Sled dog caught after 7 weeks on the run in Washington

Musher's pooch that got loose in Snoqualmie Valley roamed more than 50 miles.

Anchorage Daily NewsMay 1, 2012 

Sausage spiked with a mild sedative was what finally led to Smilla to being captured after she ran off March 10 while musher Silvia Furtwangler was visiting a friend in Fall City, Wash.

PHOTO COURTESY OF JIM BRANSON / MISSING PET PARTNERSHIP

For Smilla the Iditarod sled dog, the end of the trail didn't come on Nome's Front Street and it didn't come in March.

It came Sunday at Twin Rivers Golf Course in Fall City, Wash., where the skittish husky was netted and crated after roaming loose for more seven weeks in the Snoqualmie Valley, according to Missing Pet Partnership, a nonprofit group that led the hunt for Smilla and eventually captured her.

A lead dog for musher Silvia Furtwangler of Norway, Smilla escaped March 10 while Furtwangler was visiting a friend in Fall City while on her way home from Alaska.

Furtwangler's team never made it to Nome -- Furtwangler scratched in Nikolai, about one-third of the way into the 975-mile race -- but Smilla scripted her own solo adventure once in Fall City. She bolted from a crate March 10 and was on the run for seven weeks and one day.

Smilla logged at least 50 miles, said Jim Branson, the president of Missing Pet Partnership and the man who captured the dog. Probably more, given that she's a sled dog capable of running dozens of miles every day.

She was spotted in Issaquah, Renton, Preston and Fall City. Her haunts included the golf course, a campground and the cemetery where Jimi Hendrix is buried.

In the end, it was stinky liverwurst spiked with a sedative that ended her journey.

"She likes women better than men, so a female fed her some sausage with a mild sedative," Branson said. "It was imported from Germany. A volunteer brought it home from vacation and said she could smell it in her luggage.

"We thought Smilla would like it, and she did."

Except the sedative didn't knock her out. For four hours, Branson shadowed a sleepy but still skittish Smilla as she toured the 18-hole golf course. Several times she settled in for a nap, but she kept waking up in time to make a dash for freedom.

Branson finally caught her with a net he said measured about 3 feet by 3 feet. Once in the net, Smilla fell asleep until a Missing Pet Partnership volunteer brought a crate.

Smilla was taken to Furtwangler's friend, Carl Jestrup. Neither Jestrup nor Furtwangler -- who is back in Norway -- could be reached Tuesday, but Branson said Jestrup took the dog to the home of an area musher.

It isn't known whether Smilla will return to Norway or if she will stay in Washington with an adopted family, Branson said.

A dog on the loose is a familiar dilemma for Furtwangler, a German who moved to Norway in 2008 to pursue mushing.

Another of her leaders, Whistler, escaped from Furtwangler's dog truck in February, shortly after the musher arrived in Alaska with 16 dogs. Whistler spent five days roaming the Chester Creek Trail before being captured. That time, chicken enchiladas, a brownie and some roast beef did the trick.

In both cases, plenty of people spotted the missing dog. In both cases, the dog proved too skittish and too fast to catch.

Smilla was seen by scores of people in numerous communities, Branson said, but none managed to get close to her until Sunday.

"Smilla's behavior made her hard to catch but it also made for a lot of sightings," he said. "She chose to sleep in the afternoon in open fields with 360-degree visibility so nobody could sneak up on her.

"She spent about three weeks at a campground in Fall City. You could go talk to her and feed her but no one could ever get close enough to catch her, and she was too smart to trap."

Smilla had been missing for three weeks before the Missing Pet Partnership began publicizing her story, Branson said. The Snoqualmie Valley Record published a story last week about the search for Smilla that included a map of the lower Snoqualmie Valley dotted with little paw prints representing places where the dog had been spotted.

Branson said Smilla looked healthy when he caught her. The places she favored had a source of water and the people she encountered often left her food, he said.


Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.

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