Child attack shines spotlight on state's wolf hybrid laws

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A neighborhood pet turns on a five-year-old boy, but it was no ordinary dog bite - it was a wolf dog attack.

Bouncing back from the terrifying encounter, five-year-old Chase Fox is a little more subdued these days. The bandages on his arm are a daily reminder of an unexpected attack just a hundred yards from his front door.

"He bit me," Chase told Eyewitness News in a clear, quiet voice.

The "he" is actually a "she," a wolf hybrid named Shoshone.

Part-wolf, part-German Shepherd, the 65-pound three-year-old mix, overpowered Chase when he ran near the pet chained up in Bill Smith's backyard.

Family members say the boy's mother was running after him, watching in horror.

"The dog was in attack position, hair standing up on its back and she knew before it got him that it was going to get him. She could see it coming, but just couldn't get to him fast enough," explained the boy's aunt, Kelly VanNatter.

As the little boy's mother pulled one way, the wolf hybrid pulled in the opposite direction.

"I think she was wanting to keep the little boy," said the dog's owner Bill Smith referring to Shoshone. "It turned into like a tug-o-war thing," he said.

"The dog jumped up and latched onto the underneath of his arm," added VanNatter, describing what her sister-in-law witnessed during the attack.

Pictures show the stitched up bite mark that required surgical repairs down to the bone.

"I've been so upset about it," Smith told Eyewitness News. "I hope to God the little boy's arm is okay," he said with regret.

Chase is healing. On the day we visited, he showed our cameras his covered wounds on his arms and back.

Smith was cited for failing to have Shoshone's vaccinations up to date, but that's all, even though he was found in violation of Indiana's wolf hybrid laws.

Chase's family fears other children could still be in danger.

"If they don't start following the law and do what it is that is mandatory for that breed, the next time it's not going to end as well as what his did," said VanNatter.

What does Indiana law say about wolf hybrids?

For starters, the law says it's not enough to merely tether or chain the wolf hybrid like Smith had done. And the pet is not allowed to roam free.

If not secured, the wolf dog must be under a person's control with a chain no more than eight feet long.

Under Indiana law, owners of wolf hybrids are required to have a fence. The day of the attack, there was no fencing around Shoshone. But days later, Smith started to put one up.

The only problem - that fence was not six feet tall.

"It has to be a fenced in area that can contain the animal with a six-foot fence that doesn't allow the escape of the animal," said Lt. William Browne, a conservation officer with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Browne's agency doesn't require permits for wolf hybrids, but says owners can face felony charges if a wolf hybrid attacks a farmers livestock or kills a person.

"The more damage that is done by that animal, the liability falls back on the owner," added Lt. Browne.

"I agree. I think all dogs need to be under a safety measure. I believe all dogs should be on a leash, as Bill's is, and have a fence around it," said neighbor and Eaton Town Councilor Russell Love after 13 Investigates explained the law to him.

Smith says he's willing to put his money where his heart is and to take on the responsibility of owning a wolf dog that he insists is as unpredictable as it is lovable.

"That's like my child right there," Smith said, petting a playful Shoshone. 

"If you are a responsible pet owner, you follow the guidelines, you research your breed, what it is that the law states and you're responsible with it, I have no problem with anybody owning one," said Chase's aunt.

Indiana code concerning wolf hybrids

IC 15-20-1-5
Wolf hybrid and coydog liability; criminal offenses
Sec. 5.
(a) The following definitions apply throughout this section:
    (1) "Coydog" means:
       (A) an animal that is the offspring of a coyote and another animal; or
       (B) an animal that is the offspring of:
          (i) an animal that is the offspring of a coyote and another animal; and
          (ii) another animal.
    (2) "Secure enclosure" means an outdoor pen that is:
       (A) roofed or that has sides at least six (6) feet tall; and
       (B) constructed in such a manner that the type of animal contained within the pen cannot reasonably be expected to escape.
    (3) "Wolf hybrid" means:
       (A) an animal that is the offspring of a wolf and another animal; or
       (B) an animal that is the offspring of:
          (i) an animal that is the offspring of a wolf and another animal; and
          (ii) another animal.

(b) An owner of a wolf hybrid or coydog shall:
    (1) keep the animal in a building or secure enclosure; or
    (2) keep the animal:
       (A) under the reasonable control of an individual; and
       (B) on a leash not more than eight (8) feet in length.

Subject to subsections (c) and (d), an owner who does not comply with this subsection commits a Class B infraction. An owner who merely tethers or chains a coydog or wolf hybrid does not comply with this subsection.

(c) Subject to subsection (d), an owner of a wolf hybrid or coydog commits a Class B misdemeanor if the owner recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally fails to comply with subsection (b) and:
    (1) the wolf hybrid or coydog enters property other than the property of the owner; and
    (2) the wolf hybrid or coydog causes damage to livestock or the personal property of another individual.

(d) The offense under subsection (c) is:
    (1) a Class A misdemeanor if the owner has one (1) prior unrelated conviction under this section;
    (2) a Class D felony if:
       (A) the owner has more than one (1) prior unrelated conviction for a violation under this section; or
       (B) the owner knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly fails to comply with subsection (b) and the failure to comply results in serious bodily injury to a person; and
    (3) a Class C felony if the owner knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly fails to comply with subsection (b) and the failure to comply results in the death of a person.

(e) Notwithstanding IC 36-1-3-8(a), a unit (as defined in IC 36-1-2-23) may adopt an ordinance:
    (1) prohibiting a person from possessing a wolf hybrid or coydog; or
    (2) imposing:
       (A) a penalty of more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) up to the limits prescribed in IC 36-1-3-8(a)(10)(B) for a violation of subsection (b); or
       (B) conditions on the possession of a wolf hybrid or coydog that are more stringent than the provisions of subsection (b).

As added by P.L.2-2008, SEC.11.