Howling Woods Farm: Where Wolfdogs Get a Second Chance

A brown, burly dog came jogging toward me. His wolf-like face had amber colored eyes that sparkled in the sun. His heavy coat waved and his thick legs moved with grace. When he reached me, he sniffed and slowly plopped to the ground, exposing his long, soft belly to rub. Big, and surprisingly cuddly, Samson, a 7-year-old, 110-pound, wolfdog mix of wolf and Alaskan Malamute lives at the Howling Woods Farm in Jackson, New Jersey.

Lavanya_and_SamsonHowling Woods Farm is a breed-specific animal rescue organization, situated on a 10-acre pinewoods forest in the Pinelands National Reserve. The all-volunteer organization rescues and re-homes domesticated wolfdogs. It is home to 20 rescued hybrids, including 15 awaiting adoption. Samson lives there along with his pack members–Bandit, Sierra, Takoda, Ahote, Kotori, and Chante–roaming the grounds in a 3-acre enclosure and greeting visitors.

A wolfdog, also known as a “wolf hybrid,” is a dog that has pure wolf in its recent family history—its parents or grandparents. All dog breeds descended from wolves, but most family dogs have distant wolf ancestry—possibly even hundreds of generations back.

“The biggest misconception is that they are aggressive. Everything in our lives from fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood to commercials on TV to movies, wolves are pictured as dangerous and mean, but they are actually wimps. They run from people as far as possible. In no way, are they aggressive. In fact, they are less aggressive than other dogs,” said Michael Hodanish, founder of Howling Woods Farm.

Wolfdogs face two main problems today. First, ownership is illegal or restricted in more than half of the states, yet backyard breeders continue to breed and sell them to those seeking status symbol dogs. Second, some of those who get these canines as puppies don’t possess the proper knowledge to raise these animals. Wolfdogs are quite large and require a sizeable area of land and plenty of exercise. They also need canine companions and a high-protein diet. With socialization training, attention and good care, they can make wonderful companions. Owners with unrealistic expectations and/or who are unable to care for their wolfdogs end up abandoning them.

Samson and his littermate, Noah, came to Howling Woods after their former owner surrendered them in November 2007. Noah was adopted shortly afterward by a local family, and Samson stayed at the farm, enjoying a life of peace with his friends. If he had ended up in a shelter, his fate would have been very different. Wolfdogs in shelters face inevitable euthanization. Even if a hybrid has just one percent wolf, he is sure to be put down, which is why founder and president of the Howling Woods Farm, Michael Hodanish, has dedicated his life to saving these creatures.

In addition to rescuing and adopting wolfdogs, Howling Woods also participates in educational programs. On weekends, Samson and his canine companions educate visitors about their kind. They give kisses and cuddle with guests. They stand patiently atop a wooden stand to pose for pictures and prove that wolfdogs are gentle and friendly.

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Published by Lavanya

Lavanya Sunkara is a writer, animal lover, and globetrotter based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Travel + Leisure, Architectural Digest, Fodor’s, Forbes, USA Today and many more in a career spanning ten years. She covers travel, eco-lifestyle, culture, pets, and wildlife conservation.

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