Barbara Swenson was in tears Tuesday over an elderly dog gone lost.
His name was Scruggs, and he was no ordinary dog. He had come to live with Swenson in Anchorage after years on the Iditarod Trail with musher Aliy Zirkle, a three-time runnerup in the Last Great Race.
Scruggs was with Swenson on Sunday when a lawnmower spooked him in South Anchorage, and he decided to hit the road. Swenson has been blaming herself ever since.
“I feel like a colossal failure,” she said Tuesday before breaking into tears.
Unsure of what to do after Scruggs split, Swenson called Zirkle at home in Two Rivers.
“I was freaking out,” Swenson said. Zirkle did her best to calm the woman down, then went to the Fairbanks airport to hop a plane to Anchorage to help Swenson look for the dog that took off near the intersection of Lake Otis Parkway and O’Malley Road.
He could be anywhere now.
Unable to find Scruggs, Zirkle emailed craigmedred.news late Monday with a little of Scrugg’s history and this:
“Anyhow, I spent the last 36 hours in Anchorage scouting, biking and looking but at this point it’s gonna take someone seeing him to figure out where he is. We have had no sightings in 30 hours. I have attached the flyer and a good photo of him below. We have flyers at APD, Taxi Companies, AK Railroad, the shelter, vet clinics, trailheads, golf courses, zoo, parks…. as well as the social media route. Anyhow, you are next. THANKS.”
Best of Iditarod
To report that it is unusual for a competitive Iditarod musher to go to these lengths to try to find a retired sled dog would be an understatement. For many of those who compete in the 1,000-mile race from Willow to Nome, good lead dogs are special and worth just about any trouble.
But team dogs? Well, team dogs are to some mushers just sort of replacement parts. Important parts. Valuable parts. But not really special in the way modern humans have come to view dogs as special.
“Sled dogs are not your average house pet,” John Schandelmeier, a two-time winner of the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race observed in his second job as columnist for the Alaska Dispatch News. “In terms of care and value, they are more similar to a dairy farmer’s herd.”
You won’t find many dairy farmer’s scratching the ears of their cows, and it’s doubtful you’ll find any bringing old Bessie into the house to curl up next to the chair by the fire.
There are, however, dog mushers to whom canines hold a special place. Schandelmeier, ironically, is more in that camp than out of it. Why he compared dogs to livestock is baffling.
And Zirkle, well, she’s very much in the dog-lover group.
“I’m using all means necessary (to find Scruggs),” she said in that email. “I send select retired dogs to pet homes all over and wouldn’t you know… the only one in 20 years to drift from his new home just happened in ANCHORAGE!!!”
The big city can be a scary place for a dog that has spent most of its life outside of Fairbanks on the quiet edge of the Alaska wilderness.
Spooked and on the loose in a city full of cars driven by people who aren’t always paying attention is not how Swenson or Zirkle wanted Scruggs to end up. Swenson has her own long relationship with the dog.
“I had sponsored him for a handful of years,” she said, “and Aily and I were very, very good friends.”
When Scruggs started nearing retirement age, Swenson asked Zirkle what her plan was for the dog, and Zirkle at that point suggested maybe Scruggs could come live with Swenson and her dog, Molly.
For Swenson, it was something of a gift from heaven.
“I said, ‘I’d love to have that sweet boy come live with us,'” she said.
She never imagined that something which at first brought her so much happiness could turn into such a nightmare. Anyone whose fretted over a dog gone lost can empthathize with how Swenson feels at this moment.
“I just pray that he’s far from the roads,” she said, before she began choking up again and blaming herself for one of those things that sometimes just happen with dogs.
“It’s all my fault,” she said.
So here’s your chance to help her out. Swenson’s phone number is 360-8580. And this is what the 50-pound, blue-eyes Scrugg’s looks like: