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Iditarod Checkpoint Enforces Ordinance to Control Loose Dog Population as Mushers Arrive

Iditarod musher leaving Unalakleet, with buildings of the village behind him

Coinciding with the Iditarod sled dog race, the City of Unalakleet has issued an emergency ordinance to address loose dogs running free around the community.

KNOM’s Davis Hovey reports this is a response to a problem many residents complained about, but not everyone is happy with the solution:

Interim City Manager Davida Hanson explains why the City Council voted in January, before the 2018 Iditarod began, to allow local law enforcement to catch loose dogs with or without collars.

“One of the reasons that the City decided to do an emergency ordinance was because there were so many loose dogs in town and also because Iditarod was going to be coming through, and with the problem we were having, we didn’t want that to affect Iditarod, and we didn’t want to have loose dogs running around during Iditarod, with all the dog mushers coming through.”

Another concern, according to Hanson, was that the growing population of foxes in the area could carry a risk of rabies and potentially infect one of these loose dogs, which would be even more of a concern to deal with.

If dogs with collars are found, then they are held in a public dog pen for 24 hours, where their owners can pick up the dogs for a fine of $50. Hanson says the City then contacts the pet owner and allows them time to get their pets, but if the 24 hours is up or the dog is found without a collar, then something more drastic happens.

“If the dogs don’t have a collar on them, then we are assuming that the dog doesn’t belong to anybody, and can be, according to the ordinance, all uncollared dogs will be caught and dispatched immediately in a humane manner.”

According to Hanson, it’s up to the Unalakleet police department to determine what qualifies as a humane way to dispatch un-collared dogs. So far, local resident Charaleigh (Chara) Blatchford says their methods have not been exactly humane.

“I have had pets before that I’ve never collared, we don’t believe in tying our pets up, it’s not something we are comfortable with. We hadn’t seen the sign; we weren’t aware of the notice. Again, I guess the City had this on social media, they’ve had it on the radio, had signs hung up that were very plain. So we were just unaware. And Mom had let the dog out to use the bathroom, tried to call him back in, within a twenty-minute period, and the dog never came back, so we figured he was just running around, he’d be fine, it has happened before.”

The next day after her dog didn’t return, Blatchford found her pet had been dispatched or shot and disposed of, then left at the community dump. Blatchford knows of at least two local family’s dogs, including her own pet, who have been shot and killed in Unalakleet thus far. She would like to prevent that from happening to more pet owners in the community.

“I think that they could have kept putting the dogs inside the kennels, with or without a collar. I don’t understand the difference between the two, it’s a small enough community where you know who everyone’s pets are, and just simply asking somebody if you don’t know, somebody in the neighborhood is going to know. So being able to say ‘hey, we caught this dog, and it doesn’t have a collar, I don’t recognize it, do you know whose it is?’ You probably would’ve gotten, you know, so and so’s dog. No, it’s not even probably, somebody would have known.”

To people like Blatchford, who have found their pets deceased in the local dump, Hanson says the City of Unalakleet apologizes, but the local government felt it needed to do something to control the number of untethered dogs.

“It seems to be working, and we hope that the community will continue to keep their dogs tied up. If you are out walking your dog, walk it with a leash. And if this is your pet and you don’t want something to happen to it, then everybody should take care of their pets.”

The City Council is meeting in Unalakleet tonight, and Hanson says the loose dog issue is on the agenda. This emergency ordinance is set to expire nine days from now after all the Iditarod mushers have come and gone, on March 22nd.

Image at top: Nic Petit mushing out of Unalakleet on Sunday. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media.

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