Gentleshaw Wildlife Centre
Gentleshaw Wildlife Centre, is a small sanctuary for exotic animals and birds of prey. As well as a hospital unit for the treatment of wild raptors (not on display), the centre is home to over 30 different species of birds of prey, primates, reptiles, invertebrate, raccoons and cats. The centre started by rescuing and providing a home for just a few unwanted animals and birds, after a while the centre soon began to take in more and more rescued animals before eventually opening to the public as a visitor centre.
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A soggy night in April 2013 saw the arrival of Saxon the Wolfdog at Gentleshaw Wildlife Centre. As a sanctuary for unwanted or mistreated exotic animals, over its 20 years, Gentleshaw has provided a safe home to birds of prey, monkeys, snakes, raccoons, lynx and a host of other exotic animals. But Saxon’s arrival has caused the biggest stir with visitors and volunteers alike.
Picked up as a stray in poor condition in Northern Ireland, Saxon was taken to the local pound. They instantly realised this was not your average mongrel and with some research, traced Saxon’s unlicensed owner down. Rules on wolf hybrids vary throughout the UK. In Northern Ireland, no hybrid is permitted without a licence. In England, a certain amount of wolf in a dog’s DNA is permitted. But those over the limit must be kept by owners with a Dangerous Wild Animal licence.
This is where Saxon’s future looked uncertain. He is believed to be high wolf content, so needed a licensed home, with a suitable enclosure. No zoo would take him as being a hybrid; a wolfdog is of no conservation value. Having high wolf content means he is unsuitable as a typical family pet.
With just days to go before Saxon’s inevitable sentence was to be carried out, Gentleshaw was contacted. By luck, our resident Lynx had just moved to a better home and his enclosure was standing empty. Without knowing much about Saxon, we agreed to take him on. The pound had done excellent work with Saxon, treating his wounds and spending time with him.
Within 24 hours of arriving at Gentleshaw, it was evident that Saxon’s huge stature was matched by his huge heart. Having researched wolf hybrids, care was taken with this handsome brute. 2 keepers at a time entered his enclosure to clean out and feed him. However, as time has passed, it has proved easy to blur the line between wild animal and domestic dog.
So how does this large canine differ from your domestic dog? Surprisingly little. Saxon barks, something wolves do not do. He also howls a proper wolf howl. He enjoys a rawhide shoe or dental stick and can eat a 10 ounce steak in 14 seconds, raw of course. He enjoys a walk, taking 2 keepers along for the ride. Saxon has an immense coat and as he moults, the thick undercoat is evident. Saxon dislikes the heat and prefers to play early in the morning. He digs and chews but has no interest in balls or usual dog toys, although a Kong stuffed with cheese always gets his attention.
Saxon is just 2 years old. He plays like an adolescent dog. He is not permitted to jump up or play bite. Like any powerful dog, Saxon must have manners and his manners match that of the best trained of dogs. Saxon will sit and roll on to his back. He is sociable with other dogs but actually seeks out human attention. Having had a cuddle and a groom, it takes his loping gait, pricked ears and strange orange eyes to remind you of who is in his family tree.
Saxon has his own secure space, is exercised daily and due to his wonderful nature, never runs out of people to give him attention. We are now fundraising to build an exercise area for him as due to his nonexistent recall; Saxon cannot be let off his lead when stretching his legs in a private field. Saxon is very strong and needs 2 keepers to work him. He is great on the lead, providing you are going his way.
Saxon is not possessive with his food and shows few wolf habits at present; however he may develop these as he matures, and although this wolfdog has already made a paw print on our hearts, he will always be given the respect that his wolf bloodlines deserve.