We’re not fans of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, in case you’re wondering. Too many dogs have died over the years, pushed beyond their limits. In 2009, six dogs died, according to PETA. Two of them froze to death, and two deaths were “inconclusive.” In 2008, three dogs died. Since records of the race have been kept, at least 136 dogs have died. The sad statistics seem to have no end.
This year, however, there was one very happy ending. After seven days alone in the rugged Alsaka wilderness, May, the lost Iditarod sled dog, has been found. Actually, May pretty much just ran home. The dog is thought to have logged 300 to 400 miles after escaping from the Newton Marshall, the Jamaican musher.
It started March 7, when Marshall stopped to help a fellow musher repair her sled. As the lines of the two sleds became entangled, May got free and was gone. Marshall’s team posted a message on his Facebook page, and rescue efforts were under way.
As May was on loan to the Jamaican team from veteran Iditarod musher Jim Lanier, his wife, Anna Bondarenko, flew to Alaska to “be the familiar face to call May in from the cold,” according to a Facebook post.
But she always missed May, who was spotted near checkpoints but never captured. Many feared she would be attacked by coyotes and wolves.
Where was May headed? Back, it seems. May was running the anti-Iditarod, heading back to the starting line, eating scattered leftovers of other teams as she passed checkpoints going the other way.
“She was absolutely running home,” Stan Smith, a friend of Lanier’s, according to the Anchorage Daily News. “She traveled several times from Rohn to Nikolai, all the way up the Dalzell Gorge, up the Alaska Range to the other side, through Rainy Pass, across Shell Lake; she was spotted multiple times in Skwentna. So many reports of seeing her. They were all heading south.”
“It’s an incredible journey,” he said.
Eventually, three snowmachiners found May trotting slowly down a trail.
“We had just pulled over on the side of the trail and were talking about where we should go next,” said Matt Clark. “About 100 yards away a dog was trotting down the trail. It was coming at a pretty slow pace and we were waiting to see if someone on a four-wheeler or snowmachine was with her.”
The dog was skinny, with a bloody paw.
“I stopped my sled and got off and went to the ground and she came right up to me. She sat in my lap the entire trip back to Big Lake,” said Kaitlin Koch. “I’m still in utter amazement at how far she got.”
“I grew up watching the Iditarod, my sister and me, and we loved it,” Koch said. “We were just watching the finish the night before and hearing this story about a lost sled dog. Then the next day you’re actually saving the actual dog; it’s so crazy.”
Though it seems impossible that a dog was lost in the Alaska wilderness for seven days, traveling 300 to 400 miles, subsisting on scraps, and using only her internal compass to go south, it’s not so far-fetched for May. She’s a sled dog. She has completed the Iditarod “numerous times,” according to Smith.
“Everybody who has a dog has a tendency to think these sled dogs are Poodles or something, and they’re not,” he said. “These are absolutely incredible athletes, and they have the internal drive of an athlete.”
“Today she’s kinda lazy,” he added.