A community dog

Sitka, a German Shepherd/Alaskan Malamute mixed-breed dog, rests at the Vincennes Animal Shelter, 1128 River Road, Thursday afternoon. Sitka has evaded capture by animal control officers for more than a year, but on Tuesday night, he was hit by a car on Ramsey Road. Animal control officials are now looking for help to pay for his surgery.

Most dogs have but one family to call their own.

Sitka, it seems, has many.

“He’s a community dog,” said Angie Halloway-Stanley, an animal control officer at the Vincennes Animal Shelter, 1128 River Road. “Everybody wanted to take him in. Everybody wanted to love him.

“So he chose to have lots of families.”

Stanley and animal shelter director Leah Vantlin have been chasing Sitka, a more than 100-pound German Shepherd and Alaskan malamute mix dog, for more than a year.

He was first spotted last October running loose near Benjamin Franklin Elementary School. Neighbors would report seeing him over in the Heights neighborhood, and he would pay a visit to the nearby golf course from time to time, too.

Many of them became quite familiar with Sitka, even setting out food and treats to keep him full in the cold, winter months.

The sightings went on for months, and try as they might, animal control officers couldn’t catch him.

“He’d be running around neighborhoods. We’d chase him, try to catch him,” Vantlin said with a chuckle, seemingly almost pleased at being outwitted by a dog.

“He wasn’t at all aggressive,” she said. “Just skittish. He wouldn’t come to people. And it was awful, because he’s just the kind of dog you wanted to reach out and put your hands on — that big head. He’s just beautiful.”

When Vantlin and Stanley first posted pictures of Sitka to social media, a local family did come forward saying they’d gotten him as a puppy. He escaped from their garage when he was just six months old; they hadn’t seen him since.

The family didn’t necessarily want Sitka back, but animal shelter volunteers and employees weren’t at all ready to give up the chase, at one point even putting a sedative in his food — a sedative that barely slowed him down, they recalled with a smile.

For awhile, Sitka disappeared altogether, but he resurfaced a few months ago living in an area near Main Street and Ramsey Road.

As per usual, a handful of families in that area became accustomed to his daily visits; he would get breakfast here, lunch there before sleeping in a nearby woods.

But their attempts to lure him or catch him, again, proved fruitless.

“He was basically running between a couple of houses where they were feeding him,” Stanley said, adding, with a wink, that Sitka never looked like he’d missed a meal.

“Everybody just adopted him. He would come around, eat, even visit with other dogs. But the second you reached out for him, he would take off.

“He really watched his surroundings; he’s smart,” she said.

Some adoptive parents called him by his given name of Sitka. Others called him things like “Hobo,” due to his wandering ways and often unkempt appearance, or “Romeo,” which Stanley thought rather comical as he was the confirmed father of at least a couple litters of pups over the last 12 months.

He became well-known for taking off with entire bowls of food, leaving local families missing their once complete Tupperware sets.

Stanley, herself, would drive through McDonald’s some mornings and take a spin near where Sitka had last been spotted. If she found him, she’d toss the sandwich out the window, offer a “good-boy” or two and head off.

“We’d easily get a couple of calls a week about Sitka,” Vantlin said. “Some more than others.

“Sometimes he would lay right there on Main Street with his head hanging over the curb,” she said with a chuckle. “On those days, we’d get six calls.”

But on Tuesday, Vantlin and Stanley got the call they’d been dreading — Sitka was found on Ramsey Road by neighbors, hiding in some brush, injured after being hit by a car.

“He was just laying there,” Stanley said, the emotion clear in her voice. “I bet there were 20 people around, all people who loved this dog.”

So Sitka’s many families worked together once again, using a big blanket as a makeshift stretcher, and heaved his giant frame into the bed of a pickup truck, eventually making his way to Southgate Veterinary Hospital.

“He never growled, never tried to bite,” Stanley said. “We just carried him like a big burrito.”

But the news at Southgate wasn’t good.

Veterinarians found Sitka had sustained a fractured pelvis as well as other injuries. His collar — one he’d had on six he was just six months old — had become imbedded his neck.

He needed surgery, the kind of orthopedic repair not offered here, so Vantlin and Stanley looked to East Pines Animal Clinic in Warrick County for help.

Veterinarians there agreed to take him on, so he will be transported there next week for surgery, Vantlin said.

How they will pay for it, though, remains to be seen, Vantlin said, as the procedure is expected to cost upwards of $6,000.

There, too, is the bill at Southgate that will need to be paid for his supportive care in the days Vantlin and Stanley were attempting to find a doctor qualified to perform the procedure.

“The shelter cannot pay for that kind of surgery,” Vantlin said. “We’re in a kind of crisis situation.”

Several of the families who came to love and care for Sitka over the last year have come forward with donations, she said, but they don’t yet have near enough.

They’re hoping Sitka’s community of families becomes even larger in this, his time of need.

“We are trying hard to save our boy,” Vantlin said.

For more information or to donate to Sitka’s care, contact the Vincennes Animal Shelter at 812-882-8826.

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