Musher missing, dogs left behind

Troopers find growing operation at home

Posted: Monday, June 14, 2004

The disappearance of a Funny River musher has led to 15 of his sled dogs being confiscated by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) of Anchorage last Friday.

Sigmund Stormo, a longtime musher and past contender in the 1000-mile Yukon Quest sled dog race, has mysteriously dropped off the radar, leaving everything including his hungry huskies behind.

"Nobody knows where he is at this point. He's just missing," said Brad Nelson, an Alaska State Trooper involved in the investigation.

Troopers first became aware of the situation when neighbors of Stormo's called troopers late last month complaining the dogs were howling.

"The neighbors stated they hadn't seen the owner in several days, and they were worried about the dogs," Nelson said.

Troopers arrived at the scene and, upon investigation, found the dogs to be a bit thin. However, they said it was difficult to tell if the dogs were thin from not being fed or from their athletic lifestyle.

While at the scene, troopers also found evidence that led them to believe there may have been a marijuana grow operation within the residence.

The information was turned over to the Alaska Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Enforcement, which investigated the matter.

On June 9, a search warrant was issued and troopers returned to the Stormo residence.

"It appeared the owner had not been there in quite a while," Nelson said.

Troopers seized a total of 50 marijuana plants, and the dogs looked as though their condition had deteriorated over the elapsed time.

"We were worried and didn't want them to be hurt or die," Nelson said.

So, following protocol, troopers called ASPCA.

Troopers fed the animals until Friday, when the ASPCA made the trip from Anchorage to pick up the dogs.

"We came to help," said Toni Diedrich of the ASPCA.

Upon inspecting the animals before loading them for transport, Diedrich said their conditions varied from dog to dog, but all appeared to have gone without food for an extended period of time.

"Some are thinner than others, but if I had to guess, I'd say they went at least 10 days without food," she said.

Steve McComb, the ASPCA Pet Adoption Center manager, said it was good troopers called when they did.

"It could have been worse. I'm glad they called before things deteriorated further," he said.

McComb added that now the work really begins.

"Now we've got to clean them up and check them out. And, of course, we'll try and fatten them up over the next few weeks," he said.

The ASPCA will hold the dogs for 120 hours, after which time they will consider the dogs their possession.

"Then we'll get them up to date on their vaccinations, get a microchip in each one and spay and neuter them all," McComb said.

Diedrich added it is expensive to make trips to the peninsula to perform rescues, as well as properly rehabilitate the animals.

"It's too bad there isn't a boroughwide animal control agency, or some grass-roots efforts to handle this kind of thing down here on the peninsula," she said.

To offset the cost of the veterinary procedures for the dogs, the Pet Adoption Center is asking for donations. To make one, contact McComb at 344-3622 or by e-mail at akspca@gci.net.

As for Stormo, "We left copies of an inventory for everything that was seized from the property, including the dogs, with instructions for the procedure to get it back," Nelson said.

Nelson also stated Stormo has charges pending for the controlled substances found, and also an individual count of animal cruelty for each dog rescued from his property.

Troopers are asking for anyone that has information pertaining to Stormo's whereabouts to contact Nelson at 262-4453.

"We're hoping someone will come forward with information on where he is," Nelson said.

He added that Stormo isn't under arrest. The information is being solicited for a welfare check since Stormo is missing. No foul play is suspected at this time, but troopers want to be sure of his well-being.



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