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Area lacks borough-wide animal control

'Unique to the Peninsula'

Posted: October 28, 2012 - 9:27pm  |  Updated: October 29, 2012 - 9:03am
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Chris Heintz feeds a horse named Itty Bitty a treat after helping farrier Ron Horman trim the horse's hooves last week. Itty Bitty is one of the many horses Heintz has rescued.  M. Scott Moon
M. Scott Moon
Chris Heintz feeds a horse named Itty Bitty a treat after helping farrier Ron Horman trim the horse's hooves last week. Itty Bitty is one of the many horses Heintz has rescued.

Two horses, six goats and a llama have a new home. Chris Heintz began caring for these animals after a local jury found a Nikiski woman guilty of animal cruelty.

The animals’ health is improving. A goat underwent emergency surgery, because its previous owner performed a “backyard neuter” that became infected. The two horses are gaining weight, Heintz said.

What’s troubling, however, is the lack of animal control resources in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, she said. Animal control is limited to cities, and issues like abuse in unincorporated parts of the borough fall under the purview of the Alaska State Troopers.

Officials and advocates agreed that investigations involving animals are not a priority.

“It’s time the borough stepped up and took care of their problem,” Heintz said.

Awareness of the lack of animal control in the area has risen with the court case and a gathering of advocates at the Oct. 8 Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting. It’s an issue that periodically garners residents’ attention, but support for a boroughwide animal control program has failed to gain support in the past, officials said.

In 2008, former assembly president Grace Merkes, after complaints from residents, sponsored an ordinance targeting vicious dogs. The ordinance would have allowed a private contractor to handle dogs that had bitten people. The assembly deemed the measure too narrow and too difficult to enforce.

Two years later, the troopers seized four abandoned dogs at a North Kenai property. The dogs were locked in a pen, starving and fighting. At the time, then-assembly President Pete Sprague said the issue of animal control “has never had any traction.” And the assembly would not take up the issue without public outcry, Sprague said.

Tim Colbath, cofounder of Alaska’s Extended Life Animal Shelter in Nikiski, has lobbied the assembly for more than a decade, but his efforts have resulted in no new measures.

In 2006, Congress passed public law 109-308, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, to ensure that state and local emergency preparedness operational plans address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals following a major disaster.

The borough has three options to comply with federal law, Colbath argues. It can become a first-class borough, where animal control is mandatory; or it can adopt an existing state statute that gives second-class boroughs the ability to handle and dispose of domestic animals.

The third option, which Colbath created with other advocates, involves establishing an emergency animal resource and response team. The team would fulfill the requirements of the federal government as well as give the borough the ability to address other animal concerns, he said.

“The animal abuse cases going uninvestigated and unprosecuted and improperly prosecuted is unique to the Peninsula,” Colbath said. “If you go to the Mat-Su Borough or the (Fairbanks) North Star Borough, the other comparable second-class boroughs in the state, they both have very comprehensive animal control inside of incorporated cities and the boroughs as a whole.”

Comprised of certified animal control officers and shelter managers, the team would collect evidence to present to the troopers for procurement of required search warrants. This would circumvent costly investigations, he said.

Currently, a trooper who receives a complaint of animal cruelty may apply for a search warrant. If the district court feels inclined, it issues the requested warrant. Although state law requires troopers to investigate such cases, they rarely do so.

Only a handful of animal abuse cases have entered the Peninsula’s court system, Colbath recalled.

Colbath said he realizes troopers’ resources are stretched thin, but thinks the team is a solution. Officials, including borough Mayor Mike Navarre, agree that troopers are swamped.

“The troopers do the best they can, but they’ve got a lot to deal with ... I think all approaches have similar obstacles, like high costs, and is it something the borough should assume responsibility for when it’s already against state law? Maybe the state should step up to the plate,” Navarre said.

People call Heintz with suspected cases of animal abuse at least 10 times a week, she said. As a board member and volunteer of the Alaska Equine Rescue, she has cared for more than 300 horses, all out of pocket.

She is on a list of people troopers call to care for abused or abandoned animals; she helped troopers with the Robin Lee Sickle case.

Sickle, a 37-year-old Nikiski resident, neglected her animals and left them with no food or water for days at a time, according to court records.

A veterinarian must inspect an animal before it is taken into protective custody. There are exceptions to the law, however. During the Sickle case, Dr. Gerald Nybakken inspected three horses.

