Focus of wolf-dog probe says his pets are not hybrids

North Stonington — Ashbow Sebastian said Wednesday he is cooperating fully with state environmental conservation officers investigating a possible wolf-dog hybrid shot and killed last month in the area around Long Pond, and that he owns seven dogs that are all white German shepherds.

"No, it wasn't my dog," Sebastian said of the animal identified by genetic tests as a wolf-dog hybrid. "My dogs are not hybrids. Where that hybrid came from, I don't know."

Sebastian, war chief of the Eastern Pequot tribe, has been the focus of the investigation that state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection officers launched Sunday after being alerted to the presence of a possible wolf-dog hybrid, which is illegal in Connecticut. The animal was shot by a local resident after it and two other canines surrounded the man while he was outside near his horse barn. A neighbor trained in animal science collected tissue samples and sent them to the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California, Davis, which determined the animal was a wolf-dog hybrid.

On Wednesday, a DEEP EnCon officer took a statement from the man and visited Sebastian's property. DEEP said Sebastian agreed to allow a veterinarian to take tissue samples from his animals for DNA testing at the same University of California lab. The officers warned Sebastian to keep his animals under control and on his property, DEEP said in a news release.

If test results show the animals are wolf-dog hybrids, EnCon officers can seize them under state law, DEEP said. The officers "acted after reports from neighbors of the Long Pond area on the North Stonington/Ledyard border that they have been threatened by menacing dogs that could be wolf/dog hybrids," DEEP said in a statement.

Sebastian and his wife, Colleen, said they have had white German shepherds for about 25 years and never kept vicious animals. They said people have been unfairly jumping to conclusions and "pointing the finger" at them and their dogs.

"I have nothing to hide," Sebastian said, standing in a fenced-in area outside his house with two of his dogs and two horses. "My dogs don't attack anybody."

He said one of his dogs went missing "a couple of months ago" but he is certain it is not the animal that was shot and killed.

"Every dog gets out once in a while," he said.

Colleen Sebastian questioned why the man who shot the dog didn't report the incident to police and town animal control officers immediately after it happened. The incident happened in late February, and the test results were received last week and DEEP officials alerted Sunday.

"You don't tell anybody for a month that you shot a dog?" she asked. "I don't understand that."

More than a year ago, state and local animal control officers went to Sebastian's property, seized some of the 17 dogs he had there and instructed him to keep no more than six animals and to keep them on his property, North Stonington First Selectman Nick Mullane said. There have been periodic complaints to authorities over the years about Sebastian's dogs roaming freely, he said, and "sometimes the jurisdiction gets fuzzy" between the reservation property and the town boundaries of Ledyard, North Stonington and Stonington.

Clint Tupper of Stonington said Wednesday that five or six of Sebastian's dogs chased and nearly bit him while he was riding his motorcycle on Lantern Hill Road about two years ago. He said he complained to the resident state trooper, but that the officer told him he could not take action because Sebastian lives on reservation property. The Eastern Pequots are a state-recognized tribe.

"When they pack, they're not to be messed with," Tupper said of the dogs. "Somebody's going to get hurt."

DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain said that if the tests show Sebastian's dogs are not hybrids, the matter could be turned over to state and local animal control officers, who would have jurisdiction over issues with domestic roaming dogs.

EnCon officers have jurisdiction over wildlife issues, including wolf-dog hybrids.

That would still, however, leave unanswered questions about the origin of the animal that was shot. Schain said officers would need to continue the investigation to learn more about that animal, and would also re-examine the genetic test that was conducted.

j.benson@theday.com

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