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Call of the wild
Four hybrid canines on the loose in Otis area
 


By Gail Palmer
Eagle Correspondent
Berkshire Eagle   (Pittsfield, MA)
September 2003


OTIS -- Six animals, alternately referred to as wolves, dogs or hybrids,
have been a popular topic among town residents, and the subject of concern among some, since a resident's call to 911 on Aug. 3 alerted authorities to their escape.


The animals had been maintained by Christine "Spirit" and David "Bear Paws" Parrett at 44 Rocky Top Road, a private dirt road off Route 23 near the
center of Otis, until last February when health problems reportedly forced
the couple to leave their home -- and the animals -- behind.

Friends of Christine Parrett fed the canines daily and cleaned their small
pen throughout the winter, while Melissa Hamm, a state environmental police
officer, attempted to locate a home for them.

Complaints about odor

By early summer, however, neighbors -- some of whom said they often heard the animals at night, exchanging calls with nearby coyotes -- began to
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 provide
"a solution to this problem by Aug. 18."

But, before that deadline arrived, the animals suddenly appeared in
neighbors' yards, prompting the 911 call placed from the Rocky Top Drive
home of James and Susan Ebits. But the animals were nowhere in sight when authorities arrived.

Another neighbor, Tax Collector D. Ann Pyenson, also encountered the animals 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. Four
others remain at large at last report.

Permits issued in 1994

Robert Arini, a Boston-based state fish and wildlife management specialist
in charge of special permits in the state Division of Fisheries and
Wildlife, said state records show that a permit for two wolf hybrids was
issued to David Parrett in 1994. The animals, a male and a female, were 1
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 keeping wolves
as domestic pets was outlawed in 1994, and breeding the animals also is
against the law.

Thomas Keefe, western wildlife district supervisor in the state Division of
Fisheries and Wildlife, said the law requires that those animals that are
grandfathered must be confined, adding, "The rabies vaccine is not approved for protection of wolves."

The division's literature, however, states that "dog or cat rabies vaccines
probably provide good protection for a hybrid."

Otis town records show six crossbreed dogs registered to David Parrett, who provided current rabies vaccination certificates for the animals, named
Alaska, Greylock, Kengii, Kita, Skylo and Wozoli.

Hamm, the environmental officer who has worked with the Parretts since they became unable to care for their animals, said the couple registered their
first two animals with the state because, when they obtained them, they were
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 and
Wildlife, said of the identification question, "Wolves and large breeds of
dogs are so genetically close, there is no real hard science to this."

The division, he added, uses a "suite of characters" that considers both
physical and behavioral characteristics. He has determined that the four
younger canines, believed to be offspring of the original two, are not wolf
hybrids.

The coats of two of the offspring have a considerable amount of white, he
said, common among "breeds that are sled dogs -- wolfie-looking breeds of
dogs." If she is having white offspring, he said of the original female, she
could be husky or part husky.

He acknowledged that the division accepted the 1994 registration of the
original male and female, which it was required to do when told they were
wolf hybrids. But, he added, "My guess is that the parents weren't wolves."

Some residents concerned

Wolf, dog or dog/wolf, the presence of the animals has created some concern among area residents.

"We have received a number of calls from Otis and Becket residents," Keefe
said, many of whom believe they have seen one or more of the animals.

A caller on Tuesday morning reported seeing an animal resembling "a large
coyote," describing its behavior as nonthreatening and adding that it
appeared to be limping.

A Norton Road resident blamed the killing of a goose on the animals, and
other callers have expressed concern that the animals would mate with their
domestic dogs.

Animals are timid

" 'Rumor Central' is working overtime," Hamm acknowledged, adding that the animals have been neutered and are timid. "Don't picture dead chickens
hanging out of their mouths."

They were raised on dry dog food, she said, adding that their diet in the
wild probably has consisted of berries and small rodents, during this season
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 to hunt
"are going to get hungry" when cold weather arrives.

"I am not optimistic that we will be able to have them captured easily," he
added. "Catching stray dogs is very, very difficult. And these guys are
going to be a real challenge."

Trapping techniques used on wildlife often don't work because "dogs are
elusive and cunning" in a way that bears and other wild animals are not.
"Darting is an option," he said, introducing tranquilizers or radio
transmitters into the animals.

However, he added, a dog is likely to stop and remove the dart before it
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 society,
we have decided that's not appropriate."

Search continues

So the search continues. The division has called upon Alan Borgal, a law
enforcement officer with the Animal Rescue League of Boston and, according to French, "one of the foremost specialists in animal rescue."

"I haven't given up," Hamm said. "It has been hard, and it has been
frustrating. But I'll just stay the course. I'd like to think they'll come
back when winter comes and food isn't as plentiful."

She acknowledged, however, the likelihood that the four animals who have
spent their lives in a small pen now are "feeling grass under their feet"
and savoring their freedom.

Reflecting on that image, she acknowledged, "There's a part of me that looks
at the hopelessness of the situation."

Hamm described the chain of events, beginning with the Parretts' illness and
ending with the dogs' escape, as "an incredibly long series of unfortunate
events."

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 little
kennel they are in." And she had imposed upon herself a six-month deadline, knowing the animals could face euthanasia if her efforts were unsuccessful.

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.

Funds collected

Residents and friends had joined in the effort, and some placed collection
boxes throughout town, seeking donations to find a home for the dogs. Hamm began to envision a happy ending to the drama when Craig Willis, owner of White Wolf Trucking & Excavating in the town of Washington, asked to adopt all six canines and began to construct an enclosure for them.

The pen was nearing completion, and he was awaiting the arrival of fencing
that was due within a week when he learned of the animals' escape from their old, deteriorating pen.

Willis now is caring for the two animals that returned and were captured
and, as for the others, his greatest fear is that, "if they stay out during
hunting season, they will get shot."

His love for animals, he said, has prompted him to "sponsor" four wolves as
part of the wolf restoration program at Yellowstone National Park, and his
construction company trucks carry the names of the sponsored Yellowstone
wolves.

He has spent about $5,800 constructing "a nice big pen," which measures
about 50 by 60 feet, at his home on Upper Valley Road in Washington. The
facility, which he described as "like a little zoo," includes "large rocks
for them to climb on" and an enclosed shed for shelter.

The two animals now in his care are "still pretty skittish," he said, "but
they are the most gentle dogs I've had. My parents come down and feed them."

The proceeds from the collection boxes that were placed in retail businesses
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 opened them yet."

http://www.berkshireeagle.com/Stories/0,1413,101~7514~1618425,00.html
 


 

 

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