SUN CITY - Danya Leshick isn’t afraid of big, bad wolves. She shares her property on the Surprise border with 10 wolf-dog hybrids, rescued from animal shelters or by owners turning them in.
Her rescue group, Where Wolves Rescue in Surprise, has been in operation for more than 22 years and is the first worldwide wolf-dog rescue. It has helped place more than 5,000 wolf-dogs into suitable homes across the United States, and as far away as Finland.
‘‘Wolf is a four-letter word,’’ Leshick said. ‘‘But I equate them to Superman: They are faster and stronger, and able to leap the highest building.’’
The wolf part, though, is what gets the most attention. It’s more than occasionally viewed as a bad thing. Proof of the controversy can be found on the Internet, which has more 13 million Web pages featuring wolf-dogs.
Opinions on the wolf-dogs are polarized, with those that love their part-wild animal companions and fiercely defend them against those who say wolf-dogs are dangerous, unpredictable, and unsuitable as pets.
Wolf-dogs are the result of breeding a wolf with a domesticated dog, or a wolf and a hybrid, or two hybrids. Wolves are usually paired with a Nordic breed such as Siberian Husky, Malamute or German shepherd, but a whole line of wolf-dogs are a mix with Akitas.
Despite their controversial nature, no Arizona law forbids wolf-dog ownership.
‘‘There are no statutes regulating the animals on a state level,’’ said Katie Decker, public information officer for the Arizona Department of Agriculture. ‘‘Our really big concern is we don’t know if the rabies vaccine works on them.’’
Veterinarians say they cannot prove the vaccine that works for dogs would work for wolf-dogs, since wild wolves are not vaccinated. And because wolf-dogs don’t receive a rabies vaccination, they can’t be licensed with Maricopa County.
The lack of knowledge about whether a vaccine works is one of the reasons the Arizona Humane Society doesn’t accept the animals for placement, said spokeswoman Kim Noetzel.
‘‘That’s a breed that is in a lose-lose situation,’’ Noetzel said, since their hybrid origin keeps them from both adoption and vaccination.