By Joseph Robertia
There’s no shortage of “lost dog” flyers on area bulletin boards this time of year, but, unfortunately, there is a shortage of happy endings for those pups. Yet one flyer turned into an advertisement for the power of perseverance as the lost pup pictured found its way back to its owners after more than a week on the lam around Soldotna.
Nala, a cream-colored Rhodesian ridgeback, escaped from an RV on July 17 while her caretaker, of Anchorage, was cleaning up at the Wash and Dry near the “Y” intersection in Soldotna after a long day of salmon fishing. Nala was with her companion, another ridgeback named Hunter, but Hunter did not run off.
“My mom had been fishing with a friend and went in to take a shower and do laundry at the Laundromat. She left our friend and told her to not let the dogs out, that they had already gone to the bathroom and were fine,” said Kendra Harter, one of the dog’s owners.
“My friend let them out without leashes despite my mom telling her not to,” Kendra continued. “She expected them to listen to her even though she isn’t their owner, and didn’t put leashes on them in a strange area. So Nala, who is very skittish, would not come to her, and ran off in search of my mom. Our friend chased her, which scared her away more, and by the time she informed my mom that Nala had run off — I’m sure in a panic — she was gone.”
Kendra’s mom, Linda, was frantic upon learning the dog was not only lost, but so far from the home and neighborhood with which she is familiar.
“We spent five hours that night trying to find her,” Linda said.
First thing the next morning she went to the Soldotna Animal Control Shelter, but Nala had not been turned in. Marianne Clark, Soldotna’s chief animal control officer, took a report and helped Harter navigate the options for spreading word of a lost pet in the area — submitting the information to be read on the radio and posting it on a Facebook page called Kenai Peninsula Pets Found-Lost-Rehome and Sell.
Almost immediately people began making posts on the page that they had seen the missing dog.
“People started to text me for information so we knew where to start searching. I had to make the horrible phone call to my daughter to let her know Nala was missing. She flew in the next night and we searched through Sunday following leads and sightings of Nala,” Linda said.
“Our dogs don’t ‘run away.’ I knew Nala must be terrified and desperately looking for us. I was just heartbroken and terrified for her. I flew down for our planned fishing trip — which was ruined — to search for her. I honestly felt hopeless, especially after I had to return home,” Kendra said. “Our dogs are Rhodesian ridgebacks, and are very bonded to their owners. It’s a trait of the breed. So whenever we are not around or if they don’t know where we are, they look for us. They are always in the same room with us or have their eye on us.”
Nala was nowhere to be seen, so with Kendra having to return to school in Fairbanks and Linda having to return to work in Anchorage, they papered the Kenai-Soldotna area with “lost dog” flyers then left town with tears in their eyes.
They stayed in touch with Clark and a small, devoted group of locals who began searching for Nala after learning about her disappearance on the Facebook page.
Linda returned to Soldotna a week later and stayed with a family who had been helping her look, lending their knowledge of the local streets to her search. Over several days they would hear of a sighting of Nala, but by the time they got there she was gone.
After 11 days Linda finally got a stroke of luck after the dog was spotted running between Riverview Drive and Daisy Lane.
“I ran down the street and I saw her just standing there in the bushes. I quietly called to her and said, ‘Where’s Kendra? Where’s Hunter?’ (Hunter) spotted her and I told him to go get her. He was already running toward her. She almost took off, but Hunter was there and then she realized who it was and started to lick his face and ears,” she said.
“I then called to Hunter to bring her back and she looked at me with her ears up and I said, ‘Come on Nala. It’s time to come home where you are safe.’ She came running out of the woods and was all over me. I could not believe after 11 days she was once again back with us,” Linda said.
“Everyone on the Facebook page was very encouraging and helpful,” Kendra said. “Without them I don’t believe we would have gotten her back, because she was too scared of anyone to go to them. My mom happened to be at the right place and the right time to have Hunter go get her. I really am so happy to know she is safe now. So many people were so helpful in getting her and helping my mom. I was losing hope. But I am so beyond happy we have her now.”
Nala was brought to the veterinarian, and she was found to be thin, dehydrated and exhausted.
“I just got back from our vet and she said that the bugs ate her alive and some of the bites are infected, but the worst was all her pads are pretty much raw. She said it will take weeks for them to heal so walks and runs are out,” Linda said.
Nala, though, appears happy to be home and around family, according to Linda.
“She does not want to leave my side or Hunter’s. She does not want to leave a vehicle once she is in it. She is extra loving and wants to sleep a lot right now. She is getting lots of love and attention and Kendra is flying in Thursday to be with her,” she said.
The ordeal, while stressful and frightening to dog and owner, has left Linda with a silver lining.
“This community has restored my faith in humanity, and the same for Kendra. For so many people to take the time to help a stranger find their pet is incredible,” she said. “We have a happy ending and I am thankful to everyone in the wonderful community of Soldotna.”