Iditarod rookie Silvia Furtwangler walked the Chester Creek Trail greenbelt Saturday, waving her iPhone in the air. The tinny speakers blared a recording of the German musher's dog team howling and barking.
Still, Whistler didn't come. The runaway sled dog, one of Furtwangler's young leaders, had escaped her dog truck early Thursday morning in Anchorage. Spotted in the following days, trotting among the snowy trees bordering downtown, he had shown little interest in climbing back into a kennel.
Maybe it was the sled dog's marathon car ride from Norway to Frankfurt, followed by the marathon flight from Frankfurt to Seattle to Anchorage, mused Furtwangler, whose English is still a work in progress.
"It's a long, long way. And definitely, I'm sure he was a little bit (upset) to go again in the dog boxes," she said.
Whistler didn't come when Gwen Truax of Anchorage, a Facebook friend of the musher, shouted into the woods with her best German accent. "Kommen sie, Whistler! Kommen sie!"
He didn't come when other volunteers tried to bait him with moose steaks and bacon south of Fairview, where Whistler was spotted over the weekend. Furtwangler began to wonder if she'd have to race with 15 dogs. "Some people say, 'It's just a dog,' " she said. "But it's my babies, you know."
A 2003 Yukon Quest competitor who finished that 1,000-mile race with a team of shelter dogs, Furtwangler, a German, lives in Norway. She didn't learn of Whistler's disappearance until the end of the long drive to Willow, where she is training for the race.
Whistler must have pushed through a screen on the dog box of a borrowed truck, she said.
PLEA FOR HELP ON FACEBOOK
Furtwangler drove back to Anchorage while another of her Alaska Facebook friends, Tracey Mendenhall of Delta Junction, created a Facebook page dedicated to finding the distinctive, spotted dog. Within 24 hours, it bubbled with news of tips and sightings.
Kevin Degler, who lives in the area where Whistler was eventually captured, first saw the dog wandering near the Ship Creek boat ramp. "He was on a mission. He was looking south, he was wanting to get across those railroad trucks." A day later, Degler spotted Whistler near his Orca Place home. "That's the dog from Facebook," his girlfriend said.
"I got within 30 feet of him with some bacon," Degler said. "He wanted that bacon, but he didn't trust me."
For two days, Furtwangler searched the greenbelt, hoping the iPhone serenade of Whistler's litter-mates and teammates' barking would convince the dog to stay put.
"I think that was the only chance ... so that he hear, 'OK, the pack is here,' " she said.
On Monday, the musher's luck changed. Danny Parish, director of supported employment for the Arc of Anchorage, had seen Whistler in the non-profit's parking lot west of Bragaw. The dog looked cold and hungry, he thought. Probably a stray.
About 6:45 a.m., he offered Whistler his lunch. Leftover chicken enchiladas. Whistler ate, but kept his distance, Parish said.
LURED BY SNACKS
Meantime, Charlene Oliver, who manages an espresso stand at the agency, had heard about the runaway sled dog on the news. Small, sly-eyed and mottled, Whistler is unmistakable.
"When I saw his eyes, I knew instantly that's what it was (Whistler)," Oliver said.
She gave the dog a bit of brownie, then lured him into the garage with a co-worker's roast beef. By the time Furtwangler arrived, Whistler was waiting in the back of Oliver's Suburban.
Furtwangler studied the dog's legs and patted his shoulder as Whistler's eyes darted from person to person in the expanding crowd. He looked scared, the musher said. Whistler is a country dog.
"We live really outside, in the wilderness. We have no roads, nothing, and then we traveled all the way from Norway to here," she said. "I think it was a little bit, kind of (a) shock for the dogs."
Iditarod dogs bolt from their mushers seemingly every year -- often during the race, but sometimes before, when teams arrive in Anchorage and skittish huskies, unfamiliar with the city, disappear into neighborhoods. Lance Mackey temporarily lost a leader named Girlfriend in Spenard in 2010, the year of his fourth-straight Iditarod championship.
Furtwangler likely has more modest plans. She placed 16th out of 18 mushers in her sole Yukon Quest. This is her first attempt at the Iditarod, though some of her dogs come from familiar stock.
Named for the ski town in British Columbia, Whistler is the son of an Anchorage shelter dog named Sharkey. Furtwangler acquired Sharkey from Paxson musher John Schandelmeier, she said, and the pair are both on her 16-dog Iditarod lineup.
She plans to return Whistler to the team as early as today, with the race's ceremonial start less than three weeks away in Anchorage.
"You'll see him on the starting line," Furtwangler said.
Reach Kyle Hopkins at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4334.
By KYLE HOPKINS
Anchorage Daily News