KIYC investigation uncovers internal messages showing animals at Howling Woods Farm fed less than president claims
The president of a rescue for wolf-dog hybrids is defending his policy of not feeding animals daily, as required by law, saying they get “as much as they can eat” when they are fed. But internal messages uncovered by Kane In Your Corner and interviews with people who have cared for the animals indicate the policy actually limits animals to just two chicken leg quarters every other day.
Dogs, including dog hybrids, “must be fed at least once a day” unless a veterinarian orders otherwise, according to the Animal Welfare Act. But as Kane In Your Corner reported last week, the wolf-dogs of Howling Woods Farm in Jackson, New Jersey, are only fed every other day, and sometimes not at all for days at a time. The feeding schedule was implemented by the farm’s president, Michael Hodanish.
Since the Team 12 investigation aired, Hodanish has taken to social media to defend his feeding schedule, saying that the animals “are fed every other day, and allowed to eat as much as they want on the day they are fed.” But insiders say that isn’t true.
“When I was there, they were getting two chicken quarters,” says Keith Vanderbrooke, a former employee. “I definitely wouldn't say that’s as much as they could possibly eat.”
“One or two quarters is sufficient, according to him,” echoes a second insider, who asked to remain anonymous. Other former staff members and volunteers provided the same quantities.
Hodanish fired Vanderbrooke after Vanderbrooke reported him to the USDA. He and two other former employees are now suing for wrongful termination.
Kane In Your Corner also obtained internal messages showing Hodanish repeatedly asked the staff to confirm animals were only being fed every other day, as he had instructed.
“Provide in detail the normal feeding schedule,” Hodanish wrote on the farm’s internal Facebook page last November. “How often are they fed and how many pieces of chicken leg quarters are given to each animal?”
An employee replied that wolf-dogs up for adoption used to get two chicken quarters a day “before you made the change to every other day.” She said “ambassadors,” shown to the public on tours, get one to two chicken quarters every other day.
In April, Hodanish again asked, “I trust the animals are being fed every other day?” This time, the same employee replied “Yes. I instructed for the ambassadors to get one quarter yesterday and adoptables two.”
Insiders say most staff and volunteers disagreed with the policy so strongly that they routinely violate it. “I’m going to tell you right now, that is the only reason they look as half as good as they look,” one says. “If everybody blindly followed his orders, these animals would be really sick.”
Jackson Township police say officers have been to Howling Woods Farm four times in the past year to investigate reports of animal cruelty, but deemed the reports unfounded. In light of Kane In Your Corner’s investigation, they say they want to hear from anyone with evidence of animal abuse or knowledge of the farm’s feeding schedule. The USDA declined comment.
Some animal welfare groups are calling on the USDA or local law enforcement to act.
Dr. Lesa Staubus, a veterinarian with American Humane, says regardless of the animals’ condition, the farm’s feeding policy is indefensible because “if you were wanting to reduce the weight of a wolf-dog, you would not want to do it as periods of starvation, you would want to adjust their diet over time.”
John Goodwin, of the Humane Society of the United States, says: “It’s never acceptable to just say ‘OK, we’re going to go two days without feeding the entire population.’ These are not wolves in the wild. These aren't even wolves. This a cross between a wolf and a dog. Expecting them to live by the rules of the wild just doesn't work.”
Experts say animals in the wild don’t eat every few days for their health, they do it because they have to hunt for food. And they eat more than two chicken quarters; a chicken quarter only contains about 150 calories.