Lost sled dog Smilla's run ends with rescue
May 8, 2012 · Updated 2:38 PM
Smilla's wild tour of the Snoqualmie Valley and greater Eastside is over.
The Norwegian sled dog, who spent seven weeks on the loose after busting out of her crate March 10, has been captured.
Smilla is fortunate: Not every dog lost for so long gets to come home, says Jim Branson, president of the Missing Pet Partnership and a lead organizer of the Valley search.
"Smilla did me a favor by letting me catch her," he said.
On her way home from the Iditarod sled race in Alaska, the dog broke free when an overloaded crate broke. Locals noticed her many times as the dog circled Fall City, ranging to Preston and as far as Renton but resisted every capture attempt.
Volunteers finally threw a net over her on Sunday, April 29, at Twin Rivers Golf Course, after slipping her the mickey, via some dog food.
Last week, Smilla ran from Fall City to the Greenwood Cemetery in Renton, 20 miles away. She spent the day in the cemetery and then ran back to Fall City where she started.
The partnership received reports on Saturday and Sunday that Smilla was trotting around Twin Rivers Golf Course in Fall City. Going to the course, Branson and MPP volunteers Scott Dungan and Miriam Kelly were watching Smilla and keeping her safe.
Smilla likes women better than men, so Miriam fed Smilla some sedative pills hidden in liverwurst. The dog settled down for a nap, but never fell into a deep sleep.
"Several times, she woke up just as I was sneaking up on her with a net," Branson said. "The three of us followed her around the golf course for about four hours as she found new places to nap and we tried to sneak up on her."
Branson rushed the last 10 feet, throwing a net over her as she was getting up to run.
"Nothing went exactly as planned, but it worked," Branson stated. "She was too sleepy and disoriented to run away quickly."
Smilla was not happy about being trapped, but volunteers were elated.
"We are all very pleased that she will no longer be at risk of being struck by a car," Branson said.
Once dogs are on the run, afraid of strangers, they start learning to distrust all humans.
"It's common for dogs to get in this state of mind when they're on the run," Branson said.
"Now that she's back with people, she's perfectly fine. She's friendly, she wants to be with people. She's accepting food."
The dog was suffering from a giardia infection when she was found, but is otherwise healthy. And for a dog on the run for seven weeks, that's surprising.
"She didn't really lose much weight," Branson said. "That's because everybody was feeding her, trying to catch her, giving her treats, bowls of kibble. She at pretty well."
Smilla's behavior made the big difference in her getting back to safety.
Branson says many lost dogs wind up in remote places. Smilla, in contrast, preferred to take a nap in the afternoon in a sunny, grassy place.
"She chose places that 360 degrees of escape. This made her very visible," Branson said. "So a lot of people saw her. This allowed us to keep track of her."
Volunteers, some from as far away from Ocean Shores, have invested hundreds of hours trying to capture Smilla, as have locals at the campground, cemetery, golf course.
More than a thousand called with sightings following a report by this newspaper.
"We received 2,000 calls from people who had seen the story," Branson said.
Smilla is now being boarded by a friend of Carl Jesltrup of Fall City, a local acquaintance of her owner, sled dog racer Silvia Furtwangler of Norway.
Should Furtwangler choose not to be reunited with the dog, Branson said there are several people who have volunteered to adopt the dog.
Branson hopes everything works out for Smilla.
"She is a high risk for escaping again," he said.
The most important thing now, Branson said, is for Smilla's handlers to make sure she's wearing an escape-proof collar.
Branson is amazed by how far the dog roamed—and how she always found her way back to Fall City.
The dog ran all the way to Renton, and "ended up back in the same place," he said.
"She was building a mental map of the area," Branson added. Lost dogs often circle and check out their surroundings, learning where water and food sources can be found.
"This is the first time we've had a case that a dog ran so far away from the point of escape and then all the way back."