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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

24 September 2002 Issue

The Animal Tour Bus From Hell
Commentary by Margery Glickman
Margery Glickman is the director of the Sled Dog Action Coalition.

Beyond the borders of Alaska's large cities, acts of barbarism against animals can easily happen.  Alaska, without a statewide humane officer to enforce animal cruelty laws, leaves animal control up to over-burdened state troopers who do not adequately understand the animal cruelty laws.  The saga of how the Alaska SPCA saved 66 animals from brutal treatment in Sterling, Alaska shows why a statewide humane officer, with an adequate support staff, is desperately needed to prevent atrocities in the future.

Here's what happened.  With each advancing step, Alaska SPCA volunteer Nancy Wall's flashlight illuminated scenes of devastation  and misery on a dark bitterly cold winter afternoon in Sterling when she went to check on Carolyn Boughton's animals.  "The snow was littered with the bodies of Boughton's dead cats.  There were legs and skulls from cats who had been torn apart and eaten," Wall said.

Each time Wall moved her flashlight along the ground she found more horrors.  "I tripped over dead dogs, " she said.  One Bouvier des Flandres, a large black herding and guard dog, died tethered to a tree on a short chain when his legs became entangled in the wire from a fallen tarp.  Two other dogs choked to death trying to free themselves from their tethers, their collars pulled back on their eyes. A pinch collar (a collar with blunt prongs that pinch the dog's skin when the collar is tightened) dug deep into one dog's neck.

In the dark, Wall could smell the stench long before she saw its source -- an old Greyhound tour bus. "I looked in the window and nausea almost overwhelmed me," Wall said. Through the windows she could hear the plaintive cries of the animals Boughton kept captive inside.

Wall brought in state troopers, who instead of removing Boughton's animals from their hellish conditions, told Boughton she had several days to make improvements.  Determined to help the animals, Wall convinced Broughton to transfer their ownership to the Alaska SPCA.  Diane Zarfoss and her team of one veterinarian and six Alaska SPCA rescuers then drove 2 1/2 hours from Anchorage to save the remaining dogs from their agony.

"The situation was devastating," Zarfoss said.  "We had to wear gas masks to go inside, because the smell of urine and feces was so strong."  The bus was stripped on the inside and plywood boxes with dogs were stacked along the walls. Each box had two to four holes the size of a quarter, but otherwise the dogs were enclosed in solid plywood. Some boxes held two dogs.

Zarfoss explained that the boxes were filled with urine and feces piled six to eight inches thick and that the dogs' fur was matted with excrement.  Their eyes were weepy from living in their own feces and urine, and with the -20 degree temperature, their eyes froze shut. One Kerry blue terrier's eye was so damaged that it was later removed and all the dogs received eye medication."

Food bowls weren't placed in the wooden crates, Zarfoss said. The dogs were on the brink of starvation and dehydration. Some Kerry Blue Terriers tried to chew their way out but died when their legs were wedged into the cracks in the plywood. "Other dogs froze to death. With their food bowls just out of reach," Zarfoss said, "the dogs tethered outside died lunging to get at them. In desperation, some had dug holes to get at tree roots to eat."

Domestic animals get  little protection from abuse

The Alaska SPCA warned state troopers about the animals' steadily deteriorating situation months before, but the troopers would not intervene.  Alaska has more protection for wild animals than for domestic ones, particularly dogs, cats and horses. "It is a disgrace that the laws and big budgets for domestic animals are frowned upon by the politicians," Alaska SPCA Executive Director Ethel Christensen said.

Christensen says that for decades the Alaska SPCA has had complaints from tourists and others asking it to do something about the atrocities in the areas of the State where there are no local laws. The Alaska SPCA has begged for help from the State to tighten laws and for a statewide humane officer to enforce them. Now is an ideal time to create this position.

Animals get a new start in life

The Alaska SPCA rescued 66 dogs including Bouvier des Flandres, Kerry blue terriers,  malamutes and Australian shepherd-husky mix dogs and brought them to Anchorage in airline kennels which the people of Anchorage had donated.  There the Alaska SPCA set up triage for  the dogs in a rented warehouse where the dogs were medicated, groomed and fed. A group of Alaska SPCA volunteers worked long and hard to give these dogs a new start in life. A malamute named Stormy was the last of the 66 dogs to be adopted; he left for a new home several weeks ago with a wagging tail and a bounce in his step.

Cost of rescue puts Alaska SPCA in dire financial straits

The cost of the rescue exceeded $30,000, forcing the Alaska SPCA to take out a mortgage on its shelter property. The Alaska SPCA is maxed out financially as it has never received help from any governmental source.  "These are the very people that support the sled dogs for economic reasons," Christensen said.  "And, little do they realize the picture they have painted to those outside Alaska."

The Alaska SPCA is a non-profit, privately funded organization with no affiliation with the government or any other organization. The organization's founder and Executive Director,  Ethel Christensen, has not taken a salary since she began the organization in 1966.

How you can help:

Please send your tax-deductible donations to the Alaska SPCA:

Alaska SPCA
549 W. International Airport Road, Ste B2
Anchorage, AK 99518

Write to Alaska Governor Tony Knowles to ask that a statewide humane officer, with an adequate support staff, be hired immediately.

Visit the Alaska SPCA website page to view pictures of Boughton's property and to see the welcome the dogs received in Anchorage.

Margery Glickman is the director of the Sled Dog Action Coalition.

STAFF: [email protected]

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