'They're my dogs'

Musher cleared of charges; AKSPCA still holding huskies

Posted: Monday, July 26, 2004

Sig Stormo wants his dogs back, but it's a request that comes with a high price, according to the Alaska Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"Now they're saying I owe them close to $10,000," Stormo said Friday. "That's what all this is about for them ... money. They're not doing what's best for the dogs at all. They're just trying to hold onto them so they can keep asking for money."

The Funny River musher had his 15 huskies confiscated by the AKSPCA on June 11 after Alaska State Troopers called them in believing the dogs had been abandoned.

Upon investigation, it turned out Stormo was in Kodiak working and had hired a caretaker to attend to the dogs. Troopers turned over their report and all evidence of the case to the Kenai district attorney's office.

After reviewing the information, assistant district attorney June Stein said Friday the D.A. will not file charges of animal cruelty or neglect against Stormo.

"The case is done, and we advised the AKSPCA that the dogs should go back to the owner," said trooper Brad Nelson, who has been involved in the case from the beginning.

With the animal cruelty charges dropped against him, Stormo drove to Anchorage on Friday to pick up his hus-kies, but the AKSPCA refused to return the dogs.

"They're saying they're filing a civil suit against me, but no paperwork has been filed yet, and I still can't get my dogs," Stormo said.

Adding to the dilemma, the AKSPCA's Web site has maintained, as of Sunday, that to their understanding Stormo has been charged.

Ethel D. Christensen, executive director for the AKSPCA, told the Clarion she had no comment, and that any further questions should be directed to the AKSPCA's attorney Warren Kellicut.

Kellicut was unavailable for comment prior to the Clarion's deadline.

However, in the AKSPCA invoice to Stormo on Friday, they ask for $80 for gasoline to transport the dogs, roughly $540 for medical expenses, $130 in miscellaneous charges, and the remainder of the bill around $9,000 is for boarding the dogs for 40 days at $15 per dog per day.

Stormo said he doesn't intend to pay.

"I don't have $10,000, and even if I did, why should I pay that ransom? They're holding the dogs hostage, but those dogs were taken as evidence. I didn't call them, and I didn't choose to have them boarded there, so why am I responsible for paying the bill?" he said.

Stormo said he's not giving up, though.

"Now I guess I'll have to take them to court. They're my dogs, and I've got to fight for them," he said.

Several mushers who have been following the case said they are concerned by the AKSPCA's decision not to give the dogs back and to ask for such a large sum of money.

"This is a hostage situation plain and simple," said Scott Purkey, a Willow-based musher with 13 years experience.

"There's no reason for them to take it this far and ask for that kind of money as a nonprofit organization, and if they are going to ask for money, they should give the dogs back and pursue the money in a civil suit," he said.

Mitch Michaud, president of the Peninsula Sled Dog and Racing Association (PSDRA), said he had similar feelings.

"This shouldn't be fund raiser for the AKSPCA," he said.

Michaud added that as a result of the charges being dropped against Stormo, several individual members of both PSDRA and the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Racing Association are willing to help him get his dogs back.

"The bend, though, would be to not pay the AKSPCA because that would just support the extortion, and then what would stop them from doing something like this again?" Michaud said.

PSDRA member Jane Fuerstenau said, "No one will give the AKSPCA money because we don't want to encourage this kind of thing from them or other agencies."

Michaud said it is more likely that any money given would be used to support legal costs Stormo will incur as he attempts to get his dogs back.

Purkey said the AKSPCA's decision is just one more mistake in a long line.

"They just don't know how to care for sled dogs and working dogs. They weren't prepared from the transportation to the kenneling to the feeding the list goes on and on," he said.

Purkey added to that list the AKSPCA's decision to send him and others Stormo's arrest record when they inquired about the case.

"It was like they hadn't heard of innocent until proven guilty. They were prosecuting him before it even went to court," he said.

Stormo said he's not looking forward to the upcoming months without his dogs while waiting for litigation.

He also said he was planning on running in the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race and would have begun his four-wheeler training with the dogs at the end of August.

But now he's starting to wonder when and if he gets his dogs back if they be in any condition to run after being confined to a kennel for so long.

"Imagine a professional track runner taking a year off and sitting on the couch and then trying to get back into it," Stormo said. "The AKSPCA's not thinking about that, though. They're just thinking the longer they hold them, the more money they can ask for."

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