While little Mosca the Jack Russell terrier was being noisily killed by wolves earlier this month in Chugach State Park just above Anchorage, the dog's owner was hiking along a trail to Wolverine Peak unaware of what was going on because he was wearing headphones.
Hikers high on the 4,491-foot mountain clearly visible from Alaska's largest city said they heard a dog fight going on far below, but weren't sure what was happening.
"We heard this dog barking,'' one of them said. "This dog was just like going crazy.''
They were baffled as to the reason for the noise until after they met Brandon Ward on the trail yelling "Mosca! Mosca! Mosca!'' He told the hikers he was looking for his lost white dog. The dog, Ward told them, had run away.
"He didn't hear his dog run away,'' one of the hikers said. "He had headphones in. He didn't even hear his dog barking.''
Alaska wildlife biologists and others have been warning for years about the dangers of running in the wilds while listening to music on headphones.
"Use your senses to stay aware. No headphones!" proclaims the municipality's official "Bear Aware" website.
Always the concern has been about people distracted by their music stumbling into a bear that mauls them or a moose that stomps them. Now, though, it appears there is a danger that might be in some ways worse -- the loss of a beloved pet.
There is no way of knowing if Ward would have been able to save Mosca -- Spanish for housefly -- if he'd heard the fight and rushed to the aid of the little dog. But it is clear that he couldn't help rescue the dog from a fight he didn't hear.
Others have saved their pets from wolves. On Dec. 13, 2007, Eagle River resident Mike Krause managed to drive off a wolf that had his Labrador retriever by the neck, but not all wolves are so easily deterred.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game three years ago eliminated an entire pack at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson after those wolves developed a taste for dogs. The biologists were concerned the wolves might injure, possibly even kill, someone trying to defend a pet.
There are no indications similarly emboldened wolves are roaming the popular Powerline Pass valley above Anchorage where Mosca died. The Jack Russell on the loose appears to have unluckily run into a group of three wolves just passing through. Wolves roam all through the mountains above Anchorage, into the greenbelts of Eagle River and onto the military base adjacent to Anchorage.
Most of this area is undeveloped country bordering wilderness. The danger of wide-ranging loose dogs in such terrain was recently highlighted by wildlife biologist Stephen Herrero of Canada, who reported that a lot of black bear attacks on humans involve free-ranging dogs bringing back bears to the dogs' owners.
How much Ward knew about the dangers of running with loose dogs or with headphones is unknown. He arrived in Alaska from California only a couple of years ago. He could not be reached for an interview. An email sent to his wife, asking for assistance in reaching Ward so that he might help others understand what happened to Mosca, brought only this response:
"Neither my husband nor I want to talk about the incident any further. Fish and Game has all the details and they have already been contacted and spoken to reporters. It is not a day I would like to relive as it was traumatizing for my family. If you continue to contact me, I will consider contacting the police due to harassment."
Reach Craig Medred at firstname.lastname@example.org.