The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Jailed avalanche trekkers had sick cat

Couple arrested in avalanche zone were walking to save a pet


Valdez Star photo

Ninja, a five-year-old Tabby, perched himself around the neck of Kristina Clark Monday while Donney Carlson, left, looks on. The two people were arrested Saturday for walking through the avalanche blasting zone in a bid to get Ninja critical medical care.

Is Kristina Clark crazy or just crazy about her cat?

It depends on who you ask.

The 22-year-old Copper Center woman was arrested by an Alaska State Trooper Saturday after walking over two separate avalanches that were blocking vehicular traffic on the Richardson Highway – all in a desperate bid to get her cat needed medical care in Valdez.

Clark and her companion, Donney Carlson, age 20, spent Saturday night in jail after Tony Beck, Alaska State Trooper, arrested the pair on misdemeanor complaints alleging disorderly conduct and obstruction of highways. Valdez police took the humans to jail and the cat to the Valdez Animal Shelter.

A judge freed the two on an unsecured bond Sunday, but it was Dr. Kelly Hawkins of Valdez Veterinary Clinic who saved Ninja.

"That cat wouldn't have made it much longer," Hawkins said in an interview Monday.

Clark's first call from jail was not to call home asking for bail money. She called the vet instead.

"I was floored," Hawkins said after hearing how the three made it to Valdez. "I have to commend them for doing something to get their cat help."

ADOT and law enforcement officials in Valdez saw it a little differently. Identical charging documents supporting the arrest of both Clark and Carlson say the two were advised by DOT personnel along the highway that they should turn back and that dangerous avalanche mitigation work was shut down because the pair refused to stop their walk to Valdez.

"...DOT contacted me, and I advised them to tell the two people they are working under the authority of the Alaska State Troopers, and they were to turn around and head back to Glennallen," Trooper Tony Beck wrote in the complaint filed with Valdez Court. "They were also advised a second time the road was impassable."

Clark and Carlson do not deny that DOT workers told them to turn around and go back. Both say they were told that they could be taken to Valdez by helicopter, but they would have to talk to the Troopers if they accepted. Both claim they had no idea that they would be arrested if they got on the helicopter. They both thought "talk to the troopers" literally meant talking, not getting put in the pokey.

"We didn't know we were going to get arrested," Carlson said Monday before the pair made a visit to Ninja, who was resting at the vet's office, recuperating from the lifesaving procedure which included a catheter and a flushing of his urinary tract.

"They didn't care about Ninja at all," Carlson said.

Clark was cash strapped but determined to save her cat. She said she knew that the road to Valdez had been closed, but veterinary clinics in the MatSu Valley and Anchorage wanted hundreds of dollars up front before treating the cat. The doctors at Valdez Veterinary Clinic said they would try to help – if she could get Ninja to Valdez.

"We had to do something and that was the only option," Clark said.

She claims she'd called Valdez police dispatch at least twice before attempting to come to Valdez and was advised that avalanches were indeed blocking the highway.

"They said if you want to go climbing, we can't stop you," Clark said Monday.

Apparently, it was in fact hard to stop the two cat lovers, who say Ninja was fine Saturday morning.

"He was fine in the morning and just started going downhill all day," Clark said.

They tried treating Ninja at home, but his condition began to deteriorate.

"We tried the home remedy thing," Carlson said, but without desired results. "He'd try to pee and he'd cry."

The pair managed to drive all the way from Copper Center (about 100 miles north of Valdez) to milepost 42 before encountering the first avalanche that made travel by car impossible. They swaddled Ninja in a blanket, put him in a backpack and began walking.

"I made sure I parked in a pullout," Clark said, not wanting to block the road for DOT avalanche crews.

That was at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

"We climbed the first and second avalanches and then the loader came," Carlson said. "They told us to just keep walking."

The unidentified operator of the loader called the Valdez trooper office.

The pair were several miles north of the larger avalanche near milepost 16 that was not only covering the highway but damming portions of the Lowe River.

Charging documents say the troopers were first notified that the pair were on the highway at 3 p.m. and were picked up by the DOT helicopter at 3:20. It was five minute ride to Pioneer Field in Valdez where the duo was met on the ground by Beck and Valdez police.

"It was worth it for Ninja," Clark said.

