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Colorado judge orders runaway husky returned to original owner

By: The Associated Press
June 5, 2017 Updated: June 5, 2017 at 4:10 pm
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Dr. Michael Gehrke holds up a picture of the dog he called Mya before she ran away in Fremont County. A Routt County Judge ruled Gehrke is the owner of the dog despite the bond it now has with a Steamboat Springs woman who adopted her. (Courtesy of Scott Franz/Steamboat Today)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A Colorado judge has ordered a runaway husky returned to a man who reported her missing more than three years ago. However, the dog is still with her most recent owner, who plans to appeal the decision.

Routt County Judge James Garrecht heard arguments Friday after Michael Gehrke of Canon City filed a civil lawsuit against Ashlee Anderson of Steamboat Springs seeking the return of the now 7-year-old Siberian husky, Steamboat Today reported.

The judge said he couldn't take into account the bond between Anderson and the dog in making his ruling.

"I don't think anyone here acted in bad faith," Garrecht said in ordering the dog returned to Gehrke. "But the best interest of the dog is not the issue here."

Gehrke said he bought the dog he named Mya as a puppy in February 2010. The dog ran away in September 2013 and apparently ended up in the company of a homeless man.

A school secretary who found the dog learned the homeless man had been arrested, and she placed the dog in a home with Anderson, who had moved to Steamboat Springs.

Steamboat Springs resident Ashlee Anderson gets a hug from friend Becca Gray on Friday after a judge ruled Anderson is not the owner of Sitka the husky. (Courtesy of Scott Franz/Steamboat Today) 

Anderson named the dog Sitka. When Sitka ran away in February, animal control scanned the dog for a microchip and learned she was purchased by Gehrke and had been reported stolen.

Efforts to mediate the case were unsuccessful. Anderson offered to pay the $1,200 purchase price to keep the dog.

Gehrke's attorney, Jay Wayne Swearingen with The Animal Law Center firm in Denver, argued the dog clearly belonged to Gehrke, who bought it as a 10-week-old puppy.

Anderson's attorney, Emily Kelley, argued Gehrke was never the rightful owner because he didn't transfer the dog's microchip registration to his name. They also argued the dog had been abandoned, that Gehrke did not seem attached to the dog and that if Anderson hadn't had the dog treated for heartworms, she would have died.

After Garrecht made his ruling, Anderson posted a $2,400 bond to keep the dog pending her counter claim.

"We're disappointed in the judge's ruling," Kelley said Friday. "However, this is the first step in a very lengthy process."

Gehrke, too, was frustrated with that process. "I got my dog, but I don't get my dog," he said.

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