A Delta Junction family says snares illegally set on their 2,000-acre farm caught two pet dogs in separate incidents over the past few months.
Princess, a 12-year-old mutt, escaped the snare on New Year's Day after one of her owners heard her yipping in pain and fear. Sadie, a 2-year-old pit bull-malamute mix missing for eight days, came home in early December with a wicked open wound around her swollen neck.
Now none of the Steele family's eight dogs go outside for more than a few minutes.
"It's just a shame. I have to constantly monitor where they're at every minute of the day," said Marti Steele, who lives on the barley and hay farm with husband Kent and six or seven of their 12 children. "It's not fair. It kind of takes away the whole idea of personal property."
The Alaska State Troopers are investigating the incidents and say they have suspect information but no arrests. One of Steele's sons tracked a suspicious snowmachine to a home in the area the day after he found the dog but no one came out when he knocked.
The most recent incident involving Princess generated a report to troopers at 10 a.m. Jan. 2. Kent Steele, who is retired Air Force and works on the North Slope, said that "unknown persons were trapping on his land that is clearly marked with no trespass signs resulting in the trapping of his pet dog," according to a summary posted by Delta-based Trooper Steven Lantz.
Suspects "have been developed," Lantz wrote.
Back in November, Marti Steele said, Sadie disappeared for so long that she gave her up for dead. The dog was always getting into something. She survived parvo as a puppy, tangled with a barbed wire fence, and got into it with a porcupine -- twice -- before getting lured into that snare. It's not clear how she escaped, Steele said. Snares were found on their property a few days after the dog went missing but Sadie herself showed up at the house emaciated and injured but without the snare on her neck.
The dog doesn't get to run loose any more, her owner said.
The troopers involved in the investigation weren't available for interviews Wednesday. Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said she couldn't provide any information about potential suspects.
The problems on the farm 40 miles outside of Delta echo an ongoing situation in the Mat-Su Borough, where some residents say trappers or hunters are using their private property without permission.
The trespass issue is complicated by the state's criminal trespass law, which requires landowners or leaseholders to post land and access points with signs banning trespass or specific activities. Troopers say they can only arrest people who commit the crime of trespass, as defined by statute, meaning on land properly posted with signs.
But that doesn't make setting traps or hunting on private property legal as the lawsuit filed by gravel pit operator Nicolene Jordan shows. Jordan and husband Mark Loomis filed a lawsuit against an Alaska Wildlife Trooper and his trapping partner after finding snares on leased property near Colony Middle School. Trapper Rick Ellis has said no signs marked the access he used to set the snares.
No hearings have been scheduled in that case.
At the Steele farm, it appears the situation was more clear.
Signs mark the length of the farm property along Cummings Road by the Gerstle River, Marti Steele said.
In fact, when her son found Princess, the snare was on the Steele's property right next to the road -- wired to a tree next to a tree with a No Trespassing sign on it, she said.
The family bought the farm in 1991 and has lived there since 1995. They let bison hunters on the property, provided they ask first and clean up after a kill, Marti Steele said. They also let people from the area where the family thinks the suspects live hunt on the property, Steele said.
"But no one asked permission to put snares out," she said. "We never would have allowed it."
Reach Zaz Hollander at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4317.