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Wolfdog who became popular during 'Game of Thrones' final season dies at Shy Wolf Sanctuary

Dave Osborn
Naples Daily News

A Southwest Florida celebrity has died.

Shy Wolf Sanctuary Education and Experience Center in Collier County on Thursday announced that Yuki — its beloved wolfdog whose photo went viral during the final season of HBO's "Game of Thrones" in 2019 — passed away from blood cancer.

"We have some very sad news to share about our beloved wolfdog, Yuki. He was loved by millions all over the world," the Golden Gates Estates wolf facility reported on its Twitter account.

Yuki (YOO-kye), 13, did not show for his medicine during morning rounds Thursday, the sanctuary reported. When workers entered his enclosure, they found that he had died.

The animal was diagnosed three years ago with hemangiosarcoma, a blood cancer, Shy Wolf said.

"Yuki's legacy reaches around the world due to his unique personality and size," Shy Wolf wrote in a Twitter post Thursday that also featured photos of the animal.

"Many people saw and came to know him as the 'dire wolf' in the viral photo 2 years ago."

Coverage of Yuki went viral nearly two years ago when Bored Panda, a Lithuanian website, published a story and photo on Yuki. The TV show "Inside Edition" also featured Yuki in a segment in April 2019.

An "Inside Edition" hostess asked whether Yuki is a direwolf, with interviews of Shy Wolf staff members. A 2018 DNA test confirmed that Yuki is 87.5 percent gray wolf, 8.6 percent Siberian husky and 3.9 percent German shepherd.

More:Giant wolfdog at Florida sanctuary is basically a 'Game of Thrones' direwolf

"The popularity of 'Game of Thrones' has fueled interest in extinct species believed to have lived from 1 million to 10,000 years ago," Shy Wolf stated in a news release in 2019.

On the HBO series, the extinct direwolves often are featured and have been since the first episode that aired nearly a decade ago.

"Modern-day wolves and wolfdogs can on occasion grow big enough to resemble a direwolf," the sanctuary 2019 news release said.

Brittany Allen with Yuki at Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Collier County.

The sanctuary in 2019 began a GoFundMe page that so far has raised nearly $23,000 of its $100,000 goal.

And in June, the nonprofit announced that it will relocate from the current 2.5-acre spot to a roomier 17-acre lot off Golden Gate Boulevard West after securing a $1.7 million contract to purchase the land from Crown Management Services..

Shy Wolf on Saturday will host its annual Wolfstock event from 3-6 p.m. with an online auction and in-person guests limited to 50 VIP sponsors to help raise money for the sanctuary. The VIP seats are sold out but the public can watch for free on the Sanctuary’s Facebook page or at ShyWolfSanctuary.org/WolfStock2020.

A memorial tribute for Yuki is also planned. 

More:Shy Wolf Sanctuary secures $1.7M contract for new 17-acre location

And:Shy Wolf Sanctuary adopts hybrid model for WolfStock 2020

"Modern-day wolves and wolfdogs both represent the majority of the population at (Shy Wolf Sanctuary), which has long outgrown its 2.5-acre facility in Naples’ Golden Gate Estates area," the sanctuary said in its 2019 news release.

Brian Marziliano holds Dancer's paw during the Healing Heart Program at the Shy Wolf Sanctuary on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Shy Wolf Sanctuary collaborates with Home Base SWFL to bring veterans the therapeutic animal encounter in the Healing Hearts Program.

Yuki was abandoned at eight months old by his original owners living on Florida’s east coast, ending up in a Florida high-kill shelter. A shelter employee told Shy Wolf about him, and Yuki moved to Shy Wolf in 2007.

Wolfdogs are generally considered unadoptable by domestic animal services and have nowhere else to go. 

In its Thursday Tweet, Shy Wolf said it was fortunate to have helped care for the animal.

"Yuki taught us all about patience, love, and understanding as all animals have unique personalities and set their own boundaries," the tweet read.

"We are absolutely heartbroken and we will all miss him dearly, especially Bella and his harem of volunteers. Rest easy sweet Yuki, we love you forever."