Missing dog finally shows up in McGrath

WHITEY-LANCE: With help of a salmon he's caught after five days.

March 14, 2010 

After being lost more than four days in sub-zero cold, Whitey-Lance, the 3-year-old dog of Iditarod rookie Justin Savidis, was found late Sunday.

About 5:30 p.m., a group of McGrath residents helping Savidis look for his dog spotted an animal matching the description near town.

But the dog was skittish whenever anyone approached and at first didn't recognize Savidis, who was wearing snowmachine goggles.

But someone then produced a salmon carcass, something even a skittish dog couldn't resist.

"At first, he was a little startled by my goggles, said Savidis, who quickly removed them. "I said, 'Hey, Whitey' and he was like, 'Ah, I remember you.' "

Musher and wheel dog were quickly reunited. A McGrath veterinarian later checked Whitey-Lance, who was noticeably thinner and had what Savidis described as small injuries from being out in the woods.

After that, the Willow musher headed to the airport with Whitey-Lance, who sat on his lap during the flight to Anchorage.

Savidis believes the dog, lost between Nikolai and McGrath, moved between those two towns while missing, a distance of about 50 miles. He apparently squirmed free from his harness and escaped before dawn on Wednesday, perhaps spooked by something he saw off the trail.

Unknown is exactly where he's been for nearly five days.

"He was moving along the trail, scavenging for snacks left behind by mushers," Savidis said.

Savidis spent his days searching by plane, snowmachine and foot, helped by local residents as well as Alaska State Troopers and members of the volunteer Iditarod Air Force. When searchers spotted wolf tracks near the Takotna River on Saturday, Savidis' already deep worry racheted up a notch.

"The people in McGrath -- particularly Abe Rose and Mark Cox -- were tremendously helpful," he said. "I owe them a huge debt of gratitude."

Savidis said he hopes to return to the Iditarod next year and put Whitey-Lance, one of his stronger animals, back on the team.

"I might put a GPS tracker on him, though," he said.

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