Goldwater finds home for 3 wolf dogs |

Goldwater finds home for 3 wolf dogs

by Linda Hiller

Sometimes a story that seems headed for a tragic ending takes a 90-degree turn and fools everyone.

Last October, Douglas County Animal Control was called to a backyard on Langley Drive in the Gardnerville Ranchos where four “wolf-like dogs” were reportedly attacking a neighbor’s dog. A 78-year-old woman was injured while trying to save the dog.

After the dust from the altercation settled, everyone was shaken – the victims, who dealt with their wounds; the attackers, who would be quarantined; the owners of the attackers, who faced possible legal action; and officer Nancee Goldwater, a 21-year veteran of Douglas County Animal Control, who responded to the call.

“I hope and pray I don’t have to be put through this again,” she said. “It turned out to be an emotional roller coaster from start to finish and I doubt the county would be so tolerant if it happened again.”

The four canine aggressors were quarantined, as is the law in Douglas County whenever a dog bite case comes to the attention of animal control.

“Any time there’s a dog bite, we quarantine the animal for 10 days,” said Goldwater.

The dog that had been bitten, a medium-large mixed breed named Duke, received bites to his neck and hindquarters, according to the dog’s owner. The 78-year-old owner received two injuries – one on her ankle and one on her hand.

At the time, the owner of the wolf dogs was in the hospital recovering from surgery and her two teen-age daughters were caring for the family’s dogs. Previously, the owner had been effectively caring for the animals. Her absence from the home may have stirred the animals up, Goldwater said.

Douglas County code only allows three dogs per residence, so the presence of four animals was already a problem, let alone the possibility that they were wolves or wolf hybrids.

“They sure looked wolfy,” Goldwater said. “They looked like wolves, they smelled like wolves, they acted like wolves.”

After transporting the canine quartet to animal control headquarters on Pinenut Road south of Gardnerville, Goldwater, 48, began to wonder about the bloodline of the dogs and worked with the owner to attempt to ascertain what their actual heredity could be.

Three of the dogs – a mated pair and their male offspring – displayed the light eyes, unique coat and markings and much of the behavior of high percentage wolf dogs. During their quarantine at the animal shelter on Pinenut Road, Goldwater found them compelling and felt an empathy for their plight.

As wolf dogs, they were already falling into the statistical pattern for their group – not living a long life, in fact, not living past the age of 3.

“These animals usually end up dying before they turn 3,” Goldwater said. “People start out with a puppy, thinking it’s cool to have a wolf or wolf hybrid, and then as the animal matures and turns out completely different from domestic dogs, the owners find they can’t handle the wolf dog and they end up in animal shelters and are virtually unadoptable. We wind up putting them down.”

Or, they are released into the wild to survive on their own, she added. These animals often end up aggressors and meet a violent end, anyway.

After spending some time under quarantine, the three dogs – Shadow, Rhapsody and their pup, Ashlar, were moved to China Spring Youth Camp south of Gardnerville in November.

Camp Director Steve Thaler said the thinking behind housing the wolves at the camp, which provides residential housing for juvenile offenders, was to use the animals as educational tools with the kids, providing a variety of opportunities.

“We got a call from animal control and wanted to help rescue these dogs,” he said. “We learned so much from them in the two months they were here, but in the end we had to remove them because of the liabilities of having a wild animal in a place like China Spring.”

Thaler said he was saddened by having to ultimately remove the animals from the site.

“These dogs were so smart – the nickname for wolves is actually ‘land dolphin,'” he said. “We learned so much about family from them, but they can be unpredictable. While we didn’t have any real problems from them, the bottom line is, wolves and wolf hybrids should be in the hands of experts who can handle them, not amateurs.”

Thaler said the wolves would howl while at China Spring, often attracting coyotes in the area to come join the chorus.

“It was a beautiful sound – so haunting,” he said. “Then the coyotes would come down the hills and sing their different call – it was great.”

The dogs were moved back to the shelter in January, after having been spayed and neutered. Goldwater then felt the pressure of finding a home for the animals who had befriended her.

“I’ve been in this business a long time and have seen many animals get put to sleep over the years,” she said. “I know and accept that we can’t save every one, but it is always hard. The day I get over it – having to put an animal down and not having it bother me -is the day I know I’ve been in this business too long.”

In an effort to find a place for the wolves, Goldwater said she contacted three dozen or so wolf rescue organizations across the United States. Thaler had also been conducting an Internet search.

“When I would tell them I was looking for a place for three wolves, they laughed and said, ‘Three? Maybe you can find a place for one of them, but not two and definitely not three.’ It was very disheartening. For the most part, every place was full, full, full,” Goldwater said.

There was one place in New Mexico, however, which indicated they might be able to take the trio if some financial aid could accompany them.

After thinking of ways she could raise money to get the wolves placed at the Candy Kitchen Wolf Rescue Ranch in Ramah, N.M., Goldwater started making phone calls to her family members.

In the end, $2,800 was raised by Goldwater; her 15-year-old son Mike, who is a Boy Scout and gave up his summer camp fee money to help; her mother, Carolyn, and father, Robert, who live in California; and her cousin, Nevada Assemblyman David Goldwater. The money was necessary to cover the additional costs of a larger enclosure being built for the animals, who would all be housed together.

“We were full with 61 animals,” said Candy Kitchen spokesperson, Alexi Outlaw, who came to Gardnerville Wednesday to transport the animals to New Mexico in a specially outfitted truck. “We probably get 100 calls a month from people wanting us to take their animals. We have the land, but not the funding. This was a special case.”

The Candy Kitchen Rescue Ranch is licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture to house wolves and funded by memberships, grants and donations. One third of their animals are purebred wolves and the balance are wolf dogs.

Their mission, according to George Stapleton, who also arrived Wednesday to help transport the wolves the 913 miles to Ramah, N.M., is to spread the word about wolves and wolf dogs through their Wolf Hybrid Awareness Through Education program.

“For the most part, wolf dogs don’t make good pets,” he said. “If you leave one unattended in your house, you can come home to a house full of toothpicks where your furniture used to be. There are exceptions, however. We take every animal on a case-by-case basis.”

Outlaw said the ranch uses ambassador wolves to help them educate the public.

“Our main ambassador, a pure wolf, sees approximately 30,000 people a year,” she said.

“I’m just so glad they found a home,” Thaler said. “We didn’t want to see them put down. I believe there’s a place in the universe for these amazing animals. There’s so much we don’t know about them.”

Thursday afternoon, the three “mostly wolves” left Nevada for their new home at 7,300 feet in New Mexico. Goldwater watched as they left.

“These dogs were different,” she said. “I have spent 30 years reading and studying about wild animals. The honor and privilege of being trusted and accepted by them was incredible.”

The Candy Kitchen Rescue Ranch is located at Star Route 2, Box 28 in Ramah, 87321. Phone (505) 775-3304 for more information or contact the ranch through its website,

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