Steamboat woman turns over custody of embattled husky Sitka
March 20, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A Steamboat Springs Siberian husky named Sitka, which has been the focus of an emotional custody dispute, has been returned to her original owner on the Front Range pending future legal proceedings.
The saga began on Feb. 1, 2017, when Steamboat resident Ashlee Anderson’s husky got loose and was taken to the Routt County Humane Society. After scanning Sitka for a microchip, it was discovered Sitka originally came from Cañon City, where she lived with Michael Gehrke for about three years.
Anderson adopted Sitka after the dog ran away from Gehrke’s ranch in 2013 and was discovered in poor health at an elementary school in Fremont County.
After discovering Sitka had been living in Steamboat, Gehrke decided he wanted his dog back and has spent thousands of dollars in legal costs.
"I'm attached to the animal," Gehrke said during a June 2 hearing in Routt County Court.
At the end of the hearing, Judge James Garrecht ruled in favor of Gehrke, saying, under Colorado law, he couldn't take the best interest of the dog into account when deciding who was the husky's rightful owner.
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But pending an appeal, Sitka was allowed to stay with Anderson.
After nearly a year and two continuances, the case was set for a bench trial Friday.
Anderson’s attorney, Emily Kelley, who is doing the case pro bono and has been dealing with health issues, asked for another delay so a new attorney could take over the case.
Garrecht denied the request, saying Gehrke had already expressed his frustrations with the delays.
“This court has been overly patient trying to get this case tried,” Garrecht wrote in an order. “Now fewer than two days before trial, there is a new request to continue. This case should have been resolved last summer but has dragged on for various reasons.”
Garrecht ultimately allowed the delay as long as custody of Sitka was turned over to Gehrke.
Kelley said losing custody of Sitka was devastating to Anderson.
“It was a devastating day for Dog Town U.S.A.,” Kelley said, referring to one of Steamboat’s monikers.
Gehrke is being represented in the legal proceedings by The Animal Law Center in Wheat Ridge.
Attorney Jay Swearingen said the husky’s homecoming in Cañon City went well, and Sitka was reunited with her buddy Rex, a 14-year-old German shepherd.
“As she gets close to the house, she starts whining and knows that is home,” Swearingen said. “She slept under our client’s bed where she always slept.”
The attorneys are scheduled to discuss the status of the case with Garrecht on Tuesday over the phone.
“We think basically the case should be dismissed at this point,” Swearingen said.
Kelley described the latest development in the case as round two of a 12-round boxing match.
Kelley said the importance of the case goes beyond Sitka, as it relates to pets being viewed beyond just property under Colorado laws.
“Ashley is planning on taking this all the way,” Kelley said.