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RI animal rescue is looking for a new home for "Zeus," who might be partially wolf

Zeus weighs 100 pounds, is strikingly tall and "can easily scale a 10-foot fence," says Kara Montalbano, director of marketing and community relations at the Potter League for Animals, where Zeus is living temporarily.

If a dog looks like a wolf, walks like a wolf and sometimes acts like a wolf, is he a wolf?

Maybe, but to be sure, the Potter League for Animals has ordered a DNA test for Zeus, one of its newest guests.

"The phones were nonstop," said Kara Montalbano, director of marketing and community relations for the Potter League. "We got calls from all over the country."

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A lot of people want Zeus, but the Potter League isn't going to allow just anyone to adopt him. First, it's illegal to keep a wolf hybrid in Rhode Island, so Zeus will have to move to a state where it's allowed. Second, as you might have figured, Zeus is no Paris Hilton handbag dog. He weighs 100 pounds, stands just below Montalbano's shoulders and "can easily scale a 10-foot fence," she says.

"Zeus is about as fine a canine specimen as you could possibly imagine," the Potter League wrote on Facebook. "He is wonderfully magical to watch as he walks. His movements are mesmerizing, and he looks like he just walked out of a scene from 'Twilight' (yes, we just went there). He is incredibly affectionate and silly, and loves to be pet, snuggled and loved on."

The Potter League has received about 25 formal applications from people who want to adopt Zeus and is going through them to find the best fit. They want someone who has experience with big, active dogs, perhaps other hybrids.

"He has lived with other dogs, cats, and kids, and most of his life has been that of an indoor dog, which makes sanctuary placement unsuitable," the Potter League said.

The Potter League wants to move quickly on the adoption, because Zeus has a medical condition that makes him prone to seizures. He's already had one seizure while in their care, and they believe a home would be healthier for him. "He's very stressed out in a kennel," Montalbano said.

It's illegal to keep a wolf hybrid as a pet in Rhode Island so the Potter League is trying to find Zeus a good home in a state where it's allowed. The two closest are Vermont and New Jersey, according to the Potter League.

Why is it illegal to have a wolf hybrid in Rhode Island?

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Rabies vaccination is the main reason people in Rhode Island can't keep wolf hybrids as pets, according to Scott Marshall, state veterinarian.

"State law requires all dogs, cats and ferrets to be vaccinated against rabies," Marshall said. "However, the licensing authority for rabies vaccine is the USDA/Center for Veterinary Biologics, and that agency has not licensed a rabies vaccine for use in hybrids.  Therefore, there is no way to legally recognize a wolf hybrid as being rabies vaccinated."

"The vaccine may be administered to one of these animals, but since the vaccine was tested in dogs and not dog-wolf hybrids, it is not labeled for use in hybrids and therefore those animals are not considered vaccinated even if the vaccine was administered," Marshall said.

"I would also be concerned about the hybrid behaving more wolf-like and being a danger and potential liability to own," Marshall said. "Wolves are predators so there would be concerns about that behavior being more prevalent in a hybrid than a dog."

They may view other animals, such as livestock, dogs, cats "and possibly even people" as prey, Marshall said.

"From my perspective, people should not be crossing dogs and wolves to produce hybrids in the first place," Marshall said.

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How popular are wolf hybrids?

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In Montalbano's experience, the Potter League has never before had a wolf hybrid, but there's an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 wolf-dog hybrids living in captivity in the United States, according to Mission: Wolf, a Colorado sanctuary for unwanted captive-born wolves and horses. It calls wolf-dog ownership a growing trend that began in the 1950s.

"The wolf-dog business is a lucrative one, where pups can fetch hundreds if not thousands of dollars, depending on the advertised wolf percentage," Mission: Wolf says on its website. "New pups are sold to people looking for a guard dog, a family pet, a movie star or a fur source."

"What most breeders will not tell the new owners is that these little pups are not what they seem. A wolf-dog pup looks and acts much like a domestic dog when young, but as it grows and matures, it becomes a part-wild, part-domestic, very confused animal," Mission: Wolf says. "Nine out of 10 pups are killed through neglect, abuse, euthanasia, escape and misunderstanding. The one pup out of 10 that does survive usually ends up homeless."

Zeus is four years old. His former owner and breeder said he is one-third German shepherd and one-third husky, in addition to his wolf blood. It will likely take several weeks before the Potter League gets Zeus's DNA test results and knows for sure.

It could turn out that Zeus is not part wolf

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"There are many breeds of dogs that look like wolves but that are not wolf-dog hybrids," Marshall said. "Some people make false claims about their animal being a hybrid when they actually have no idea or basis for making that claim."

Zeus can be "very affectionate on his terms," Montalbano said. He can also be more aloof than a typical dog and, she says, "He can be an escape artist." Having spent time with Zeus, she said, "My gut says he has a very small percentage of wolf."


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