Tim Colbath, co-owner of Alaska's Extended Life Animal Sanctuary in Nikiski, uses food to gain the trust of a neglected dog during a rescue of 11 animals from an abondoned yard in Kasilof. This dog's shelter had been flooded with putrid water that had run off the heaping mounds of feces that accumulated while it lived without care.
Good Friday was just that for 11 abandoned sled dogs in Kasilof that were rescued after more than a week without food or fresh water and more than a month without cleaning.
"This is the worst case of neglect I've ever seen," said Tim Colbath, co-owner of Alaska's Extended Life Animal Sanctuary in Nikiski, a no-kill facility where animals are rehabilitated and cared for as long as needed until they are adopted.
Colbath was called in to rescue the animals after Alaska State Troopers investigated the scene.
"On some of them, you can see their spines moving under their skin as they move and breathe. They're really in bad shape," he said.
In addition to being emaciated, the dogs were living in deplorable conditions. Some of the animals were balancing on the roofs of their dilapidated shelters in order to avoid stepping in putrid water runoff from a combination of melting snow and foot-high piles of feces that had flooded their shelters.
"I've never seen dogs living in such filth, with no clean areas available to them at all," Colbath said.
The dogs' owner, a 17-year-old female who once dabbled in recreational mushing, has been identified by authorities. The teen's mother, Jeanene Stewart of Seward, stated her daughter moved away nearly a month ago from where the dogs were kept due to alleged domestic violence against her by a boyfriend, but said her daughter had made arrangements with another person to care for the dogs.
"We were crying and upset when we found out," Stewart said in regard to learning the dogs were neglected.
However, neighbors living next to the where the dogs were abandoned on Teal Drive in the Pollard Loop area tell a different story.
"(The girl) may have left because of domestic violence, but even when she was here she didn't take care of them," said a neighbor who wished to remain anonymous, but who claimed responsibility for bringing the situation to the attention of Alaska State Troopers.
"I and other neighbors had been coming by, doing what we could, but none of us are rich. We stopped feeding them about two weeks ago and called (the girl) to tell her they weren't gonna be fed anymore.
"She knew it and still abandoned the dogs, leaving them to starve to death. As far as I'm concerned, charges should be filed against her and her mother," the neighbor said.
Stewart said her daughter had up to 27 dogs at one time, but that she began to reduce the number of animals when the alleged domestic assault began. Some of the dogs the girl found homes for and others were turned over to animal shelters.
"We tried to get rid of the last 10, but no one would take them," she said.
Stewart claims they called the Kenai Animal Shelter, Soldotna Animal Control Center, the Alaska Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Peninsula Sled Dog and Racing Association and Alaska's Extended Life Animal Sanctuary in Nikiski.
"I don't remember taking her call personally, but our policy is if she brought them in we would take them, but we can't go get them in Kasilof because it's outside city limits," said Brett Reid, animal control officer at the Kenai shelter.
The Soldotna Animal Control Center has a similar policy of enforcement within the city's limits.
The AKSPCA has posted on its Web site that they received a call March 13 from someone who lived south of Soldotna who claimed 10 dogs were abandoned on his property.
The AKSPCA did not identify of the caller on the site and Steve McComb, the adoption center manager for the AKSPCA, stated they couldn't help due to the high volume of animals they already are caring for.
"We're completely jammed packed with dogs right now," he said.
Mitch Michaud, president of the racing association, said he was contacted by Stewart on Thursday.
"I informed her that we were not a rescue group and that we don't place dogs, but I said that I would make information about her dogs available to the dog mushers on our list serve so they could contact her directly," Michaud said.
Colbath also confirmed that he had heard from the owner of the dogs.
"She called three weeks ago and asked if we could take them, but at the time we had more than 130 animals, 70 of which were dogs, so I told her we just didn't have the room or the resources to take in any more," he said.
Colbath said he offered her dog food and said he would help her move the dogs to her new residence but didn't hear back from the girl until after troopers had already contacted him.
"I first came out on Thursday. I didn't tell the troopers that I would definitely take them, but I said I would come take a look," Colbath said.
"After seeing them and their living conditions, I left with three dogs, tears in my eyes and a bad attitude," he added.
Colbath returned Friday to rescue the remaining dogs and said he will be working with troopers and is hopeful that charges of animal abandonment and neglect will be filed.
"Somebody has to be held responsible," Colbath said.
As of Saturday afternoon, Kenai district attorney June Stein said no charges had been filed with her office.
"It is still being investigated by troopers," she said.
Under the recently enacted House Bill No. 275, Section 3, AS11.61.135, a person is guilty of cruelty to animals in the first degree if it is proven they've failed to provide food, water, shelter or care that caused prolonged suffering to a kennel of 10 or more animals, or intentionally abandoned them under circumstances creating a substantial risk of death to the animals.
This is a class C felony. If convicted, a guilty party may be fined up to $50,000 and imprisoned for up to five years.
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