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How a dog with a wild streak left his Alaska owner poor and facing jail time

Craig Medred
A Fairbanks man has paid almost $1,800 in recent months to repeatedly bail his runaway dog Toby out of the doggy jail. Then he shot a moose, ostensibly to protect the Siberian husky, and now Toby's owner could face jail time himself. Aaron Jansen illustration

This is a story of a boy and his dog and all the problems the love for the latter can visit upon the former. The dog's name is Toby. He is a young, neutered Siberian husky and by all accounts a lovable guy. Records at the Fairbanks Animal Control Shelter note that one of the many people to bring Toby in there "wants to adopt."

But Toby has never been up for adoption.

Toby belongs to Michael Baldwin, a new immigrant from Maryland who just turned 21, and he, according to shelter manager Sandy Besser, "just loves that dog."

Baldwin might love the dog a little too much. Since Dec. 7, he has paid almost $1,800 in fees to repeatedly bail runaway Toby out of the doggy jail. That is $1,800 not counting the two Fairbanks citations Baldwin needed to settle when the dog catchers decided they'd had enough.

"This is the dog’s fourth impound," someone noted in Toby's paperwork just about this time last year. "Give this guy a citation, please!"

Baldwin did get the citation, but not until after impound No. 5 in June, and then he got another citation in September, as Toby continued his wild ways. Now the doggie doo-doo has really hit the fan.

Alaska State Troopers have now charged Baldwin with wanton waste of a moose they say he shot trying to protect Toby back in January.

Wanton waste is a serious offense in Alaska. It carries a sentence "of not less than seven consecutive days (in jail) and a fine of not less than $2,500."

Alaskans take wanton waste so seriously, in fact, that the statute specifically prohibits the court from reducing the sentence if someone is convicted, which means that if Baldwin is found guilty he could end up in the same place where Toby seems to have spent a fair amount of time over the past year -- a holding cell.

Facebook star

Baldwin could not be reached for this story. He did not return a message left on his Facebook page. His landlord, who manages some rental cabins in the old mining community of Ester and sounded somewhat sympathetic to Baldwin's plight, said he'd pass a phone number on to Baldwin, but the graduate of Queen Anne's County High School in Centreville, Md., never called.

Baldwin's Facebook page, on which a much-cuddled Toby is a star, indicates Baldwin left Maryland May 5, 2011 for the far north with these words: "Goodbye Eastern Shore. Here I come Alaska." 

The post appeared about six months after Toby showed up on Facebook as a puppy.

The two weren't in Alaska long before they ended up in trouble. Animal control officers in Fairbanks had their first contact with Toby in late 2011, and by 2012 he was a regular at the pound. 

"I think it's a dog that just keeps getting away," Besser said. Toby, it would appear, likes to run free.

Defense of life and property

As troopers tell their story, that's what Toby was doing in January when a cow moose went after him. Baldwin, according to troopers, has confessed to shooting the cow moose to protect the dog. He might have gotten away with the shooting if Toby had been on a leash or in a kennel, and if Baldwin had reported the shooting to troopers or the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Alaska has a "defense of life and property" law that, in some circumstances, allows people to shoot moose, bears, wolves, coyotes or other animals if they or their property -- dogs and other domestic animals being property -- are in danger.

But a free-running dog, which can flee a moose, really isn't in danger, and worse yet, Baldwin never reported the shooting. 

Troopers said they didn't hear about the shooting until April 7, when they got an anonymous tip as to what had happened. They then talked to Baldwin, who they say confessed to shooting at the moose twice with a .30-caliber rifle and thinking he might have hit it. 

Alaska Wildlife Trooper Mike Potter told Tim Mowry of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that Baldwin kept quiet about the shooting because "he didn’t want to get in trouble."

Now he's in real trouble. Along with the wanton waste charge, troopers hit Baldwin with charges of killing a moose during a closed season, unlawful  possession of big game, and hunting without a license.

Troopers say the wanton waste charge stems from the moose being left "to rot" after it was shot, but it is unclear how that would happen in winter in Fairbanks with temperatures far below freezing. There were a few warm days in the Interior city this winter, but January had an average high of only 6.6 degrees; February, 10.4 degrees; and March, 22.7 degrees.

The moose should have remained frozen after it was shot, and one Fairbanks resident is semi-famous for showing that old, frozen animals remain edible.

36,000 years old, 'a little tough'

Dale Guthrie, a scientist at the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks once cooked up part of a 36,000-year-old steppe bison dug out of the permafrost. He wrote about the incident in "Frozen Fauna of the Mammoth Steppe: The Story of Blue Babe," the aforementioned bison.

"To climax and celebrate (taxidermist) Eirik Granqvist’s work with Blue Babe, we had a bison stew dinner for him and for Bjorn Kurten ... A small part of the mummy’s neck was diced and simmered in a pot of stock and vegetables. We had Blue Babe for dinner. The meat was well aged but still a little tough, and it gave the stew a strong Pleistocene aroma, but nobody there would have dared miss it," he once recorded.

Not that there's a lot of people who would want to eat a 36,000-year-old frozen bison or, probably, a four-month-old frozen moose.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com