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Scruggs/Aliy Zirkle

Sometimes it is good to find a story with a happy ending. This is one such story.


More than two weeks after disappearing into the urban jungle of Alaska’s largest city, 12-year-old Iditarod Trail veteran Scruggs has been found.

Scruggs is, of course, a dog; a dog who for years pulled faithfully in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race for three-time, runner-up Aliy Zirkle and a dog who gutted Anchorage’s Barbara Swenson.

Past his racing prime, Scruggs had retired to live out his life comfortably in civilization with Swenson, an old Zirkle friend. His only problem was that after a life in and on the edge of the wilderness, he wasn’t quite ready for the hustle and bustle of the big city.

Swenson was out walking him on June 23 when the sound of a lawnmower roaring nearby spooked him. He took off. Swenson couldn’t catch him and then she couldn’t find him.

Heart-breaking, she called Zirkle to tell her what had happened and ask advice on what to do. Zirkle almost immediately got on a plane to join the hunt for Scruggs. She and Swenson with help from others scoured the city for days without luck.

Thanks to pleas on social media, they drummed up a few tips on where Scruggs had been seen, but never caught sight of him. An upset Zirkle finally decided she had to go home and take care of the rest of her dogs. An even more upset Swenson kept looking.

Finally a lead

Early on Thursday, a post popped up on the Paradise Valley forum at, a website that connects neighbors.

“Stuffs (sic) last seen this morning at 6:20 am by Potters Marsh,” it said. “Please don’t chase. Very skittish.”

With the arrival of that news, Zirkle got on a plane to Anchorage again. She and Swenson plastered the neighborhoods above the marsh with wanted posters with Scruggs’ photo.

“She was up there late into the night,” Swenson said.

People who found out about Scruggs the old-fashioned way – versus the social media way – joined the hunt. And finally, Scruggs was caught, more than 1,000 feet above the marsh and miles away in Bear Valley.

Swenson credited a “gentle soul,” a young woman to whom Scruggs wasn’t skittish. She managed to finally capture him.

“I just landed in Fairbanks after polluting the Potter Creek neighborhood with ‘Lost Flyers’ last night where there was a sighting and there was a message from a gal in Anchorage – FOUND HIM!” Zirkle, one of the Iditarod’s best people, messaged Friday night. ” Scruggs is safe and sound. Anyhow… thanks for spreading the word. Happy days!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Whew.”

Swenson sounded even more relieved when reached on the phone Saturday. Gone was that empty feeling that everyone whose ever had a dog run off knows too well. Finally she could quit worrying about a call from animal control telling her Scrugg’s body had been found after being hit by a car.

A lot of dogs die in America that way. Dogs die in Alaska that way, too. Such a death was among Swenson’s greatest fears.

Her happiness at having Scruggs back in one piece could be heard in her voice Saturday, though she still faced another weekend challenge: cleaning up all the Scruggs posters that had been taped to mailboxes, light posts, roads signs and more.

“I’m going to be busy,” he said.

But it was worth it.

Correction: The original version of this story had Swenson’s name wrong in several places.


3 replies »

  1. Such great news. Very happy Scruggs is okay. Be interesting to see a map of his travels. Wonder what he ate. Hope he cooked his meat enough.

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