'Justice for Kira:' Owners decry dog's Copper Center shooting
A visit to some newly purchased land near Copper Center turned into a nightmare for a couple from Anchorage, who say their dog was shot and killed under suspicious circumstances.
According to Milos Lustig and Jana Kuncova, the man who killed Kira told an Alaska State Trooper he'd done so.
Lustig and Kuncova recently won an auction for a parcel of state land, on which they planned to build a cabin. During an Aug. 7 drive back to Anchorage on the Denali Highway, they decided on a whim to explore the area along with their two dogs, Kira and Max.
"They go everywhere with us," Kuncova said. "They are like our children."
"It was like 4:30 p.m. and it was raining and we weren't sure if we should do it or not," Lustig said. "The rain was heavy but for a short time it slowed down. We figured, we're here, we might as well do it. It'll be a short hike."
The couple turned off the Richardson Highway near Mile 105 into a parking lot, where they put on their rain gear.
"While we were getting ready, the dogs were out of the car with us," Lustig said. "No more than 20 feet away from us."
The four of them headed out on the muddy, wet trail. At the end of the trail near a creek, Lustig realized he went too far. During the hike Kira, a Siberian husky, stopped to eat berries and got separated from the group.
"It took us 10 to 15 minutes for us to find the property," Lustig said. "Once we found the mark, we realized Kira was not with us."
When they got back to the parking lot, they didn't find Kira -- but they did find one of their tires slashed along its sidewall.
"We also have a silent whistle we use for her and that didn't work," Lustig said. "She always responds to that very well. She was trained to that since she was very young."
With aid from friends who came to help with the tire, the couple kept looking along the trail for Kira. The search was called off at 11 p.m., because Lustig had to work the next day.
"Before I left Anchorage I felt so bad," Kuncova said. "Just knowing she is somewhere out there and I'm here in Anchorage. I had to go back and look for her."
Before Kuncova left Anchorage, she made fliers for Kira. On the trip back, she and a friend made stops in Glennallen and Copper Center.
"We stopped everywhere," she said. "I tried to talk to as many people as I could and show them the picture of her."
Back at the parking lot, Kuncova left a smell trail, foods and Kira's blanket. Once again, she hiked the area and knocked on neighbors' doors.
"We slept in the parking lot that second day, just hoping she'd come back," she said.
The three neighbors who lived around the area told Jana they didn't see or hear anything. One of them, however, acted a little different than the rest.
"He said his wife showed him something on Facebook about it," Kuncova said. "He wouldn't take a flier and instead said he'd take a photo on his phone, but I don't think he did."
Watching Kuncova and her friend tirelessly search for Kira took a toll on a nearby resident.
"When we got back to the car, we talked with a few more neighbors," Kuncova said. "One of them said he got a phone call at 4:40 p.m. on Tuesday, the day we arrived."
The man on the other end of the phone line told the neighbor that the dog ate his chicken.
"How could that be?' Jana said. "When that phone call was made, Kira was still with us in the parking lot. It doesn't make any sense. The man said he's going to do what he has to do and shoot her."
According to Kuncova, this was the same man who claimed he'd never seen the dog and didn't want her flier.
"I didn't know it at the time but I was talking to the shooter," she said. "I'm not saying [Kira] never went on his property, but she didn't kill or eat his chicken. She was not aggressive. She loved everyone and everyone always wanted to say hello to her."
When Kuncova heard the news, she began sobbing and called Lustig. Together they went to the Glennallen trooper post.
"We told them what happened," Kuncova said. "The trooper called the shooter and he admitted to shooting and killing the dog."
She asked where the dog's body was.
"I just wanted to bring her home," Kuncova said. "The trooper said that the dog was thrown in the river."
It wasn't clear which river the trooper meant, but the couple assumes it was the Copper River.
"I just lost it," Kuncova said. "I asked the trooper if he would go find her and he said they barely find human bodies. I had to have the friend drive me back to Anchorage, I just couldn't. It's hard for us to realize what happened to her because she didn't do anything wrong."
Troopers say there is nothing more they can do and the case is closed, because state law allows people to kill any dog that "habitually annoys" various animals including wild or domesticated birds.
Kuncova and Lustig have a hard time with the word "habitually," which indicates a repeat offense. Furthermore, they were neither given notice to restrain Kira nor shown any evidence that the dog did indeed kill or eat a chicken. No chickens were on the property when Jana arrived the next day with a flyer. What's more puzzling they say is why this person would drive a mile or two with the dog and dump it in a river.
"We have video footage at 5:15 p.m. showing she is with us," Lustig said. "Both dogs also ate two hours before so they weren't hungry. We didn't see any chickens and didn't hear any chickens."
According to troopers, state animal-cruelty statutes don't apply in the shooting. Pet owners should secure their pets to prevent them from wandering, getting injured or to keep them from harming other animals or people, and Kira wasn't secured at the time of the incident.
Any ongoing disputes between the owner of the dog and the individual who shot it, troopers said, need to be adjudicated as civil matters.
"Then why the cover-up?" Lustig said. "Where are the photos of the dead chicken, the photos of the feathers in the dog's mouth or piles of feathers. If she did it, okay, I can live with that. Instead she was dumped in the river."
"Where was the attempt to contact the owners?" Kuncova said. "She had tags and a bell with all the information and he didn't do a thing and the owners were right next to him."
"In Alaska," Milos said. "If you shoot a moose in the back of your yard because you feel threatened, you're not going to go and dispose of the moose in the river. You're going to have to call the authorities and they investigate and take away the body. We want nothing less for our dog."
"As soon as we posted this on Facebook I got messages from other people who unfortunately had similar stories," Jana said. "It seems like a big problem here in Alaska, pets being shot for no reason. The killers have an opportunity to talk to the owners and still shoot the animal."
The couple has not yet decided if they will continue to search the river around Copper Center for Kira.
"We just want someone to look into the law about this," Milos said. "We want justice for Kira. We want to know what really happened. She was always with us. She was our child."
The state has refunded the couple's money for the Copper Center land parcel, given the circumstances. They hope to find a new plot of land near Talkeetna.
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