PALMER — Amid barbs traded in competing written statements, the struggle over Iditarod musher Jake Berkowitz’s dog Wizard appears close to a conclusion. 

“This is a heartbreaking decision for our entire family at Apex Kennels, but one that we as responsible dog owners must make. Sadly, we have requested for our own Veterinarian to euthanize Wizard in the comfort and presence of his human family,” Berkowitz wrote in a statement posted to his kennel’s Facebook page. 

The Mat-Su borough says in a competing statement that it is working with Berkowitz to negotiate a time for his veterinarian to put the dog down. 

Berkowitz’s statement cites as reasons for the decision the living conditions at the Mat-Su Borough Animal Control and Regulation Shelter, where the dog has been in quarantine since he attacked a 2-year-old girl May 10.

“Wizard has been kept in a small, indoor kennel, with no outside privileges, and devoid of healthy human interaction,” Berkowitz wrote. “We learned of the unauthorized actions of Borough Veterinarian Dr. Katrina Zwolinski bringing her own two children into the quarantine area to tease and torment Wizard in an effort to illicit a response, an act that any dog would react to.”

But the Mat-Su Borough strongly refutes that in a press release issued Thursday afternoon. 

“Wizard is fed each morning six cups of special food given to the shelter by his owner at his owner’s request. Wizard has water and a toy in his kennel. The kennel is kept clean by volunteers. A window allows sunlight into the room,” according to the release. 

As for the veterinarian, the borough said there was nothing untoward in Zwolinski’s actions. 

“The children … in no way antagonized nor provoked Wizard in this quarantine room. The children were there to see the puppies. No borough policies were violated. Dr. Zwolinski has devoted her life to helping animals,” the release says. “Some of her own pets at home are broken animals that most people would not adopt.” 

Wizard was the subject of a pair of Animal Care and Regulation Board meetings over the past two weeks. At both, the board deadlocked 2-2 and recommended that Wizard be reclassified as something other than a level 5 animal. 

Level 5 is an animal that must be seized and euthanized. 

But in its press release Thursday, the borough says that its attorneys believe that the ruling from the board doesn’t mean reclassification is needed. 

“The Animal Care Board did conclude by a majority that all criteria for a level 5 classification of Wizard had been met,” according to the press release. “The board was unable to reach a majority decision on finding an exception. An exception would have excused the dog’s behavior and reduced its level of classification.” 

The borough press release details the injuries inflicted on the girl. During the attack, she was there with her mother and siblings picking up a family dog kenneled with the Berkowitzes, who were out of town at the time. 

Wizard broke his restraints and attacked the girl, nearly taking her ear off, then picked her up by the throat and shook her, according the borough statement. After the girl’s mother fought Wizard off, the dog tried to pull the child away from the mother. 

“It is not acceptable, nor true that all sled dog lots are inherently dangerous places for children. Many sled dog kennels in the Mat-Su have healthy, socialized dogs that greet tourists and give children sled dog rides,” according to the borough. “When a dog inflicts such trauma on a small child with no cause, it is too dangerous to live among the public. The risk cannot be taken a second time.”

In another post on his Facebook page, Berkowitz had this to say about his dog: 

“I hope Wizard will forever be remembered in his true nature ... as the goofy, loving, energetic dog always in line first for some affection and love. His potential had no limits and Wizard’s short life was lived to the fullest.” 

Contact Andrew Wellner at 352-2270 or andrew.wellner@frontiersman.com.

(2) comments

truthBtold
truthBtold

I suspect there are some details missing... What did the child do to get Wizard so worked up to break his tether and attack? That is very unusual behavior for any dog unless it was provoked? Has this dog ever shown other aggressive behavior? We (the public) will probably never know all the facts.

I wish the child a speedy recovery

I am saddened to see Berkowitz have to lose a good sled dog. Is there not other alternatives?

palmerbuyer
palmerbuyer

I'm sorry for the child but WHY did that mother think taking small children into a dog yard was appropriate?

As an adult, I would not take ME into a dog yard without the owner being there.

This was completely preventable.

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