaped.
Residents and friends had joined in the effort, and some placed
boxes throughout town, seeking donations to find a home for the
began to envision a happy ending to the drama when Craig Willis,
White Wolf Trucking & Excavating in the town of Washington, asked
all six canines and began to construct an enclosure for them.
The pen was nearing completion, and he was awaiting the arrival of
that was due within a week when he learned of the animals' escape
old, deteriorating pen.
Willis now is caring for the two animals that returned and were
and, as for the others, his greatest fear is that, "if they stay
hunting season, they will get shot."
His love for animals, he said, has prompted him to "sponsor" four
part of the wolf restoration program at Yellowstone National Park,
construction company trucks carry the names of the sponsored
He has spent about $5,800 constructing "a nice big pen," which
about 50 by 60 feet, at his home on Upper Valley Road in
facility, which he described as "like a little zoo," includes
for them to climb on" and an enclosed shed for shelter.
The two animals now in his care are "still pretty skittish," he
they are the most gentle dogs I've had. My parents come down and
The proceeds from the collection boxes that were placed in retail
around town have been turned over to him, and he was told that the
collection netted $1,500 to $1,800.
"I have two envelopes home on my table," he said, "but I haven't