Smilla, come home: Lost in Fall City, scared sled dog evades rescue for six weeks
April 26, 2012 · 12:27 PM
Smart and fast, Smilla is a survivor. Half a world away from her home, she’s also too scared to come in from the cold.
A lost mixed-Husky racing dog who broke out of her crate on March 10, Smilla has led would-be rescuers from Fall City to Preston and back over the last six weeks.
Her pursuers have come tantalizingly close to catching her, only to have her flee back into the Valley’s wilds.
Jim Branson, president of the non-profit Missing Pet Partnership, came within five feet of grabbing Smilla last week.
“Lots of people have tried to help her,” he says. “But the more people that try to help her, the more she runs.”
Saving Smilla is going to take a whole new strategy.
On the loose
In a downpour, Carl Jelstrup heads to Fall City Community Park to see if Smilla had finally been trapped.
But Jelstrup, the local representative of the sled dog’s owner, was very doubtful that Smilla can be caged. A 10-year resident of Fall City, and a chiropractor and naturopathic physician in Bellevue, Jelstrup has searched for Smilla since she escaped from his driveway, and knows the dog better than anyone else in the Valley.
Jelstrup grew up in the remote, wild area of central Norway where Smilla comes from. This winter, he was asked by a longtime friend, farmer Anna Vorgen, to help sled dog musher and owner Silvia Furtwangler during her journey through Washington en route to the Iditarod.
Joining the expeditions as team doctor, Jelstrup came to see Furtwangler as a professional, considerate dog handler.
“She is an incredible, neat lady, phenomenal with animals,” Jelstrup told the Record. “She is a true wilderness lady.”
Furtwangler’s race came to an abrupt end, about 300 miles into the 1,100-mile journey. Jelstrup said some of the dogs were sick, and Furtwangler also had sled trouble. She arrived back in Washington in the middle of the night, offloading dogs in crates into Jelstrup’s truck for the trip to Fall City.
“Unfortunately, she put a couple extra dogs into a cage to make it speedier,” Jelstrup said. “We got here, the cage explodes, and out rush the dogs. We caught two. Number three, gone. It was a logistic blunder.
“We’ve now spent five weeks running after Smilla,” Jelstrup added. “She always wins.”
Smilla weighs about 50 pounds, and has a collar and tags. Capable of running 100 miles a day, she’s very shy of people and other dogs.
Smilla has been spotted at places as far apart as the Twin River Golf Course, Fall City Fire Station, Preston’s I-90 interchange and a home near the Raging River Community Church.
According to Branson, most loose dogs survive on the food that people leave out for feral cats.
“There’s one in every neighborhood,” Branson said. “Dogs can find them by their noses.”
According to Branson, Smilla’s behavior is typical, but the range of her wanderings isn’t.
“We find that when dogs are on the run, they stay away from everybody, even their owners,” he said. “They won’t come when called,” even by the owner. “It’s just the mindset they get into.”
Branson said that Missing Pet Partnership has helped recover dogs who have been loose for as long as a year. It’s much too early to give up hope.
“She’s learned where to find food,” Branson. “She’s got lots of water, and she’s developed a strategy for being safe in traffic. She’s learned that, and managed to survive this far.”
“The plan going forward is that we want her to settle in a new location, like a pasture,” Branson said. “Hopefully, people will just let her rest quietly there, with some food. If we can get her to feel at home in someone’s yard, then we can work up the next plan for trapping her.”
With much of the Fall City and Preston community watching for Smilla. Jelstrup has been touched and impressed by the help he’s received, and the calls that he receives daily.
“It’s been amazing teamwork,” Jelstrup said. “One thing I’m getting out of it is how humane people can be. When you get an animal involved, the human, loving instinct comes out.”
Still, without her owner, Smilla can’t find anyone she trusts.
“She’s a hard-wired runner, and she has now turned feral,” Jelstrup said. He thinks it may come to a darting, a step of last resort.
“I saw a little limp on her, now,” Jelstrup said. “She can only do this so long.”
“We want people to not try to catch her,” Branson said. “We’re going to have to outsmart her.
Help find Smilla
If you see Smilla, don’t try to catch her. Instead, call Missing Pet Partnership at (425) 221-0665 or (206) 265-2804.
Missing Pet Partnership has created a web page for Smilla: http://smillafallcity.blogspot.com/
Seth Truscott/Staff Photo
Dr. Carl Jelstrup of Fall City, local representative of lost dog Smilla’s owner, stands by her crate. Jelstrup has been fielding calls from Lower Valley residents who spot the running dog.