Steamboat Springs — A Cañon City man now embroiled in a dog custody dispute with a Steamboat Springs woman said he's been treated unfairly by law enforcement who prevented him from having a reunion with his husky.
Dr. Michael Gehrke, 61, said he adopted 10-week-old Mya in February 2010 from a friend for $1,200 to serve as a playmate for his 4-year-old shepherd Rex.
"Rex was acting older than 4 years old, and I thought she'd be a good mate to give him some energy," said Gehrke, who lives on 10 1/2 acres just over the city limits line between Cañon City and rural Fremont County, west of Pueblo. "After six months, they were both acting like 2 year olds."
Gehrke said Mya and Rex were best friends and like husband and wife, who together had two litters of puppies before Mya was spayed.
"She was a great mom," he said.
Gehrke described the dog as a fast hunter who chased ducks and bears,
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and he acknowledged she's had a few run-ins with animal control in the past.
In mid-September 2013, Gehrke said the dog ran away from his property, first for a couple days, and then for good, never returning.
"That dog was ripped out of my home — I didn't get a chance to say goodbye," Gehrke said.
Gehrke said he verbally reported Mya as missing to his local animal control, which was familiar with the husky after picking her up in the past, but he never got a call about the dog being found, leading him to believe Mya was likely living with someone new in Cañon City.
That was until last Wednesday, when a family vacation in Aspen was interrupted by a call telling Gehrke that his dog's microchip was scanned in Steamboat Springs.
Gehrke provided veterinarian records and puppy photos to Steamboat Springs Animal Control and even traveled to Steamboat Springs on Friday in hopes of a reunion but was told the dog would be released to its more recent owner, Ashlee Anderson.
Gehrke said he's frustrated that he was contacted by animal control and asked to provide documentation on the dog, if officers had no intention of returning the animal to him.
"They're not trying to get the dog back to it's rightful owner, who purchased her," Gehrke said.
Road to Steamboat Springs
In an email to Gehrke on Feb. 2, animal control officer Jennifer Good explained that officers were unable to find probable cause that a crime was committed, leading to the release of the animal to Anderson.
"Please know that the animal is well cared for and in a good home," Good wrote.
According to a Steamboat Springs Police Department case report, the dog showed up at an elementary school in Cañon City in 2013 and was taken home that night by a school secretary, Susan Revack.
Revack inquired about the husky to school parents, who identified the dog as one that was often seen with a homeless man at a nearby gas station.
At the gas station, an employee said the homeless man had been arrested.
Because Revack already owned three dogs, she was agreeable when her son said his friend, Anderson, would love to adopt a husky.
Anderson had spent the summer raft guiding near Cañon City and moved to Steamboat Springs Sept. 1, and the son was planning a visit, so he agreed to take the dog to Steamboat.
According to the case report, Revack believed the dog belonged to a then-incarcerated homeless man and was trying to find it a suitable home.
In reality, the husky was across the Arkansas River and less than two miles from its home when it wandered into the elementary school.
Mya, soon renamed Sitka, was in Steamboat Springs by Sept. 23, the earliest date Anderson has a picture of the dog, and is now at the center of a heated custody dispute likely to end up in civil court.
Disputes not uncommon
While unusual, Anderson and Gehrke's custody dispute over a now 7-year-old husky is not unprecedented.
A widely reported case in 2012 in Oregon involved the custody of a shepherd-husky mix that ran off from its home in Portland and was adopted by a Corvallis woman who was visiting the city and returned home the same day.
The original owner spotted his dog in a car window on a chance encounter with the woman 13 months after the dog went missing.
Another year later, the woman ultimately pleaded guilty to a theft charge after agreeing to return the dog and then changing her mind.
In January 2016, a microchip scanned on a husky in Pomona, California, was linked back to an owner in Bentonville, Arkansas. While a humane society in Pomona arranged to transport the animal 1,500 miles back home, a California owner of the dog saw the story on television and came forward as the dog’s more recent owner.
The Southern California woman said she purchased the animal from the original owners in Arkansas, and she was ultimately able to keep the husky.
Steamboat Springs veterinarian Chris Schwarz said he's witnessed owners discover, because of a microchip, that the dog they've adopted had a previous owner.
Some earlier owners are angry and want the animal back, while others have felt relief that the dog was still alive and found a good home.
"Technically, in most cases, the legality ends up favoring the person who has the microchip," said Schwarz, who works at Pet Kare Clinic. "The way the law dictates, it's a permanent ID that is linked to a single owner."
Schwarz said microchips are viewed like a brand on a cow is and are meant to connect animals with original owners.
Gehrke said its goes without saying that he's not interested in receiving money for Mya but is only seeking to have the dog in his possession again.
Both Anderson and Gehrke have consulted with attorneys, and the dispute is likely to be settled in civil court.
"I want my dog back," Gehrke said. "She was missing and now I know where she is."