One of the horses he inspected could not stand. He chemically euthanized the horse at the request of Sickle. Nybakken concluded Sickle’s treatment of the euthanized horse was “definitely abusive” while her treatment of the two remaining horses was “bordering on abuse,” according to court records.

Troopers charged Sickle with one count of animal abuse for the euthanized horse.

Heintz and Colbath argue all the horses were abused — starving causes prolonged pain and suffering, they said.

It took years of litigation, investigation efforts by the troopers and the volunteer work of a local veterinarian to put that one case to rest. It took time and money, a fact the opposition to boroughwide animal control likes to point out. And taxpayers, they said, have been unwilling to pick up the bill.

The Mat-Su Borough’s animal control program had a budget of about $2 million last year, said Carol Vardeman, Mat-Su’s animal shelter manager.

Lawmakers wrote a leash law into the Mat-Su Borough’s code in 1979. Since then, the program has snowballed to unmanageable proportions, Vardeman said.

“It’s so big it’s kind of unenforceable,” she said, “because the pro-animal care side isn’t big enough to fund enough officers to enforce all of the laws. So, we have a lot of unlicensed kennels that cause a lot of heartbreak at different times of the year, different classifications for dogs that bite people. It’s tough.”

The Mat-Su’s shelter, which completed a pricey upgrade in 2009, cared for about 3,800 animals last year. Its program employs four full-time animal control officers, who are generally swamped with dog bite cases, Vardeman said.

She said the officers have had a few well-publicized seizures of starving animals and two horse abuse cases. Their facility includes space to keep large animals like horses, but not for the long-term.

The officers handle animal care duties for the entire Mat-Su Borough, which stretches 25,000 square miles.

Kenai Peninsula Borough officials have not assessed the cost of an animal control program, Navarre said. Cost and management are his main concerns, he said.

Borough assembly member Brent Johnson likes the idea of animal control because he opposes animal abuse and the damage caused by loose dogs. And although dog attacks are a continuous problem, he does not favor establishing boroughwide animal control until residents are willing to pay for it, he said.

Navarre said he plans to examine the costs of a disaster plan for pets, but thinks the two options for animal control — Tim’s purposed team and an area-wide program — are similar in cost and size.

“That’s something that the support isn’t there for borough wide,” he said.


Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at

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ziggyak 10/28/12 - 10:12 pm
Who pays for this new service?

A select few wish for borough wide animal control, thats all well and good but who is going to pay for it? Not me, I already pay for animal control, yes I live inside city limits and pay double the taxes, than those living the free life out side city limits. My decision to live in a city and theirs to live outside the city are personal choices. If you live outside a city limit and want additional services that cities offer then pony up and pay for it, we already do and don't want you freeloading anymore services than you already do.

akpugluv 10/29/12 - 11:12 am
Borough wide animal abuse

In response to ziggyak from someone living outside the city limits... Living in the city limits still means that you live inside the borough. People that live in the city limits have cars and trucks and many drive to locations outside the cities and abandon their animals. Then they turn around and drive back home inside the city to leave their responsibility in the woods: to starve, to be killed by wild animals, to be tortured and killed by animal abusers, or if they're lucky to end up at someone's doorstep that will take them in and love them. Sadly the last scenerio is the one that happens the least. Often a city pet doesn't make it out of the woods to find a loving home. Animal abuse is a borough wide issue including everyone that lives in a city limit. In the many years I've lived on the Kenai Peninsula I've lost track of the number of abondoned animals I've taken in and provided a loving forever home. It's past time for everyone in this borough to wake up to the severe issue of animal abuse and the lack of doing anything to stop it.

Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 10/29/12 - 03:39 pm

Yes it is sad that we have animal abuse everywhere and as we see the ecomonic cliff we are hanging over become more of a reality we will see far worse animal abuses to come.
What about the Human abuse we see as well daily with people starving to death or freezing to death or killing them selves out of reaching a no hope in this life attitude?
What about the SEVERE ISSUE OF 6000+ baby fetuses a day being killed in America and even in Alaska due to bad sex decisions and the lack of doing anything to stop it?
As i said yes it's a sad thing thats going on but it is Nation, world wide and it's going to get far worse as time goes on and civilation declines into the pit of despair and hopelessness for everyone.
PLEASE have the decency to put a hole in the back of these unwanted animals heads like is done to unwanted HUMAN ABUSE daily, instead of abandoning these animals to their own demise causing more suffering for them and criminal charges for ANIMAL ABUSE against you.

analaskancitizen 10/29/12 - 05:19 pm
animal control

Zig.., if you live in Kenai (and I suspect Soldotna is the same or even lower) you are paying fewer taxes than most of the folks who live outside of the city limits who have taken on service areas for a variety of services.

