Experts Solve The Mystery Of Yuki, The Shelter Dog That Wouldn’t Stop Growing

Shivering, wet, and alone — too many puppies start their lives in such conditions, and Yuki was one of them. His story might have ended there if fate and two brave individuals hadn't stepped in. Kent and Nancy Smith knew they could help Yuki, but when they met him in person, they realized they were in for something much more complicated than they had expected. A DNA test would later confirm it, but Yuki wasn't the shivering little pup they thought he was...

Meet Yuki

It was 2008, and Yuki's original owner was getting desperate. The small, shivering puppy they'd once rescued had transformed into a wild, snarling creature. The owner couldn't get Yuki to sit, let alone keep him on a leash and away from other people. It was like Yuki was another dog entirely.

Yuki's Startling Trait

To make matters worse, the gray-matted puppy wasn't really a "puppy" anymore. The energetic dog was getting too difficult for one person to control, and that alone was enough to make the owner seek outside help...that is, until he noticed another startling trait.

Not My Problem Anymore

At eight-months, Yuki had grown to a bigger size than his owner could ever have expected. Of course puppies grow, but this much so soon was alarming enough that his owner decided to wipe their hands clean of the matter and make Yuki someone else's problem.

An Important Call

The owner dropped Yuki off at an animal shelter in hopes that they could find him a more suitable home. The shelter had seen all kinds of badly-behaved pups and wild animals in their time, but it soon became clear that they were no match for Yuki. So, they called in the big guns.

Shelter for Wild Animals

They knew of a nearby shelter that specialized in taking care of animals that other shelters couldn't handle. Owned by Kent and Nancy Smith, the animal shelter's staff and volunteers had overseen the most unruly animals, from badly-behaved dogs like Yuki to bobcats and cougars.

Company Motto

Settled in Naples, Florida, Kent and Nancy's shelter, Shy Wolf Sanctuary, has helped over 1,200 creatures in need. More than that, the Smiths have emphasized an educational approach to better unify humans with animals. They had no idea then how little they were prepared for an animal like Yuki.

Swift Journey

Two staff members from Shy Wolf Sanctuary traveled over to bring Yuki to his new home. The gray dog needed special care and people who could actually understand him, and the staff members knew they were the best people for the job...until they met him face to face.

A Tough Case

They'd been told that Yuki was a tough case, but it was still unnerving to see young Yuki thrashing around in fear when they approached. When he wasn't baring his teeth at them, he was glaring at them with small, yellow eyes. Of course, what really struck them as odd was his size.

Canine Research

For being only eight-months old, Yuki was big — weirdly big. One look at him and Kent and Nancy knew they weren't dealing with a normal pup. So, they arranged for Yuki's DNA to be tested. While they waited for the results, their hunch that something was up with Yuki was only reinforced by his behavior.

Further Reveal

Yuki definitely didn't have the friendly, "man's best friend" attitude of other dogs. He was erratic at best and violent at worst, though he slowly got more comfortable at the sanctuary as time went on. Still, the sanctuary's staff tried to domesticate him...until an accident made doing so impossible.

Bad Luck

When Yuki unexpectedly wounded his right knee against a palmetto, he needed five surgeries to fully heal. The painful experience only made poor Yuki even more unpredictable. Throughout that period, he became very particular about who was allowed into his cage.

Photo Op

It became apparent that the few staff members Yuki liked were women. When comfortable, Yuki could even manage to sit on one of their laps for a cute Instagram moment! Those moments were rare, however. Most of the time, the staff simply tried to figure out why he wouldn't stop growing.

Truth in the Fur

When the DNA tests finally came back, the staff didn't know what to expect. As the owners of Shy Wolf Sanctuary, Kent and Nancy definitely had a feeling that Yuki's dog-like appearance didn't tell his entire story. And when they analyzed Yuki's DNA, they saw just how right they were.

Surprising Results

Yuki had German Shepherd and Siberian Husky in his genetic makeup. With his inquisitive yet protective nature, this made sense, though the German Shepherd and Siberian Husky genes were only a fraction of his DNA. As it turned out, the other 87.5% of Yuki's DNA was grey wolf!


With that, everything started to make much more sense. It was no wonder his original owner couldn't handle Yuki — he wasn't a dog at all! Although pure wolves are known to be anti-social to humans, wolfdogs like Yuki are unpredictable. Whether or not he could be domesticated was unclear...


The staff at the sanctuary were hopeful that knowing Yuki's DNA would make it easier to domesticate him. After all, some wolfdogs can be successfully managed in a home...but it's a very low percentage. And with Yuki's injury and aversion to males, Shy Wolf Sanctuary became a permanent home for Yuki.

Next Steps

Growing up into an adult, Yuki weighed close to 120 pounds. He grew to be over five feet long, and by that time, the staff were grateful that Yuki was there to stay. After all, just because Yuki couldn't be fully domesticated didn't mean he couldn't have a family.

Social Media King

And thanks to the staff members at Shy Wolf Sanctuary, Yuki had his own fans, too! Through Instagram, the volunteers kept their followers up to date on the daily life of their very own wolfdog. They updated their followers on Yuki's favorite activities, and even on his love life.

