By now, Game of Thrones’ impact on our culture at large has made itself as clear as top-grade dragonglass. In the six years since the series premiered on HBO, we’ve seen genre television programs come and go, a religion born of the business of fan theorizing, and even an influx of baby names like “Khaleesi” and (I bet you’re all regretting this one right about now) “Theon.” But there is another way in which Thrones has made its mark on American viewers: the increased adoption of direwolves. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there.
Over the moon for the impeccably loyal, fierce, and beautiful pooches that complement the Stark family, prospective dog owners have been adopting huskies, malamutes, and similar breeds in disproportionately high rates. (With the exception of Jon Snow’s pal Ghost, who is a bona fide Arctic Wolf, all of the Stark children’s direwolves are portrayed by Northern Inuit dogs—the breed itself a mix of Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, and German Shepherd.)
The dark reality of the situation, however, is that people aren’t holding onto their dogs for very long. A recent article by The Dodo reports that over the past six years, shelters across the country have observed an upswing in abandoned and surrendered huskies.
The thought of abandoning a pet may feel abhorrent, but the give reasons for abandonment are apparently plentiful. According to canine behaviorist Brooke Bretschger, who works as Admissions Counselor at the Bronx-based branch of Animal Care Centers of NYC, people have many motivating factors when surrendering their dogs to the shelter, chief among them money, behavioral issues, and threats of eviction. That aside, Bretschger thinks that it more often than not boils down to people not thinking through their decision to adopt in the first place.
“I don’t think they realize the extent of what it is to have a dog until they get a dog,” Bretschger tells Nerdist. “Most of the time, when we ask, ‘When did you get the dog?’ they’ll say, ‘Two months old,’ or ‘seven weeks old,’ or ‘three months old.’ And usually when they give up the dog, it’s two and up or three and up.” It's hard not do be enchanted by the idea of an adorable direwolf pup, but not everyone is prepared to commit to caring for a dog.
“Just shoving him outside in your little quarter-of-an-acre backyard isn’t going to … get their energy out.”
“They get this cute little young puppy,” Bretschger continues. “They like to show it off. And then when it’s not a cute young puppy anymore and they [haven’t done] any training, they’re like, ‘I have another animal I have to feed, I have to take to the vet, I have to walk.’”
Raising a dog is a lot of hard work, and Bretschger, who deals with the surrendering of animals on a daily basis, is the first to remind pet owners of all the resources at their disposal. “They’ll say, ‘I can’t afford the vet bills,’ and we’ll [direct them to] a low cost vet,” she says. “Or they’ll say, ‘He’s just too much. He chews up the house.’ Then we offer training resources. Or supplies. Or dog food. ‘It’s just too much money.’ We can give you a bag of dog food a month. We can give you these toys.”
“It’s not an object to show off. It’s a living creature."
Additional challenges come with huskies and similar breeds specifically, especially in urban and suburban areas. “They’re expected to run 10 or 15 miles a day, it’s their genetics,” she says, citing huskies’ roots as sled dogs. “Their specific metabolism, which other dogs don’t have makes it harder for them to burn energy because they’re meant to run so long.”
She continues, “Other dogs can eat a meal, run around for an hour, then they’ll go to sleep and be tired. But huskies were purposely bred to not do that, so they can go extensive [distances] while pulling a lot of weight.” As such, this makes it tough to keep a husky in many parts of the country. “Just shoving him outside in your little quarter-of-an-acre backyard isn’t going to … get their energy out.”
Rearing a husky doesn’t just boil down to dealing with their boundless energy; canine psychology is important as well. A genealogy traced from sled dogs means the Game of Thrones-like breeds are in constant need of a task to complete. In fact, Bretschger says that huskies “are not meant to be domesticated,” adding, “I trained a husky and it was probably the most stubborn dog I’ve ever met in my life.” She says, “They’re working dogs. They’re supposed to have a purpose. So if they don’t fulfill that purpose, they’re gonna get out that energy in other ways.”
Raising a dog takes patience, hard work, and, in truth, a bit of money.
Still, raising a husky properly is hardly a lost cause. Bretschger recommends “as many walks as possible and as many puzzle toys as possible.”
“The puzzle toys will stimulate their activity level. So when they’re stressed out ad trying to get out energy in so many other ways, they need their mind molded and focused on something else. That’s why they always look so serious and focused.”
The responsibility of adoption is a serious one. Ownership of any breed comes with challenges, huskies more than most. “You have to remember,” Bretschger says. “It’s not an object to show off. It’s a living creature. Whether it be a cat or a dog, anything—even a turtle, a reptile. You still have to pay for it if it gets sick…If it was your kid, you wouldn’t be like, ‘They have a cold, let’s put them down.’”
If keeping a dog does prove itself absolutely impossible, there are better options than your local shelter. “The shelter should be the last possible [option], but people always think it’s the first,” Bretschger says. “There are rehoming resources—websites like Adopt a Pet or Get Your Pet, or even something like Craigslist.” Though it may take a bit of extra research, transferring a dog into another loving home will ultimately be better for its mental and physical health than relocation into a shelter will.
“When you’re putting a dog from a home into a shelter, it’s going inside a kennel and it’s going to be around numerous other dogs,” Bretschger says. “Not only is it potentially going to get sick, with kennel cough or something like that, it also is psychologically deteriorating the dog. It has no idea what’s going on. It’s [stuck] in this box the whole time. Maybe it has a few walks a day from volunteers, but that’s about it. It’s like putting somebody in a psych ward and they don’t know what’s going on.” And this, of course, is in addition to the possibility of humane euthanasia, a practice upheld by many American shelters.
It should go without saying that if you're considering options of rehoming before even adopting a husky, or any animal for that matter, then you're likely not ready for a pet. Though you may be in love with Game of Thrones' direwolves or smile at the sight of every adorable puppy, it takes much more than that to give a dog a warm, healthy, lifelong home. (There are plenty of easier ways to show off your Thrones fandom, anyway.)
Raising a dog takes patience, hard work, and, in truth, a bit of money. But more important than any other quality in a dog owner is the willingness to devote yourself wholly to caring for, sticking with, and loving your pooch from beginning to end. It's not always going to be a picnic, but none of the best relationships are.
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor for Nerdist and a lover of all dogs. Find Michael on Twitter @micarbeiter.