I suspect animal control would be a similar situation and possibly accomplished by people "out there" voting for it AND paying for it.

It is possible that if the other borough folks took on animal control it would actually decrease the pressure on the cities of Kenai, Soldotna, and Homer animal control. (maybe Seward too - I don't know what they do over there) Right now as city taxpayers we are subsidizing those outside our boundaries.

Of course responsible pet ownership would solve it all - but it isn't happening.

aspiecelia 10/31/12 - 03:48 am
Soldotna Animal Control is Not Adequate Now

Unless something has changed in the past year or so Soldotna Animal Control only has 1.5 staff. That means they have to take care of the animals and respond to problems with 1 full time and one half-time staff. We had issues where I live and they said they had five calls about the problem and just drove by. The police were taking their calls probably because they could never get anything done if they had to answer the phone calls. The low level of staff is not the only issue, communication about animals in trouble does not happen. When I was in Homer and a malfeasant prosecutor and corrupt judge used a lie to have me wrongfully imprisoned for retaliation I told state troopers, several government agencies, corrections officers, public defenders and others my cat would be harmed by the con man(who unfortunately was my landlord who also stole my property) who actually did the crime I was wrongfully imprisoned for. The animal shelter staff in Homer would have gone and gotten her if they had been informed. I actually had corrections officers make fun of me for crying about it. When I got back she was very ill and I tried to save her, eventually having to have her put to sleep. These are not things that happen in a democracy or with civilized people. Animals don't ask (usually) to become our pets, we are responsible for them and society as a whole does have to assist when they are in bad circumstances. I am grateful for the people who are working to help abused animals on the Kenai Peninsula.

akdave 10/31/12 - 09:17 am
Animal Control

Ziggyak, seriously, go back to whatever hole you crawled out of in the Lower 48, we don't need your attitude up here.

I live across from a home where the single mom dumped 3 kids when they were 15, 17 and 19. Over the last 3 years, the middle child, a girl, decided to become a "rescue specialist" and bring home every animal that still had four legs. It took less than a month for our nieghborhood to become infested with homeless dogs. It took less than a week after that before we started shooting them. At this point, there's 3 dogs that are never kenneled or fenced in, who chase cars, bark at the kids walking back & forth to school, and harrasing wildlife. Oh wait, there's only two dogs now, one was run over this last Friday and left on the side of the road, in view of the owners house. Seriously, WTF? We need animal control Borough-wide and we need it sooner rather than later.

Until then, if you insist on giving your dog the "Alaska experience" of not being leashed or controlled, then I will exercise my lawful right to return the "Alaska experience" with a well placed bullet the next time your dog snarls at my family and chases a child.

skid1000 11/01/12 - 09:06 pm
lack of animal control

This story starts back on March 2010 when there house burnt down. There was 2 dead horses found on the front porch and a couple of dead goats. Then in Aug of 2010 4 dogs were found by AST. the sad part was they were so under feed they either died or put to sleep. Then some how Robin Sickel got a hold of 3 more horses. After watching those 3 go from well feed nice looking horses to bones I started calling everyone and anyone to see if there was help to get them out of there.Every one I called said the only thing is to call the AST.Well after 3 calls to the AST and no water for 6 weeks and no food for 3 weeks befor that the horses only got food 2xs a week one horse was found frozen to the ground unable to move so it was put down. Now can anyone tell me how someone on welfair can afford all those animals? Oh I forgot they got insurance money from the house and bought all new cloths for her and her boyfreind ,new car,truck,guns,(boyfreind is a covicted felon) and they left the 6 kids out in the cold. We need someone to start an ASPCA for the hole Kenai Peninsula. These animals need our help from these kind of people.

jlmh 11/04/12 - 01:36 am
Have the pet owners fund it

Have the pet owners fund it through fines. Or add it to the property taxes. Heck, I'd be willing to pay a call-out fee myself if there was some entity to call about problem animals.

I'm tired of being attacked by dogs just walking down my street. I've even had vicious ones follow me home. The troopers don't do anything about it. What are we supposed to do? Carry a pistol to the bus stop? It's ridiculous how many loose dogs roam the peninsula, terrorizing people and other dogs.

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