Doggy Romance

Yuki went on to find a mate with a canine named Bella. To the shock of the staff, it was Bella who ended up being the alpha of the pair! The duo lived together happily for years, their lives broadcast on Instagram. But as Yuki got older, he received something no one expected: a cancer diagnosis.

One of a Kind

Though heartbroken, Shy Wolf Sanctuary did their best to ensure that Yuki enjoyed his final days. In November 2020, after years of rescue, rehabilitation, and love, Yuki passed away. Though he would no longer roam the sanctuary, Yuki still managed to inspire Kent and Nancy into making a huge decision.

More Help to Come

Inspired by their difficult but rewarding years with Yuki, the Shy Wolf Sanctuary successfully managed to purchase another area in Florida. With more funding, the staff will only continue to grow their animal haven. After all, with their habitats disappearing all around the world, wolves need our help now more than ever.

Good Intentions

However, as much as we try to do our best for animals, our good intentions can sometimes backfire in a big way. When three construction workers spotted a dog in dire need of help, they rushed to its aid without a second thought. But their plan backfired — big time.

Their Routine Interrupted

Three men were having a normal day working construction and repair on the Sindi dam in Estonia when they were suddenly caught off guard by an unusual noise coming from the water. It sounded like an animal had gotten itself into a situation where it didn't belong, but this wasn't just a stray otter or fox.

Helpless Animal

The workers approached the bank of the Pärnu river to investigate, and, about 100 yards out, they spotted an animal splashing frantically in the water. But as they watched, they soon realized the gravity of the situation.

Almost Drowned

This wasn't just any animal — it was a dog! Right away, it was clear this canine was in danger. The icy river was surely chilling the poor pooch to the bone, and from the way it was struggling, they weren't sure it could tread water much longer.

Rescue Rush

Without hesitation, the three men leapt into the river and hurriedly swam toward the struggling animal. The ice was thick, but together they managed to carve a path and bring the dog to safety.

A Closer Look

The men quickly wrapped the shivering pup with a heavy blanket, and it was then that they were finally able to get a good look at the dog. It was large, with thick fur and piercing yellow eyes. A one-of-a-kind look for a common house pup.

Warming Up

Knowing the animal needed help, the workers didn't have much time to admire her coat. The blanket was doing little to warm her up, and only proper medical care — not even a big fat fire — could save her from hypothermia.

Seeking Help

So, taking the animal in their arms, the men carried their newfound friend to their pickup truck and laid the shivering dog inside. Then they phoned their local animal hospital, who told them to bring her in right away.

Fast Asleep

The truck sped to the hospital, and all the while, the animal never stirred. In fact, it slept almost the entire way, its head laid upon Kartsepp's lap; even in its poor state, it sure was a cuddler!

The Twist

No sooner did they arrive at the hospital than the veterinarians were on the scene, carrying the dog inside and immediately working to nurse it back to health. But there was only one problem. This wasn't actually a dog.

Stumped Vets

In fact, veterinarians couldn't identify what it was. With everyone stumped, the doctors phoned in a local hunter to see if he could shed some light on their situation. Sure enough, the man knew exactly what they were dealing with. This wasn't a dog — it was a wolf!

Wolf in the Dog's Clothing

The construction workers were in shock. Not only had they completely misidentified the animal, but they'd actually kept a live wolf in their vehicle without so much as a leash! If it had wanted to, the wolf could've easily made a snack of them.

Explaining Its Mood

Thankfully, the icy water had served to sedate the wolf, which explained why it was so docile when the men had rescued it and placed in it their truck. This state of calm wouldn't last, however — it was, after all, a wild animal.

A Potential Threat

"At first, he was so done in for he didn’t resist at all. We simply kept him in this room," said head clinician Tarvo Markson. "But once he started to get an idea of the situation, I felt things might quickly take a turn for the dangerous."

Caged Up

And turn they did, for as the animal recovered, it began acting as one would expect a one-year-old wolf to behave in a small, enclosed space. So, for its own safety – and for the safety of the doctors – the wolf was placed in a cage.

Special Technology

By day's end, the animal had made a full recovery, and the clinic was confident she could be reintroduced to the wild without any repercussions. But even so, Estonia's national environmental agency decided to fit the wolf with a GPS collar just to be safe.

The Big Release

When it came time to release the wolf, it took off in a flash, disappearing back into the wilderness. Kartsepp and the others waved goodbye as it went, a bittersweet end to one unforgettable day of work.

A Happy Outcome

"We are so happy for the outcome of the story, and wish to thank all the participants — especially these men who rescued the wolf and the doctors of the clinic who were not afraid to treat and nurture the wild animal," said the Estonian Union for the Protection of Animals of the incident.

Estonian Pride

Still, it wouldn't be surprising to see something like this happen again in Estonia, as the country is home to a large portion of Europe's wolf population. In fact, the wolf was named Estonia's national animal only a few months prior to this incident.

Spotted Again

Incredibly, this particular wolf was actually spotted in the wild just a month after its run-in with the construction workers. Considering it was photographed over 70 miles from where it had been released, it looks like this lucky guy was doing just fine.