Sig Stormo, whose dogs have been in the possession of the Alaska Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (AKSPCA) for more than 70 days, got his dogs back earlier this week after a long and sordid affair.
"It was so good to get them back," Stormo said. "I got all 15 of them. They were so happy when they saw me and heard my voice. They all started barking and howling and just going crazy."
The Funny River musher had his dogs removed by the AKSPCA on June 11, after Alaska State Troopers called them believing the dogs had been abandoned.
Stormo was working at a remote location in Kodiak and said he had left his dogs to be cared for by a cousin. After investigation by troopers, the Kenai district attorney's office opted not to file charges of animal cruelty or neglect against Stormo.
The AKSPCA then filed a civil suit against Stormo in an effort to be reimbursed for the feed and care the dogs received while in their possession.
Stormo, having been cleared of any crime, believed he did not have to pay. The dogs were in limbo until last week.
"The AKSPCA called me up and said they would give the dogs back if I signed a paper saying that I wouldn't sue them," Stormo said.
Initially, Stormo said he wasn't interested in signing the paperwork because after meeting with legal counsel John Wood, a retired attorney and active musher from Willow Stormo believed he had a strong case. But then reality set in.
"I knew I could win in court, but that would take a year of legal fees, headaches and that would mean that much more time that my dogs would be away from me.
"It wasn't about trying to get back at the AKSPCA, or trying to sue them to clean them out for what they did to me. It was about getting my dogs back," Stormo said.
After a few revisions were made to the document declaring that neither Stormo nor the AKSPCA were liable for the incident and that neither party owed any sum of money, Stormo signed and got his dogs back Sunday, free of charge.
"I wouldn't give up, no matter how devastating it was, and I'm glad I didn't," Stormo said.
He said he took the huskies back to his Funny River home and let them run loose around his property for the rest of the day.
However, by the next day, he needed to get back to his place of employment in Kodiak, since he had taken a considerable amount of time off during his three trips to Anchorage to recover the dogs.
"After what happened last time, though, I wasn't about to trust leaving them behind to be watched by somebody," Stormo said. He brought all 15 huskies with him to Kodiak.
Stormo said he hopes some good will come out of this situation.
"A lot of people were willing to help. I couldn't have done this without John Wood, but a lot of other people got very interested in this case. Hopefully, some of them will start a sled dog rescue group here on the peninsula to help out with this kind of thing," Stormo said.
AKSPCA representatives said they would rather not comment on the specifics of the case, or why the decision was made to give Stormo back the dogs.
However, AKSPCA's Toni Diedrich, speaking for herself, said she hoped this matter served to increase the concern of animal welfare issues.
"I think this speaks to the fact that when you have animals you need to make sure you have good plans and good back-up plans, whenever you go away. That's the bottom line," she said.
"I also hope that a coordinated effort will be started on the Kenai Peninsula to rescue dogs not just sled dogs, but all dogs. There are a lot of pockets of good Samaritans down there, but more than that is needed."
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