Aurora prepares to lift ban on wolf hybrids

DAWN | Gray wolves are returning to roam the Rockies, and wolf hybrids may soon call Aurora home, as the city prepares to lift a ban on mixed-breed dogs.

A set of changes to the city’s animal code emerged from an Aurora City Council study session on Feb. 7 with little fanfare and no discussion – one of the proposed changes would be to remove wolf hybrids from a list of prohibited animals that includes foxes, coyotes and wolves.

Wolf hybrids, also known as wolfdogs, are the offspring of wolves and domestic dogs. Although breeding between the two species is rare in the wild — as wolves tend to defend their territory against other canids — wolf hybrids are bred in captivity as pets, guard animals, and working dogs.

City spokesman Michael Brannen said the decision to get rid of the ban followed last year’s decision to lift the local ban on pit bulls, which did not affect wolf hybrids, but meant that Aurora Animal Services no longer tested dogs for DNA.

“Rather than going through the tedious process of acquiring such a test and relying solely on a dog’s breed to assess its risk to public safety, Animal Services believes that observing the behavior and actions of the dog is a better measure,” Brannen wrote in an email.

Hybrid wolves may be more likely than domestic dogs to act instinctively, such as showing aggression towards humans. This behavior has fueled controversy over whether wolf hybrids are tame enough to be kept as pets.

Brannen said Aurora residents have been prohibited from owning wolves since 1979, when the city’s first animal ordinance was implemented.

The city’s Department of Animal Services alleges that Capone, pictured here, is a wolf-hybrid. The owners of the dog claim that the dog is a herding mix. Photo courtesy of Tracy Abbato.

This ban has been used at least once to prosecute the owners of a suspected hybrid wolf. Capone, a German Shepherd and Labrador mix, was impounded for nearly a month in 2017 after sneaking into a neighbor’s yard. The case caught statewide attention when city workers questioned the dog’s Lupine lineage, only to have their concerns debunked by a DNA test.

Brannen said only one DNA test had been performed on a suspected wolf-hybrid since 2015. He added that animal protection officers and the city’s staff veterinarian used “visual identifications of wolf characteristics.” to assess whether a dog is a possible hybrid, paying special attention to the animal’s teeth, legs, muzzle and behavior towards strangers.

Language specifically prohibiting the possession of wolf hybrids was added to city code in November 2020 along with the new Dangerous Dogs Ordinance, which otherwise focused on regulating the behavior of dogs regardless of their size. race. The language of the wolf hybrid ban was refined when the pit bull ban was lifted in 2021.

The city council’s decision to scrap the pit bull ban has been controversial, in part because voters chose to keep the ban in place in 2014, about nine years after the council enacted it.

Councilwoman Françoise Bergan speculated that the lack of furor so far over allowing wolfdogs in the city could be linked to the fact that the city’s electorate has never weighed in.

“It never went to voters,” she said. “We have the power to make change. I think it was getting confusing before because the Council let voters go. … A few of us were basically saying it should be up to the voters.

“I haven’t heard anything about it anyway,” said council member Alison Coombs, who voted last year to get rid of the pit bull ban. She said she still supports eliminating breed bans, including banning wolf hybrids.

“If the problem is dangerous behavior, that’s what needs to be fixed…and that’s been fixed in what we’ve passed,” Coombs said.

Aurora’s wolf-hybrid ban appears to be unique to the metro area. While Denver’s municipal code prohibits owning “wild or dangerous animals,” there is no breed ban specifically targeting wolf hybrids. Representatives from Adams and Arapahoe counties said wolf hybrids are also not banned in their jurisdictions.

The council is due to vote for the first time on scrapping the ban on February 14. Other parts of the ballot package would clarify the distinction between aggressive and potentially dangerous dogs and change policies when a dog is seized in court so that the dog’s owner would have no say in what happens. with him.

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