As for the cat, Hawkins said he was recovering nicely but not yet out of the woods, so to speak.

"This cat's doing very well," he said in an interview Monday from the clinic's office, but said Ninja will remain in the clinic's hospital for several days.

"The urethra can replug," he said, "Then we have to do the whole thing over again."

Hawkins said Ninja's infection is usually caused by diets high in magnesium content, which is why it is important to feed cats a diet that pet food manufacturers refer to as "low ash."

Magnesium flakes build up in the cat's urinary tract, making it impossible for the cat to urinate. The fluid then backs up into the cat's kidneys and without treatment, it will die.

Hawkins, who runs the clinic with wife DVM Katherine Hawkins, said the veterinary practice has a small fund it falls back on for cases like Ninja.

Valdez Star photo

Ninja perches on Kristina Clark's shoulder in a reunion after cat and human were impounded by Valdez police.

The "Honey Bear Fund" as it is called, was started by Cliff Eames and Ruth McHenry in honor of their Golden Retriever, Honey Bear. It helps defray a small amount of the costs the clinic incurs when treating animals whose owners can't afford to pay up front.

"We have a lot of people who donate little bits here and there," Hawkins said. "Anything helps."

Most donations are in the $5 to $20 range.

Hawkins said the average cost to treat Ninja's condition runs between $800 and $1,000, much more than is typically in the Honey Bear Fund.

"Within reason, we'll do what we can," he said.


Reader Comments
1 — 10 of 25

dingleberry writes:

Omg, never caught onto this. How do they get arrested for obstruction of highways when it was buried under how many feet of snow for give or take a mile? Can't help but laugh.

Jonjo writes:

The cat owner Kristina is hailed as a hero for spending time in prison for her pet but what about Donney, what did he spend time in prison for and why is he not a hero too? Seems that this selfish woman are quite happy to let a friend go to prison with her an dnow has a criminal record for the sake of her cat.

catwomanluvsit writes:

Feeling Loved,Lucky Family and their baby, the kitty... they would have the cat do the same for them if it was able. Pets add to & save peoples lives. Sorry Hiway workers, rude dudes don't get a free pass from she who created it all. Thanks to those who got them closer to destination, and The Heroic Vet,lovingly who went the extra mile! That Fund for others pets is available AT MOST VET places, since others have had this situ., and deaths prevented. friends, family celebrated, Love Happy end:)

Connie writes:

My cat blocked this weekend too, and frankly there is very little I wouldn't have done to get him the help he needed. Fortunately I had the funds on hand to get the vet to help him with out having to travel and trek to do it.. Btw, the article is wrong, 'ash' has nothing to do with why a cat blocks. Yes, urinary struvite crystals are often made of magnesium, but magnesium is vital to a cat's health. Urine PH is much more important.

nonsense writes:

Something in the middle. Wasn't there a way to save the cat and not upset the conservatives?

shocked writes:

*I hope they also checked those young antigovernment people's teeth for gold fillings* Wow. Just... wow. Way to make the lower 48 proud. Keep doing your part for Murica.

DFL writes:

There is always more to this story. It did not state that they told workers at first that they had a human baby. Also it does not state that this is not their first run in with Law Enforcement. They placed themselves and Every person working in already hazardous conditions in danger. The sad part is that the story also does not state the costs that were incurred due to their actions. They were told to turn back or they were going to be arrested so their statement is inaccurate. Throw the book @m

Dave writes:

Love is apparently blind to the danger they put themselves, the road crews trying to clear the avalanche and the cost of postponing the work being done (using explosives)& the helicopter used to haul their cat loving tails to town.

wow writes:

Thank God for the Alaska State SS Troopers that cat was a state security risk. I hope they also checked those young antigovernment people's teeth for gold fillings to pay for the chopper ride. Well I am so glad I don't live there. The law is for the people, by the people and of the people. STAND UP AMERICA

GMF writes:

Although their actions were clearly foolhardy, they were not outside their right of free travel. They did not require others to endanger themselves. The driving force here is more likely some embarrassed bureaucrats that failed to stop them using the police to save face. Government is to protect freedom not to keep us safe from ourselves. My guess is the young couple has no idea they have a Constitutional argument to defeat the charges and very likely a winning civil suit with the right lawyer.


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