Musher's troubles continue

Posted: Sunday, July 04, 2004

Events have taken a turn from bad to worse for Sig Stormo, and he's howling mad about it.

"They're trying to steal my dogs," said Stormo, the Funny River musher who had his 15 huskies confiscated by the Alaska Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (AKSPCA).

"I'm in a bad spot. They won't return my calls, they won't give the dogs back and now it looks like I'm going to have to file charges against them to get the dogs back."

The controversy began June 11 when the AKSPCA confiscated the dogs after Alaska State Troopers called them in believing the dogs had been abandoned.

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

Stormo was in Kodiak working at a remote site and had hired a caretaker to feed the dogs while he was away. After word reached Stormo of what had happened, he began the process of getting his dogs back.

"I started calling them June 16. I've called them at least a dozen times and until recently, the managers wouldn't take my calls or return my calls," Stormo said.

As of midday Saturday, the AKSPCA's Web site claimed Stormo had made no attempts to contact them.

"They've been bad-mouthing me everywhere and have even sent my criminal record to anyone sending them e-mails on my behalf. That information is on public record so it's legal to do, but that's extremely poor form on their part," Stormo said.

He added that nothing on the record is relative to animal abuse or neglect.

Steve McComb, a manager at the AKSPCA told the Clarion they had no comment, and that any further questions should be addressed to their attorney.

Stormo claims that after getting some assistance from troopers involved in the case, he did get a call June 30 from AKSPCA employee Toni Diedrich.

"She said that I owed $4,000 and that it would be $15 per dog, per day for each day they were there, but I know what it costs to feed that many dogs for that many days and it's not that much," Stormo said.

He said he understands the dogs may have incurred some expenses for food, medical supplies and travel to pick them up, but he said the AKSPCA has not given him an itemized bill for the costs.

The costs will continue to mount until the matter is resolved in court.

Brad Nelson, a trooper involved in the case, said not much has changed on their end.

"It's still under investigation, but the DA will ultimately decide soon."

Retired attorney and musher John Wood of Willow said it is debatable if Stormo should be responsible to pay anything at all if he's found innocent of the charges of animal neglect.

"I don't know Stormo from the man on the moon, but I know he's got a good case," Wood said. "If troopers give the word, the AKSPCA cannot hold the dogs as collateral. They have to turn the dogs over to Stormo and pursue the money he owes in civil court."

Wood visited the AKSPCA after learning about the situation through an Internet online chat room and said he was flabbergasted with what he saw.

"They wouldn't let anyone see the dogs, claiming they were in quarantine, but you could walk around the side of the building and see them, and it looked like they didn't have room for that many dogs."

"The dogs were all locked up in airline crates in 70-degree heat with just a big blue tarp strung over them for shade. It sure seemed hypocritical," Wood said.

Wood isn't the only sled dog enthusiast watching the case. Jane Fuerstenau, a Soldotna musher and member of the Peninsula Sled Dog Racing Association, said she also is concerned about the case after contacting the AKSPCA.

"I think they've lost a lot of credibility," she said. "I don't think they knew what they were getting into. They didn't seem prepared with the transportation, housing, funding and lots of other aspects of caring for these dogs.

"It's alarming to me that people that don't know much about sled dogs about the dogs' lean and athletic builds could come and seize your dogs and say you're not fit to care for them," she added.

Fuerstenau also questions the AKSPCA's motives, since they continually asked for donations from the public for the dogs. She said knows how much it costs to feed her 12-dog kennel.

"We pay just under $20 a bag for the 40-pound bag of dog food, and one bag will usually feed 12 dogs for five days."

Fuerstenau said she supplements their diet with meat protein, as well.

Stormo said he's frustrated about the AKSPCA situation.

"I'm really tore up about it. The thought of losing the dogs brings me to tears, because not only do I love them, but the dogs are my last connection to my daughter who was killed in a car accident a few years ago," he said.

Stormo's 16-year-old daughter, Jessica, was a junior musher who competed in the Junior Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. She was killed in a car accident on Funny River Road in 1999.

Stormo said the dogs allowed him to bond with his daughter while she was alive, and although mushing was always more her passion than his, he continued the sport after her death in her memory.



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