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Wolf-dog hybrid kept as family pet kills child in Alabama

A wolf-dog hybrid that was being kept as a pet has killed a three-month-old baby in the US state of Alabama, police said.

The incident took place around 1pm in Shelby County, Chelsea, when deputies received a 911 call about an animal attack, the sheriff’s office said in a press release.

The infant was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead due to injuries suspected to have been caused by the animal attack.

The animal, which was being kept as a pet by the family of the infant, “was euthanised” at the request of law enforcement and “has been transported to the Alabama State Diagnostics Laboratory in Auburn for further examination”, said the county sheriff’s office.

Chelsea mayor Tony Picklesimer offered his condolences to the family over the death of the infant. "We are deeply saddened by this unfortunate and tragic event and lift up the family and all those affected with our deepest prayers and thoughts,” he said.

While it is not illegal to own a wolf-dog hybrid in Alabama, Chelsea’s mayor offered a word of caution to residents following the incident.

“It’s just unthinkable that this could happen to this baby. If you choose to own an exotic pet, what comes with that is additional responsibility to be sure that not only your family is safe, but your neighbours are safe,” he said in a statement to CNN affiliate WBRC.

“Alabama is one of four states in the United States that does not have a code against exotic animals. Once they get a taste, nature takes over and it’s just very sad.”

A similar incident took place in 2018 in Virginia when a wolf-dog hybrid kept as a pet by a family attacked their baby, mauling the infant to death. The pet was later euthanised.

The term wolf-dog hybrid is used to describe the offspring from mating a wolf and a domestic dog, according to the International Wolf Center.

“Some may use the term wolf-dog hybrid and wolfdog interchangeably, but there is an important distinction between the two. Wolfdogs are not always hybrids, and it is often used to describe a domestic dog with a relatively recent wolf ancestry,” it said.

Despite their shared ancestry and ability to interbreed, the two species are very different, the organisation explained.

Wolves are wild animals, and they are shaped by evolutionary pressures that allow them to find food, keep themselves safe, and produce offspring. Dogs, on the other hand, have evolved from a common ancestor with the wolf through a centuries-long process of domestication.

Through this process, a dog’s behavior, life cycle and physiology have become permanently altered from that of a wolf, making them more dependent on humans for their survival.

Those owning hybrids often find their pet’s behaviour a challenge, the International Wolf Center said. “The diversity of genetic composition even within one litter of hybrid pups leads to a wide range of appearances and behavior patterns among all hybrids, thus making their behavior inconsistent and more difficult to predict.”