News 12 investigation leads to changes at wolf-dog hybrid animal rescue
A News 12 investigation has led to changes at a facility for wolf-dog hybrids in New Jersey.
Michael Hodanish, president of Howling Woods Farm in Jackson, has been cited by federal regulators for violating animal welfare regulations. He has now reversed his controversial feeding policy, telling staff and volunteers to feed the animals daily as the law requires.
News 12 first exposed conditions at the farm in June. Internal messages showed Hodanish insisted the animals be fed no more than every other day, and sometimes not for days at a time. The messages also indicated animals were fed no more than two chicken leg quarters. Insiders said that was not sufficient and they were concerned for the animals’ safety.
“I've seen many volunteers and weekday staff sneaking food to them, because if they don't, they're going to suffer,” one insider said.
The Animal Welfare Act requires USDA-licensed facilities like Howling Woods to feed animals at least once a day. Hodanish, though, insisted the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) was “well aware of our feeding schedule."
But after the investigation by News 12's Walt Kane, APHIS took action. USDA spokesperson R. Andre Bell says, “A routine inspection was performed on 7/22/21 in which the facility was cited for only feeding the wolf/dog hybrids every other day instead of daily.”
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Hodanish, who had been vocally defending his feeding policy, then abruptly reversed course. In a post to a private Facebook group for staff and volunteers, he wrote, “Due to a recent change in APHIS regulations and contrary to what is best for our animals, we will be feeding animals on a daily basis.”
That’s nonsense, according to John Goodwin of the Humane Society of the United States. “They have always been required to feed the animals every day,” Goodwin says. “Just because I get a ticket for running a stop sign doesn't mean that it was legal to run the stop sign before I got the ticket. That's the sort of logic that we're looking at here. It's silly.”
Keith Vanderbrooke, a former employee who is now suing Hodanish and Howling Woods for wrongful termination, says he’s pleased the animals are being fed every day, but says fixing the feeding schedule is only a first step.
Vanderbrooke was fired in February after admitting he filed an anonymous complaint to the USDA. Internal messages show Hodanish, suspecting someone had complained, closed the farm to staff and volunteers for two weeks, and threatened to keep it closed on weekdays “indefinitely” unless the whistleblowers came forward.
“We were threatened, and wrongfully terminated very publicly for doing trying to do the right thing,” Vanderbrooke says, “and yet, he still hasn't really attempted to remedy that.”
News 12 attempted to speak with Hodanish about the change to the feeding policy, but he did not reply.