Dozens of German shepherds seized from ‘hoarding situation’ in Mat-Su, officials say

PALMER — Authorities say they’ve recovered roughly 50 German shepherds from a property near Willow where they also found three dead puppies and an adult dog last month.

James Grayden, 49, owns the dogs and the property in Caswell Lakes, an unincorporated community north of Willow. Grayden, who is not facing any criminal charges over his dogs, said this week that he is being punished for letting them run loose.

But Matanuska-Susitna Borough officials say the seizure follows two years of complaints and numerous citations over packs of German shepherds roaming off Grayden’s property and into surrounding neighborhoods, creating an unsafe situation.

The dogs are in the care of the Mat-Su Animal Shelter now, according to borough animal care director Chris Loscar. Records show Grayden turned over nearly half himself. The animals range from newborn puppies to older adults, Loscar said, and exhibit varying levels of socialization.

“This was a backyard breeding situation that got out of hand and turned into a hoarding situation,” he said.

The sudden arrival of the dogs last month put pressure on the shelter’s capacity despite the use of rescue groups and foster homes to help house them, Loscar said. “It maxes it out and it stresses it for sure.”

The facility temporarily halted owner surrenders “due to a significant influx of dogs” on April 9, when they took in 35 of the German shepherds over a 24-hour period. A parvo outbreak, along with continued capacity issues, led to a night drop closure that extended into this week.


[Mat-Su Borough now requires all ‘found’ animals get turned over to shelter]

Grayden, in text messages responding to questions this week, said the borough took away his dogs “(s)imply because they got out of the house” even though they were healthy and had not attacked anyone.

“I raised these dogs from birth. I brought them all into the world and love them unconditionally,” he wrote. “That they would take away my pups simply because they got out of my house is beyond ridiculous.”

It’s unclear if Grayden still has more dogs. He said he does not. The borough last month filed a civil lawsuit asking a judge to allow Alaska State Troopers to help seize any dogs remaining inside Grayden’s house. Filings in the lawsuit indicate animal care officials believe he has more. Troopers found no dogs at the house, an agency spokesman said this week.

Borough officials say the lengthy history surrounding the case showed the dogs posed a risk to the public even after multiple citations warning Grayden to contain them.

The dogs “continued to roam the neighborhood in packs, including sometimes up to a mile away,” borough attorney Nick Spiropoulos wrote in the civil complaint filed in Palmer Superior Court in late April.

Under borough code, dogs caught running loose more than twice in 12 months are required to be restrained. Grayden was found guilty of numerous minor offenses including failing to restrain the dogs, letting them run loose, and not getting a kennel license, according to a state courts database.

One neighbor obtained a protective order against Grayden in 2022 that referenced aggressive dogs, according to filings in that case. Two others described dog packs surrounding their car and roaming their property, according to filings in the borough civil case.

At the end of February, Grayden got a notice that the borough intended to seize his dogs. He appealed but a hearing officer upheld the decision, writing in an order that the dogs continued to roam in packs, “chasing cars and making neighbors afraid for their own safety.”

On April 8, a Wasilla code compliance officer spotted Grayden’s vehicle — with 24 dogs inside — at a local hotel, and borough officials seized them with help from the Wasilla Police Department, the complaint said. Grayden himself surrendered another 17 dogs within several days and five more in late April, according to filings in the civil lawsuit.

An animal care officer drove up to his Caswell Lakes property in mid-April and heard what sounded like six or eight dogs still inside, according to the complaint. They found a dead dog outside, it said.

Several days later, officers returned to the property and found three dead puppies in a vehicle, the complaint said. Two adult dogs were running loose but couldn’t be secured, with several more inside, it said.

“There was no indication that anyone had recently been on the property and there was no obvious food or water source for them,” Spiropoulos wrote. “The Borough has serious concerns for the health and well-being of the remaining dogs.”

Grayden this week said he found the dead dogs in the woods and put them in a vehicle to keep predators away because the ground was too hard for burials.

An appeal window for the civil lawsuit ended Monday without any apparent filing, according to borough spokesman Stefan Hinman. He declined to say whether the borough still thinks Grayden has dogs in his possession.

Grayden said he plans to meet with an attorney next week to try to get his dogs back.

Zaz Hollander

Zaz Hollander is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su and is currently an ADN local news editor and reporter. She covers breaking news, the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at