Mat-Su animal shelter property under contention

Former Iditarod musher files lien, says borough responsible for loss of sled dogs

Posted: Sunday, December 30, 2007

PALMER - A former Iditarod musher said he wants satisfaction from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough for seizing his malnourished dogs three years ago and curtailing his mushing career.

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David Straub, 48, of Willow filed a "nonconsensual common law lien" several months ago that holds the borough responsible for his claimed loss in October 2004 of $1.5 million in property, namely his kennel of sled dogs.

The property on which Straub placed his lien, 77 acres at 1200 N. 49th State St., is the site where the borough plans to expand its crowded animal shelter. Straub's lien muddies the title to borough property where animal control officers held the dogs they seized from Straub in 2004.

"I want to forgive them, but it's hard to forget," Straub said Wednesday. "I had a 25-year dream ripped out from under me."

The borough filed suit against Straub on Dec. 16 in Palmer Superior Court, seeking to remove the lien. In court filings, the borough claims that unless the lien is lifted by Jan. 28, plans for a new, $5 million shelter are in jeopardy.

The borough three years ago seized 28 of Straub's 32 dogs. Some of the animals were so emaciated their bones showed, according to witnesses, including four-time Iditarod winner Martin Buser, who testified against Straub in 2005.

The Associated Press reported at the time that 10 dogs either died or were euthanized after arriving at the borough animal shelter.

Straub in April 2005 was convicted of animal cruelty and fined $300 for violating borough code. Two weeks later, he was cited again, this time for keeping seven dogs, including two involved in the cruelty case, without the proper kennel license.

At the time, Straub said Wednesday, he'd broken his neck in a fall at a Wasilla construction site. He was out of work for many months, and that led to money problems that he blamed for the condition of his dogs.

"I didn't come to Alaska to be mean to dogs. You don't set the red lantern record by being mean to dogs," he said, referring to the trophy given to the Iditarod's last-place finisher.

He said he still holds the fastest time for a red lantern finisher. "I'm proud of my accomplishments."

Of the $1.5 million damages claim, Straub said the number is "not arbitrary. I basically lost hundreds of thousands of dollars when they took my veterans. Six of those dogs finished with me in Nome. Those weren't poodles. They had Swenson and Butcher (dogs') bloodlines," citing a couple of the Iditarod's most notable names.

"They destroyed my property, my dogs. That's destruction of private property without a court case. U.S. law frowns on that," Straub said.

Borough attorney Nicholas Spiropoulos refused to comment on the case Wednesday except to say, "I'm not comfortable making statements about ongoing litigation."

The borough lawsuit claims the borough "unexpectedly" discovered the lien during a Dec. 14 title search that's required to complete a plat on the property.

As part of its financing plan for the shelter expansion, the borough divided the 77 acres into three parcels called Tri-Central Subdivision. Unless the lien is lifted by Jan. 28, the borough will be unable to either obtain bond insurance or apply for a bond rating, Borough Manager John Duffy stated in an affidavit filed with the lawsuit. The borough plan is to finance the new shelter through a public bond issue.

To deter the risk "of serious financial hardship," the borough requested an expedited ruling from the court. A construction delay could set the borough back "hundreds of thousands of dollars," according to Duffy.

No date is set for a hearing, according to online court records. The case is assigned to Judge Kari Kristiansen.

Despite his legal claim, Straub said, "I don't want the borough's money. They could use that money to build a decent school in the Upper Valley. Give those kids more than just classrooms. They need some extras. That's why I want to be borough mayor. I want to help, to make things better. I don't want to put a lien on my constituents."

Straub ran an unsuccessful bid for Mat-Su Borough mayor in October 2006. He collected less than 5 percent of the vote total.

Straub said all he really wants is an apology from borough officials for killing his dogs.

"It sure would make a big difference knowing that there might be real people down there in the borough," he said. "I just need a little compassion. That would make me feel good."

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