Wolf Song of Alaska News
Howl - Prosecutors Accuse the Cat Lady’s Defense Attorney of Keeping an Illegal Wolf-Hybrid

Scott Christiansen / Anchorage Press / October 28, 2010

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The prosecutor is tight-lipped about the case, but the State of Alaska is charging an Anchorage attorney with illegal possession of a hybrid wolf, going so far as to test the dog’s saliva for DNA in order to prove its wolf lineage in court. The state seized the animal in June after Anchorage Police say it got loose and mauled two smaller dogs in a neighborhood near 68th Avenue and Lake Otis. A beagle was injured, but not seriously. A Pomeranian was killed outright—tethered to a cable lead in a front yard, according to charging documents filed in the court case.

The state is charging 70-year-old Ronald Thomas West under a law that was revised a decade ago that makes it illegal to possess any wolf-hybrid. The rule includes a clause allowing hybrids owned before January 23, 2002 to be exempt. (West is the attorney who appeared in the Press several times in August when he defended a woman accused of keeping about 80 cats in inhumane conditions in two Anchorage-area houses. He did not return a phone message left for this story.)

Alaska law outlaws the wolf-hybrids and requires the exempt, so-called “grandfathered” hybrids to be spayed or neutered, with the intent of ensuring all the animals kept in the state would eventually die without being bred. The law allows legal ownership only if a dog is “at least four generations removed from a wild ancestor” and properly registered with local authorities in the owner’s community. The law also applies to wild cats or any hybrid cat not at least four generations removed from wild ancestry. West’s attorney, Kevin Fitzgerald, says the seized animal is alive and well but not in his client’s possession. The hybrid—Gringo is his name—is boarded at a local veterinary clinic, Fitzgerald says.

“Ron goes in and sees that animal almost on a daily basis, so he has some sort of visitation, if you will,” Fitzgerald says. “It’s not an ideal environment, by any means, but it is immeasurably better than Animal Control, which is where Gringo was prior.”

Fitzgerald says managers at Anchorage Animal Care & Control Facility, the city-owned shelter, told him the facility was not a good place to keep Gringo for a long-term stay. Fitzgerald says he is working on a defense. He believes West had permission from the state and the city to keep Gringo at his home, where West is licensed to operate a kennel. He says his client complied with veterinary requirements and licensing requirements for his animals. (Fitzgerald isn’t sure how many dogs his client owns.)

Fitzgerald says he is currently scrutinizing the state law to see if it really applies to West or to Gringo, adding later there may be “significant legal issues” in the case.

Fitzgerald was assertive on one point. His client never tried to hide animals from the state or city. “These animals weren’t off the radar,” Fitxgerald says.

Assistant District Attorney Gustaf Olson is prosecuting the case, and wrote in an email that he would not comment on facts of the case.

The prosecution may hinge on whether a judge accepts a DNA test the state acquired from a veterinary lab in California as proof that Gringo is so-closely related to a wolf that West needed a special state permit. The charging document cites the opinion of Elizabeth Wictum, director of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at University of California Davis. “It was her opinion that Gringo is a wolf-hybrid due to his domestic dog maternal DNA sequence and his wolf paternal DNA profile,” the document says. Two Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists also inspected Gringo, finding it was “a high-content wolf hybrid or wolf” based on physique and behavior.

One Eastside neighborhood will be watching closely as the case goes to trial. Bobbi Holsman lives near West and says her neighborhood has been concerned about his penchant for keeping wolves for years. She worries a child may be harmed. She says the wolf hybrids often get away from West. The Holsman’s beagle, Spencer, was mauled the day Gringo killed the Pomeranian. Spencer needed no emergency care, Holsman says, because her husband chased Gringo away swinging a two-by-four board and Gringo dropped the beagle unharmed before running off.

The Holsman’s previous beagle, Tanner, wasn’t so fortunate. “He died on his way to pet emergency,” Holsman says. She was not certain of the year Tanner died, but thought it was 2002 or 2003. She says a hybrid, not Gringo but another dog, escaped from a second-story window and killed that beagle.

“Before, I did not follow through the way I promised I would, because I did not realize the magnitude of the problem,” Holsman says, adding West isn’t always able to control his dogs and seems to be too old to physically handle the large animals. “Mr. West is not a young man,” she says. When the animals escape, Holsman says, they are usually seen running with leashes attached to their collars. “And when there is a small creature out, their instinct is to chase it and kill it,” she says.

scott@anchoragepress.com 




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