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Dingo-Napper Gets Reduced Justice Public Outpouring Reduces Fine

Thu., Oct. 5, 1995, midnight

The dingo is free.

Tired of being cast in the role of an evil dogcatcher, Pete Nikiforuk cut a face-saving deal and freed a dog that had caused him nothing but grief.

“We kind of worked it out,” the Kootenai Humane Society director said Wednesday, minutes after 17-year-old Tori Powell picked up her dingo, Wahnni.

It was Wahnni’s second taste of freedom. But this time, the dog went out the front door.

The first time was Saturday. Powell went to visit the dog - and to explain that she couldn’t pay the $103 fine and license fees. Relenting, humane society workers said $40 would be enough.

Powell, who lives with friends and has no job, didn’t even have that much.

Sitting at the shelter, unable to free the dog she loved, Powell made a quick decision.

“When she was out of the (cage) gate, I couldn’t put her back,” said Powell Wednesday.

She grabbed the dingo and ran. Out an emergency exit, and then up over a shelter fence, Wahnni under one arm like a squirming football.

Powell’s friend, Sandra Eberwein, was the getaway driver, her car idling at the curb.

“We didn’t pre-plan it,” said Eberwein. “At the instant it just seemed right. It was an act of compassion.”

Freedom may have been sweet, but it didn’t last long.

Eberwein phoned Nikiforuk Monday, trying to cut a deal. They teens would find the money to pay, she said, but they wouldn’t give the dog back.

Nikiforuk, angry at the dognapping, traced the call.

Sheriff’s deputies went to the home.

Tears welled up in Powell’s eyes as Wahnni went back to the animal shelter.

“Hey, the girl broke the law,” said Nikiforuk. “I’m being paid to enforce the laws. Otherwise, it says to everyone ‘steal your dog. They’re not going to do anything to you.”’

A newspaper reporter heard of the situation, and wrote a story. Nikiforuk’s phone began to ring.

“A lot of people have called today and offered to pay the whole thing,” he said. “You should hear the messages on my machine. I’m getting a bad rap on this.”

Convinced he was right, he held up against the angry callers. He had to explain his position at a United Way meeting. But the final straw, he said Wednesday afternoon, was when a woman came into the shelter, offering to pay the fines and fees out of her Social Security money.

Nikiforuk called Powell. Trying to cut her a break, he reduced the fees to $33, less than a third of what they could have been.

Powell had $34.

Wahnni was free, and so, in a sense, was Nikiforuk.

“I wish the whole thing hadn’t happened,” he said. “But that’s this business.”

“We got their attention,” he said. “That’s the main thing.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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