Friday, June 23, 2006

Wildlife rehabilitator treating hybrid wolves

ERICA RODRIGUEZ - Herald Staff Writer

MANATEE - Justin Matthews crept through a large cage and carefully sat on a blanket next to the hybrid wolf Wednesday afternoon. Two more hybrid wolves paced back and forth in the sand, occasionally glancing over at Matthews and swaying their gray tails.

"If one of them bites you, they're all going to jump on you," Matthews said, gently reaching over to pet the panting creature beside him. "I spent the night with them in the cage last night, and that's how I got her to warm up to me."

But Matthews, a 43-year-old wildlife rehabilitator and founder of a nonprofit effort called Matthews Wildlife Rescue, said he is not afraid of the wild trio found roaming the grounds of Myakka River State Park this past weekend.

"If I was scared, I wouldn't come in here because they would bite me," said Matthews, adding that he has experience with similar animals, like coyotes.

Hybrid wolves are the offspring of domestic dogs and wild wolves.

Matthews said humans breed the creatures and sell them as pets. He also said most people who buy them eventually come to realize that hybrid wolves don't domesticate well and ditch the animals somewhere in the wilderness - a behavior also common among exotic snake owners.

"They basically have every trait that a wild wolf would have. . . . They've got that wild blood in them," Matthews said of the hybrid wolves, but "they would interfere with our native wildlife, and they're potentially dangerous. . . . In my opinion, it should be illegal to breed these animals."

So, the hybrid wolves aren't fit to be pets and don't belong in the wild.

But temporarily living in a large, shady cage on Mixon Fruit Farms property, the three hybrid wolves - currently recovering from various infections and malnutrition - may soon serve as educators.

Matthews and the owners of Mixon Fruit Farms, located at 2712 26th Ave. E., have teamed up to create a wildlife educational facility on about one-half acre of the company's grounds. The facility would house various injured animals rescued from the wild and a habitat for native birds.

Dean Mixon, owner of Mixon Fruit Farms, said plans for the habitat include a three-part pond area and various fish.

"People showed quite a bit of interest in it," Mixon said of a bird demonstration that Matthews performed at the company's Orange Blossom Festival earlier this year. "A lot of people have never seen those animals."

Matthews and Mixon said the educational facility will be part of the regular tours of Mixon Fruit Farms property, which is a popular destination for school field trips. Mixon also said he hopes to see the project completed by October.

In the meantime, Matthews said, the hybrid wolves will live in a cage adjacent to that of a 3-year-old red-tail hawk disabled by a run-in with a power line. There, he said, the hybrid wolves will be treated and fed.

Matthews described the first time he fed the hybrid wolves a meal of raw chicken with his hands.

"That was sort of scary, because they were really hungry and sort of wolfing it down," Matthews said. "They can crush up a chicken bone like a dog can eat a biscuit."

How to help

Matthews Wildlife Rescue, a local nonprofit effort for the rehabilitation of injured and impaired wild animals, is accepting donations to fund veterinary, food and maintenance costs of caring for its animals. For more information, call Justin Matthews at 447-5369.

  • Bradenton Herald

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    people might change their minds about this guy..maybe he did some good in the past but he sure wiped the good slate clean recently..might want to check his background and animals ..something is not right here honestly..and he has a child too..good can anyone do what he did and think good will come of it..

    8/16/2009 11:13 AM  
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