I want to talk today about why Why Animals Do The Thing is done educating on behalf of the wolfdog community. This doesn’t mean I won’t be doing education about wolfdogs if the subject comes up, and I still encourage people to utilize @packwestwolfdogrescue as a source for wolfdog-related information, but WADTT will no longer be advocating for the private-ownership wolfdog community or collaborating with them. I know WADTT readers have really appreciated the previous education surrounding wolfdogs, and I apologize for not being able to continue on a topic that garners so much interest. This is a not a choice I want to make, but one that is necessary, as it has been made clear there is a fundamental incompatibility between their ethos regarding education and public outreach and mine. My ethos for WADTT has always been to create accurate, fact-based education drawn from comprehensive research and to foster a community that encourages dialogue and active collaborative efforts; it is time to disengage from supporting a community whose approach to education is spreads misinformation, attacks learners looking to engage with it, and actively supports harassment.
I’ve been in the various wolfdog Facebook groups since Pack West and I began discussing collaboration about a year ago, because they’re the best source of general education for people interesting in learning about phenotyping and wolfdog behavior. I learned a huge amount from those groups - both about wolfdogs and about the general mentality of the people who own them and participate in discussions about them online. As an educator, it was hard to watch and as someone who wanted to learn it was even harder to engage in.
The education done there of new members was consistently combative and hostile - with threads often devolving into lambasting people for not doing more research before asking questions - and occasionally threads would be created about the new members and how much their attempts to contribute to conversations before they knew everything were a problem. The only people who were considered credible when discussing wolfdogs were those who had owned wolf content animals for most of their lives - which meant that the input of anyone with relevant professional experience was ignored, if not often outright denied as being valid. This meant that the actual education accomplished in the groups was really vitriolic and frequently inaccurate: some posts would invite people to try to phenotype animals for education, but the same people involved would immediately turn around on other posts and condemn people for phenotyping animals they hadn’t met; the discussions about wolfdog behavior I observed were full of urban legends and misunderstandings of dog behavior, and awareness of recent research or even understanding of basic behavioral science concepts was frequently absent; training wolfdogs was not considered unimportant and frequently discouraged, and it seemed that using preventative training strategies to safely manage typical wolfdog behaviors wasn’t even on the radar. Education from the groups in general required being able to discriminate between mythology and fact and the ability to weather the constant unpleasantness that pervaded the threads. I chose to stay because I didn’t want to ask Pack West to be my only wolfdog primary source, and it was important to me to engage with the community I wanted to assist as an outside educator.
Last week, I published an article on what people should know about one of the most internet-famous misrepresented wolfdog, Loki. I’ve talked about Loki in posts a few times on this blog, and while I was at Pack West in January it became clear from our discussions that a larger article was necessary due to the frequency of questions received about him. When the article was published, while the response on tumblr was fairly positive, it brought on a deluge of harassment from the wolfdog community on Facebook that has not yet ended at the time of writing this post. It is the response to that article, specifically the pieces of it that they chose to attack, that finalized my choice to disengage from the private-ownership wolfdog community and helping with their outreach efforts.
I originally shared my article on the groups I was in as an offer of an outside resource that could be utilized, since I had asked the groups for assistance finding sources when I began writing it two months earlier. In the time I had been part of the groups, Loki had been a frequent topic of discussion and irritation, and I assumed that it might be useful for them to have a link to offer people rather than having to reiterate the facts so often.
