Dusty has been gone a week now and with every passing day Jack Forshee worries more.
In his worst moments, the 62-year-old man fears that one of his new neighbors in Bear Valley above Anchorage might have killed the 12-year-old Labradoodle. In his best moments, he rejoices at how neighbors old and new rallied to help him look for Dusty after he posted on the social media website Nextdoor.
“I’m just really humbled by all the response to this dog,” Forshee said Thursday. “People are caring.”
Forshee’s sad tale of a beloved, missing dog is more than that. It is a story about the world Americans live in today, a world in which we often barely know our next door neighbors and yet have friends all over hell and gone. Link this story on Facebook, and you’re likely to have people around the world reading it.
But quite possibly not the woman next door or the guy three houses down the street or the other people nearby you barely know well enough to nod at when you drive past them on the street.
These are strange times where people are closer together than ever while sometimes being a long ways apart even when in close proximity. Go figure.
Or stick your nose a little deeper into that smartphone or computer and read on.
A changing place
Forshe has lived 32 years in Bear Valley above Alaska’s largest city. This is the city’s one-time hillbilly suburb. There was a period when people use abandoned cars for dog houses and chicken coops, and there may still be some doing that.
But the valley – aptly named for the bears that run through it – began to gentrify in recent years, though far from totally.
“Moose Mamas,” an Anchorage moose rescue group, used to have a facility to raise moose calves near the end of the last road highest in the valley. But then a bear jumped the fence and ate some calves, and the hurricane force winds that sweep the Front Range Chugach Mountains roared in later to flatten the pens, and the Moose Mamas retreated down the mountainside.
They were going against the flow. More people are moving up year by year. The valley offers some great views of Anchorage.
“The first 22 years,” Forshee said, “I had two neighbors. Now all the lots are filling up. We used to shoot guns out here and have target practice.”
Neighbors knew each other well then. Not so much now. People are closer together and yet know farther apart. Forshee misses the old days.
“It’s only been the last eight years,” he said.
Once when Dusty got out – and Forshee readily admits Dusty took off a lot – a neighbor baited the dog into his yard, nabbed Dusty, and hauled him the 15 miles down the hill to Anchorage Animal Control. Forshee was called to come get him and pay the impound fee.
“Instead of calling the number on his collar,” Forshee said, “that’s what he did. Then the guy moved, and I thought it was over.”
Gone were the old days, Forshee said, when a neighbor would call to say, “hey, your dog is in my garbage.” And Forshee would say, “well, pump the BB gun up once and sting him in the butt.”
Now there were snatching Dusty about one a year to haul him to the pound. And, worse yet, people pumping the BB gun, or the pellet gun, up way more than once. One day Dusty came home with two BBs buried deep in his leg. Forshee had to take him to the vet.
But people weren’t the only problem.
There was a lynx with a couple of kittens about her size living in the neighborhood for a while, Forshee said, And one day Dusty got loose only to come home punched full of holes.
“He had about 12 different bite marks in all,” said Forshee, who was pretty confident Dusty lost a cat fight.
After that, Forshee kept a closer eye on Dusty, although it wasn’t always easy. Dusty was a bit of a horndog, Forshee admitted. If there was a female dog in heat just about anywhere in the valley, Dusty would get wind of it.
The last time Forshee saw Dusty was Friday. The man was helping his daughter load some things into her car. He left the door to the house open, and Dusty sprinted out.
“I immediately ran down to the neighbor’s house,” Forshee said. He knew there was a receptive female there, but for some reason, there was no Dusty. And Dusty hasn’t been seen since.
“I first went looking for a live dog,” Forshee said. Eventually, he expanded his search to look for blood in the sparse snow on the Anchorage Hillside this year or a pile of fur left behind after a predator makes a kill.
“I’ve seen wolves up here,” Forshee said. “I’ve seen coyotes.”
Several weeks ago, there were reports of wolves stalking dogs just to the north of Bear Valley between the Campbell Creek and Rabbit Creek drainages, alhough the “wolves” were more likely coyotes. A week ago, there was a reliable report of coyotes stalking a dog in the Potter Creek Valley just to the south of Forshee.
Both wolves and coyotes will kill and sometimes eat domestic dogs, said Wade Schock of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, who has had to console dog owners who’ve watched their beloved pets attacked.
Forshee thinks it possible a wild animal could have taken down Dusty, but “he’s awfully fast. He could jump in the air, do a 360 and land on his feet. When he was a young, he used to try to throw in a back flip, but he never landed one. It was hilarious.”
And now he’s gone.
“Dusty has never been gone overnight,” Forshee said, his voice cracking a little. “In this cold weather, if he was injured, he could have frozen to death in a ditch somewhere.”
Temperatures in Anchorage have been dipping down into the teens, which is not unusual for winter. The weather, the time and the absence of sightings all make Forshee fear for the worst.
Now, he largley just wants closure.
“He’s probably dead,” Forshee said. But the man doesn’t like his premonition that “somebody, and I believe it was somebody fairly close to me, did him in. If they’re mad at me, don’t take it out on the dogs. It’s not his fault.
“Give me a call, and I’ll come and get him. Give me a call, and I’ll tie him up.”
There is, of course, no way of knowing whether Forshee’s feelings about his neighbors are real or imagined. Many Americans used to know their neighbors better than they do now. Now they know a lot of people in the tubes who they might never have met.
And the weird thing is some of them might live Nextdoor.