When one man adopted a little wolf dog puppy, it seemed like a perfect pairing. But when Ben Hull first picked his new dog up, he may have forgotten that his canine companion wouldn’t be small forever. And as the puppy Hull named Shade grew, he soon realized that he’d made a pretty bad decision.
Like many prospective dog owners, Hull had a preferred breed. In particular, it was huskies that had captured his heart – so, naturally, he envisioned that a husky would be his faithful friend in the future. However, when an advert caught his eye one day, all of that changed.
Hull had been reading a local newspaper when he saw that a breeder was selling wolf dog puppies. And as the advert piqued his interest, he decided to go and visit the pups. Little did Hull know, though, that he would soon fall in love at first sight.
As Hull knocked at the breeder’s door, in fact, one tiny black wolf dog puppy escaped from his kennel. What’s more, that little dog came bounding through the house before jumping straight into Hull’s arms. And with that, Hull had quickly found himself with a new best friend. After all, how could you refuse a puppy that’s chosen you to be their human guardian?
Hull certainly couldn’t, so he took the puppy – whom he named Shade – home there and then. However, there was still one slight problem: the man didn’t know the first thing about raising wolf dogs. As a result, he threw himself into learning all he could about the hybrid breed.
But despite Hull’s best efforts, it wasn’t long before Shade developed a lot of bad habits. “At first, he would jump on people in a friendly way, just wanting to smell or lick their faces like any big, hyperactive puppy would do,” Hull explained in a February 2017 interview with The Dodo.
However, Hull added that “[as Shade] got older… this turned into being aggressive.” That wasn’t helped by the fact that the wolf dog saw only Hull, his mom and dad and their two other dogs as his “pack.” And if anyone outside of that group approached, Shade would protect his pack by exhibiting hostile behavior and attempting to make the intruders run away. This was even the case with other people he was familiar with.
Naturally, Hull tried to help his troubled charge. While he was attempting to do so, moreover, he made some inquiries into the breeder from whom he’d originally bought Shade. And during his investigations, Hull came to believe that Shade could very well have been inbred; if this was the case, it may explain some of the dog’s behavioral issues.
After two years with his beloved wolf dog, though, Hull came to a heartbreaking realization: he simply didn’t have the expertise to deal with Shade’s needs. So, he reached out to a couple in South California who’d owned many wolf dogs in the past.
And while the couple agreed to take Shade on, they too struggled to keep on top of his bad behavior during the year or so that he was in their care. As a result, they called Wolf Connection – a non-profit sanctuary based in California that specializes in the rescue of wolf dogs. The organization would go on to take Shade under its wing.
Fortunately, Shade soon made himself at home at the sanctuary. And although those working at Wolf Connection initially left him alone in his kennel for a while in order to work out his needs, the wolf dog wasn’t without a pack mate for too long. That’s because staff eventually teamed him up with an alpha female known as Maya.
Thanks to his new companion, Shade finally learned how to be a wolf dog. “Maya speaks ‘wolf’ very clearly and has the confidence and communication to deal with other wolf dogs who don’t have those skills yet,” Cate Salansky from Wolf Connection explained to The Dodo. “She’s his comfort blanket and is the one he goes to for affirmation when he starts becoming triggered.”
Still, after two years or so of the wolf dog pair being in close quarters, employees at the sanctuary thought that Shade would appreciate the chance to have a bit more space of his own. As a result, he now lives a more solitary life, although he and Maya still get together from time to time.
And Shade more than keeps busy, even if he is now often on his own. “He goes out on lengthy hikes almost daily to explore the 165 acres of Wolf Connection,” Salansky revealed to The Dodo. “Shade is so hyper-alert of every smell, sound and movement around him. And, that awakens you to do the same, including your attention to Shade’s body language. He’s a very quiet, purposeful hiker and is always in the ‘now.’”
Shade is fortunate to have ended up at a place like Wolf Connection, however, as his is not the fate that awaits some of his hybrid breed. Many of the canines are eventually given up to shelters up and down the country because, like Hull, owners often struggle to control their wolf dogs once they reach adulthood.
And once there, wolf dogs prove extremely hard to rehome, especially as most people are unwilling to dedicate time to the specialist breed. Moreover, it’s also forbidden to own them in some states. Tragically, that often means one thing: the unwanted wolf dogs that end up at shelters are frequently put to sleep.
More happily, though, Shade still encounters a friendly and familiar face on occasion. That’s because Hull continues to hold some fondness for the dog whose overly boisterous behavior he tried – but failed – to tame. As a consequence, even though he now works as a photographer in the Netherlands, Hull makes sure he tries to squeeze in a visit to Wolf Connection whenever he’s back in the U.S.
The first time Hull reunited with Shade, however, he was anxious as to the meeting would unfold. In particular, he worried about whether the wolf dog would even recognize him as his previous owner. But as it turns out, Hull needn’t have feared a thing; Shade remembered him at once and was even comfortable enough around him to curl up at his feet for a nap.
And the meeting left a lasting impression on Hull. “I am so grateful to the couple that they found the people at Wolf Connection. [They] found Shade his new home with people that love and care about him,” Hull later said to The Dodo. “Seeing his new life whenever I visit Wolf Connection is such a happy and emotional moment for me.”
Furthermore, it was a treat for the staff at Wolf Connection to see Shade and Hull’s special bond. “Ben and Shade continue to have a very loving relationship,” a spokesperson wrote on their Facebook page. “Shade was so lucky to have chosen Ben, who would do what is best for him. Losing one’s family is hard, but Shade is loving life and still loving Ben when he visits.”