In response, I was swamped with enough comments to shut down my ability to use Facebook for a couple days: how I don’t have enough experience to write anything education related to wolfdogs, how it’s completely unthinkable to publicize even a well-agreed-upon phenotype on an animal I have never personally met, how I should get sued for writing such a character attack, how I’m not actually an educator and just a person with a vendetta, etc. In addition, multiple threads discussing how appalling it was that the article existed at all and everything wrong with it showed up in the groups, because the fact that they were visible to me didn’t matter. I engaged with a few of them in a similar matter to how I respond to critique on the blog, explaining my reasons for writing and my sources. The comments and the private messages got nastier once I made it clear I wasn’t willing to capitulate to taking the article down. I was eventually kicked out of the main group without any communication or explanation from the mods as to what I’d done to violate the rules. It was exhausting and it hasn’t calmed down: I’m still getting passive-aggressively tagged in things on the groups I haven’t left to give my “expertise”. I recently received a letter from the board of the National Lupine Association, whose phenotyping pamphlet I linked to in the text of the post as further reading, officially requesting that I remove any reference to their association from my blog post. It’s awful and it’s exhausting, but the harassment isn’t why I’m no longer willing to support the private-ownership wolfdog community - it’s because of the type of feedback given regarding how they want education regarding wolfdogs to be done.
These are the major points made by the private-ownership wolfdog community (meaning they were repeated multiple times by different people) in response to my article that elucidated how incompatible the reasons I do education are with that community:
- My article was not approved by the general community and therefore should not exist. The private-ownership wolfdog community hates messaging they cannot control, especially if they do not agree with it. Some of the well-respected members had told me not to publish when I first brought it up in January, and they were furious that I had not obeyed.
- My article might have created blowback against the wolfdog community by Loki’s owner, which meant silencing me was more important than educating the general public. The private-ownership wolfdog community is terrified of aggravating Loki’s owner, as they believe he has threatened to use his fame to go anti-ownership, and are desperate to do anything to prevent that occurring. No matter how many animals are killed or left in horrible welfare situations because of the exact type of misrepresentation Loki and his owner perpetuate, it is more important to the majority of the Facebook community to not risk having someone popular speak out against them than to accurately educate the public to prevent other animals suffering in the future.
- My article contained a phenotype I did not have enough “experience” to be giving, no matter where I sourced it from, so the article could not be credible. Even though I had produced educational content for the wolfdog community regarding phenotyping before, did research into Loki’s parents and kennel of origin, and discussed his phenotype at length with an expert before writing, my lack of personal wolfdog ownership discredited the validity of any educational material produced.
- My article mentioned having been in contact with a government agency as part of my research, which is a cardinal sin. I contacted USDA regarding the existence of an exhibition permit for Loki - the private-ownership wolfdog community does not believe anyone should ever interface with any authorities regarding a wolfdog, no matter what the situation. (In some ways, this is a reasonable concern, as people have historically reported animals to the government and gotten them taken or killed. However, as Loki is internationally famous, he is not an animal that animal-related government agencies would not already be aware of. Moreover, Loki lives in a wolfdog legal state, USDA considers wolfdogs domestic animals by their own regulatory definitions, and USDA is primarily concerned with enforcing licensing and registration in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act. Inquiring as a journalist about the existence or lack thereof of a specific permit would, at worst, get Loki’s owner fined and forced to get the permit.)
- My article told the truth about rabies law as it applies to wolfdogs, and it was inappropriate for the general public to be aware of that information.
That is not the education I believe in doing. I do not believe in advocating for people who allow vague threats to keep them from speaking out about an issue that regularly gets animals they care about killed. I do not believe in being told not to do thorough research because it might involve a regulatory agency. I do not believe in being told that it’s inappropriate to educate the public about laws that both protect our pets and could also get them killed just because the truth isn’t pretty or straight forward. And I really don’t believe in supporting a community that is willing to attack and discredit any advocacy on their behalf that they don’t control.
I’ve chosen to remove the Loki post from the WADTT side indefinitely. I abhor letting the bullies win, but the choice comes down to the fact that this is not the hill I want to die on. What I’m trying to build with WADTT is bigger than this and I’d rather fold on this single piece of writing for now to facilitate what I want it to become in the future. The blog has been completely dark for over a week, which hasn’t occurred since I started it two years ago, because this has impacted my mental health so drastically. The folk supporting the WADTT patreon and WADTT’s future are supporting me so I can be present and do daily education, so for now, that’s what I’m choosing to prioritize.
Regular posting and the queue should resume in the next couple of days.