The dire wolves of Game of Thrones aren't a fantasy concocted by George R.R. Martin, who conceived the series. They were once real.
The dire wolf is an extinct species of the genus Canis and lived in the Americas during the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene epochs. They feature heavily in Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, as protectors of the Stark children.
They've also proven quite popular despite being sidelined on the HBO series.
The dire wolves (most notably Jon Snow's very own Ghost) are so popular, in fact, that many fans of the show have desired to own dire wolves of their own.
Here's where Siberian huskies come in: Their shaggy fur coats and other features make them the near spitting image of the dire wolves on the show, and fans have scooped them up from breeders as the show's popularity has soared.
But huskies are a high maintenance breed and fans unable to deal with these demands have abandoned their pets in animal shelters across the United States and the United Kingdom.
As National Geographic points out, huskies require considerable care and attention:
"Huskies are a particularly high-maintenance breed. They have an innate need to run—a lot. They're not particularly easy to train. And when they don't get the at least two hours of daily exercise they need, they can be very destructive."
"But people are increasingly buying them without doing their research, which often results in a lifestyle clash: The husky is frustrated by a lack of proper exercise and stimulation, and the owner doesn't understand why their dog is acting out."
A KOVR-TV report reveals "the number of abandoned huskies has soared eight-fold across the country" since Game of Thrones debuted in 2011.
Marnie Musser, who works at the Sacramento County SPCA, told the outlet that shelters have indeed seen an influx of huskies:
"We have seen an influx in our shelters. And this is actually not just in our community but around the nation... They [huskies] can be absolutely delightful pets, but they have to be well-trained and have focus. And they have to have a lot of stimulation and exercise."
Dan O'Neill, a veterinarian and senior lecturer in companion animal epidemiology at the Royal Veterinary College in London, U.K., is concerned about what will happen to huskies once the demand for them drops:
"The novelty value will be gone. Those rapidly breeding for profit may see a reduction in demand. And then you have the issue of what happens to all those dogs?"
These reports have prompted both fans of the show and animal advocates to urge people to end the cycle.
Game of Thrones actor Jerome Flynn (who plays the sell-sword Bronn) has even teamed up with PETA to get the message out:
Be responsible, everyone. An animal isn't just a fad. It's a life.