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So Much More Than A Dog An Animal Protective Foundation Success Story

We named her Gaia.

A highly intelligent, social and distinctly original young female, she was brought to the Animal Protective Foundation’s shelter one day back in August.

For more than three months, our team not only provided daily care, enrichment activities and behavior training to Gaia, we observed and learned from her — each encounter leaving us with greater feelings of awe and respect.

In early December, we said a bittersweet good-bye, as Gaia was transferred to her new home …

. . . at a wolf sanctuary and educational facility.

It was clear from the start, says APF Dog Program Coordinator Jessica Bukovinsky, that the approximately six-month-old, largely domesticated “puppy” who was brought to us as a stray was “so much more than a dog.”

Her natural intelligence and elevated sense of awareness, coupled with her striking physical features, quickly led our team to believe that our new friend might be a hybrid.

To ensure that we were giving her the proper care, and finding her an appropriate home, we sent a DNA sample to the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California, Davis. The results confirmed our suspicions. Gaia was part dog, part wolf.

Since New York State classifies all wolf/dog hybrids as “dangerous wildlife” that cannot be lawfully owned without a permit, our most appropriate option was to seek a sanctuary where Gaia could live in a suitable natural environment.

“She’s a great girl, and we love her to bits. But, there’s more to her and we need to respect that,” says Jessica, who has extensive experience working with wild animals at zoos, aquariums and wildlife rescue facilities. “It would be unfair to put our domesticated dog expectations on her.”

Our team set out in search of a place that would continue to provide the level of human interaction she is accustomed to, while allowing her to live in a more natural setting and with animals of similar genetics.

In the meantime, to keep Gaia intellectually stimulated, our team provided regular training, enrichment activities and exercise throughout her stay.

In addition to basic commands like, “sit,” “down” and “crawl,” Gaia is now able to eat gently from a human hand. Our team knew these skills would be useful to her in a sanctuary environment where she would continue to interact with her caretakers.

“We’re fortunate that donations from our supporters enable APF to provide diverse training opportunities for pets, as well as continuing education opportunities for our staff. It keeps us on the leading edge,” says Deb Balliet, Executive Director. “In working with Gaia, staff acquired important skills that they now use in canine behavior training.”

In early November, Jessica and Gaia paid an initial visit to a sanctuary with a male wolf in need of companionship (both animals have been spayed and neutered, respectively).

Happily, the two seemed to hit it off right away. Once the match was made, sanctuary staff worked quickly to establish a new and larger enclosure for the new couple.

A few short weeks later, Jessica and Gaia returned to the sanctuary.

Gaia was home.

“Gaia will have a similar level of interaction with people at the sanctuary as she did at APF,” Jessica says. “But she’ll be in a more natural environment, have more space to run, and have a companion of her own kind to play with. It was hard to say good-bye, but we wanted her in an environment where she would thrive.”

“Gaia wasn’t our typical companion animal, but her story goes to the heart of what APF is all about,” says Deb. “Ensuring that all animals are loved, respected and receive exceptional care.”

The Animal Protective Foundation is a not-for-profit humane society providing services to Schenectady County and the greater Capital Region. Donations to support APF’s shelter, veterinary care, spay/neuter services and other programs are much appreciated.