How far would you go to save a beloved pet that was dangerously ill? Would you walk 5 miles? 20 miles? 40 miles? Would you walk that distance in the winter … in Alaska? Would you walk that distance if it involved crossing a dangerous area recently closed due to a massive avalanche? Would you risk going to jail?
Recently, Kristina Clark, 22, and her boyfriend, Donney Carlson, 20, did nearly all of that when Ms. Clark’s cat, Ninja, became seriously ill and no vet was available in her small Alaskan town to treat it. As a result of their choices, they ended up in a Valdez, Alaskan jail and now face misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing avalanche mitigation work being conducted by the Alaskan Department of Transportation.
Clark and her boyfriend knew the Thompson Pass road to Valdez had been closed due to an avalanche – everyone in the area knew about it — but they decided they had no choice. If Ninja was to get treatment for his plugged urethra (which can quickly lead to kidney failure and death in cats), he needed vet care immediately. So, the duo, plus the sick cat, headed out for their long journey on foot to Valdez. Clark had already contacted a vet who was ready to treat Ninja when they arrived.
Trudging the 42 miles to Valdez over an avalanche-covered road in the middle of winter “definitely wasn’t the first plan on the list,” Clark said, but as her cat’s health continued to deteriorate, she became desperate. “It got to the point where Ninja wasn’t going to make it much longer,” Clark said.
She recalls calling the Valdez police dispatch to assess to the road situation and asked if she could walk the area closed to traffic and was told they wouldn’t advise attempting to walk through the impassable area, but “if you want to go climbing we can’t stop you.” Emboldened by this statement, the pair decided to go for it, however, when contacted later by reporters, the dispatch office denied saying the trespassers would not be stopped.
The road however was more than avalanched-covered, it was also now the site of blasting by the Alaskan Department of Transportation, the normal procedure for managing avalanche debris. “We had no idea we were walking into a minefield…” Clark recalled, referring to the DOT’s hillside blasting efforts.
When DOT discovered the trio, they panicked that people were in the blasting zone and ordered them to leave. When they refused to turn back, a supervisor was called in who then contacted state troopers.
Carlson recalls that they were told if they continued to Valdez they would be speaking to state troopers when they got there. “We didn’t know we were going to get arrested.”
“They refused to listen,” said Megan Peters, a spokesperson for Alaska State Troopers. “Finally, since they were not stopping, they were taken by a helicopter that DOT had chartered to use for their (avalanche mitigation) efforts.”
DOT spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow added that the right measures were taken in removing the pair. “We stand by the troopers and our crews for doing the right thing,” Woodward said. “It’s not only dangerous for them, it’s also dangerous for our crews.”
As it turned out, the helicopter ride saved them hours of critical time; via air it took only a few minutes to reach Valdez. However, when they touched down, an Alaska State Trooper with handcuffs was waiting for them at the airport. Clark and her boyfriend were immediately taken to jail, where they were booked overnight. Ninja was taken to the animal shelter.
With her one phone call, Clark called the veterinarian that was waiting for them, Dr. Kelly Hawkins. Dr. Hawkins agreed to pick Ninja up from the shelter and start the necessary care, even though his owners were in jail. “That cat wouldn’t have made it much longer,” Hawkins said in an interview with Alaskan press.
Dr. Hawkins confirmed that he rescued the ailing Ninja from the shelter and began treating the animal that evening. Dr. Hawkin’s clinic standard protocol is to get a deposit when surgery or intensive care is needed but he was already aware that Clark didn’t have the money. Unlike many vets that will refuse to treat animals in dire need unless their owners can pre-pay, Dr. Hawkins said, “We will always help these animals if it’s an emergency like this.”
Clark and her boyfriend pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of obstructing a highway and disorderly conduct. After one night in jail, they were released on an unsecured bond. Many days after their ordeal, the trio had to stay in Valdez with Carlson’s grandmother – as the road was still closed – and getting arrested once was enough excitement for the week. Plus, the urgency was gone. Ninja got the life-saving treatment he needed and was back on all four paws.
Does Clark regret her decision to tempt fate and get arrested? Of course not. With a purring Ninja in her arms she told the Alaskan Dispatch, “It was definitely worth it.”
Photo supplied by Kristina Clark.
To see a television news report on the story click here.