Liza McCafferty let her energetic dog Lucky go potty a few weeks ago at her home not far from busy Parks Highway in Wasilla.
“He was my co-worker, he was my walking partner,” McCafferty said of the 8-year-old Havanese, a breed within the bichon family known for its loyalty and playfulness. “He was very social; everyone knew him at Lowe’s here.”
McCafferty connected Lucky’s leash to a run in his yard, where tree limbs blown down by this winter’s powerful windstorm were still frozen to the ground. He then went in to take care of something before his next business meeting started.
When McCafferty went back out, he saw a black dog run out from under his deck, part of a pack that suddenly appeared in his yard.
“Right under the stairs, that’s when I saw all those dogs,” he said.
She panicked, screamed and backed away when it seemed the dogs were going to attack her too.
“I ran back, I didn’t know what those dogs were going to do. My dog was mangled there,” McCafferty said.
The owner of the herd, standing on top of a small hill at the far end of McCafferty’s property, ran down to fight the animals.
They were sled dogs belonging to jessie holmesan accomplished musher who recently finished third in this year’s Iditarod and is a fan favorite on the popular reality 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 in a remote house in the interior, but in late March, after Iditarod ended, he and his team were staying at the Grand View Inn, a hotel with a parking lot that runs to the other end of McCafferty’s yard.
Once all the sled dogs were assembled, Holmes went to the McCafferty house.
“He came in and was very apologetic,” she recalled. “She was on the verge of tears.”
She was too upset to talk to him much and asked him to leave, taking his information for later.
A friend helped her take Lucky to a nearby veterinary clinic, but he was dead.
“It was a really terrible accident due to my negligence,” Holmes said from Kotzebue, where he had competed in the Kobuk 440 dog sled race over the weekend.
The hotel is popular with mushers who pass through Wasilla for veterinary care and during racing season. Holmes said he has stayed there more than a dozen times with his team of dogs, letting them loose to relieve himself with no problem. However, he had two new dogs in the mix, and he believes that when they ventured into 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 in any way he can. “It’s terrible when you make a bad decision.”
Holmes said he was told by a city official that he is receiving 10 citations for loose dogs and potentially another for animal cruelty, which could have negative ramifications for his professional mushing career.
McCafferty wrote about what happened on social networkswhich unleashed a torrent of responses, most of them supportive and comforting, some negative and malicious.
Subsequently, the city of Wasilla received so many inquiries about the attack that officials took the unusual step of issuing a public statement. statement from Mayor Glenda Ledford saying the incident was under investigation.
Lucky’s absence will not be covered soon, McCafferty said. He was adventurous for a dog at just 15 pounds, regularly sitting in his special spot in the family’s ATV for forays into the wilderness or up to Knik Glacier.
“We don’t readily accept dogs, so this has been devastating,” McCafferty said.
McCafferty said one of the silver linings of the tragedy is the unexpected camaraderie it generated with neighbors and people who reached out after she posted about what happened. Strangers sent her messages from far beyond Wasilla offering their condolences, 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 were sharing these stories about,” McCafferty said. “These attacks happen and can be prevented. And I would like Jessie to help spread the word.”