Free-roaming sled dogs owned by Iditarod veteran kill beloved pet in Wasilla

A few weeks ago, Liza McCafferty let her feisty dog ​​Lucky take a bathroom break at her home off the busy Parks Highway in Wasilla.

“He was my work buddy, he was my hiking buddy,” McCafferty said of the 8-year-old Havanese, a breed in the bichon family known for their loyalty and playfulness. “He was very social; everyone knew him at Lowe’s here.

McCafferty tied Lucky’s leash to a run through their yard, where tree branches downed by this winter’s powerful windstorm were still frozen to the ground. Then she went inside to take care of something before her next business meeting started.

When McCafferty came out, she saw a black dog spring out from under her patio, part of a pack that suddenly appeared in her yard.

“Just below the stairs is where I saw all these dogs,” she said.

She panicked, screamed and retreated when the dogs looked like they might attack her too.

“I came running back, I didn’t know what those dogs were going to do. My dog ​​was torn up there,” McCafferty said.

The pack owner, standing atop a small hill at the far end of McCafferty’s property, ran to fight over the animals.

They were sled dogs owned by Jessie Holmes, an accomplished musher who had recently finished third in this year’s Iditarod and is a fan favorite of the popular reality TV franchise “Life Below Zero. : Alaska” on the National Geographic Channel.

[From reality TV to real-deal musher, Jessie Holmes captures Iditarod rookie honors]

Holmes lives on a remote inland farmhouse, but in late March, after the Iditarod ended, he and his crew were staying at the Grand View Inn, a hotel with a parking lot that backs into McCafferty’s backyard.

Once the sled dogs were assembled, Holmes went to McCafferty’s.

“He came in and really apologized,” she recalled. “He was about to cry.

She was too upset to talk much with him and asked him to leave, taking her information for later.

A friend helped her bring Lucky to a nearby veterinary clinic, but he was dead.

“It was just a really terrible accident because of my negligence,” Holmes said from Kotzebue, where he had competed in the Kobuk 440 sled dog race over the weekend.

The hotel is popular with mushers who pass through Wasilla for veterinary care and during racing season. Holmes said he’s been there more than a dozen times with his team of dogs, letting them run around for relief with no problem. He had two new dogs in the mix, however, and believes that when they ventured out to McCafferty’s yard, the rest of the pack followed.

“There is no way not to be distraught about this,” he said, adding that he is fully responsible for what happened and wants to help make things right. all possible ways. “It’s terrible when you make a bad call.”

Holmes said a city official told him he was getting 10 off-leash citations and potentially another for animal cruelty, which could have negative ramifications for his professional mushing career.

McCafferty wrote about what happened on social media, which sparked a torrent of responses – most of them encouraging and consoling, a few negative and malicious.

Subsequently, the town of Wasilla received so many inquiries about the attack that authorities took the unusual step of releasing a public statement from Mayor Glenda Ledford that the incident was under investigation.

Lucky’s absence won’t be filled anytime soon, McCafferty said. He was adventurous for a dog weighing just 15 pounds, regularly sitting in his special place in the family’s all-terrain vehicle for forays into the wild or up to the Knik Glacier.

“We don’t easily welcome dogs, so it was devastating,” McCafferty said.

McCafferty said one of the positive aspects of the tragedy is the unexpected camaraderie it generated with neighbors and people who reached out after she publicized what happened. Strangers messaged him from far beyond Wasilla offering their sympathies, with many sharing similar stories.

She said she hopes Holmes can help reach out to her social media followers and other fans to educate people about responsible pet ownership.

“It wasn’t just the dogs that people shared these stories about,” McCafferty said. “These attacks are happening, and they can be prevented. And I would love for Jessie to help spread the word.

Bette C. Alvarado