By Joseph Robertia
After 19 months running free, a thick-coated husky named Freedom spent Saturday night indoors — warm, on a soft bed, curled up with one of the people who wouldn’t gave up on the idea that the dog deserved a chance at a life with a little less freedom and a whole lot more comfort, safety and security.
“Without the patience, time and energy that was invested in developing trust with Freedom, this would never have happened so easily,” said Jill Garnet, owner of Red Shed Racing and Rescue Kennel in Kasilof and one of the primary people who championed the effort to capture the dog.
The story of how Freedom came to be living in the woods in Soldotna is a long one, beginning about two years ago when she and a kennelmate named Larry were rescued from a hoarding situation.
“While everyone involved had the best of intentions, a safe, permanent home didn’t materialize,” Garnet said. “After the SPCA shelter that took them in closed, a family in Soldotna graciously agreed to adopt them. Unfortunately, (the dogs) escaped their enclosure after just two short weeks. Larry was hit by a car and killed, and Freedom ended up wandering alone on the streets in Soldotna.”
Several efforts were made to capture Freedom, but she eluded private citizens with dip nets, Soldotna Animal Control officers, and even Soldotna Police Department officers who stated that while they would attempt to capture the dog without shooting it, if Freedom displayed aggressive behavior, the dog would be shot for public safety.
“Like most dogs in her situation there are people who advocate for both sides — bring her in or leave her be. She had already been hit by a car once and there were regular threats against her life by people who were tired of having her scrounge around for food on their property,” Garnet said.
She decided to become actively involved in trying to reclaim Freedom last April.
“Once I made the decision to adopt her, we got paperwork signed (by the former owner) and she legally surrendered rights to her. She wanted the best for Freedom, although city ordinances supported that, with her being a stray, I could have claimed her by stating my interest and involvement trying to rescue her without papers,” Garnet said. “What I thought would take weeks turned into months of daily surveillance and attempts at capture.”
The dog evaded all humane traps, custom-made pens and live-capture attempts. Garnet even enlisted the assistance of a professional veterinarian from California to dart the dog with chemical sedatives, but the efforts were blocked by the city of Soldotna, citing that the veterinarian was not licensed by the state of Alaska.
Garnet said that after facing so many hurdles, she briefly contemplated if all the work she was doing was ever going to pay off for Freedom.
“After those first few months, I had become overwhelmed with love and respect with her. I wrestled with the idea of leaving her be to live her life ‘free’ until something or someone ended her life,” she said.
But after continuing to watch Freedom from afar and via several motion-activated cameras, Garnet remembered a basic of canine behavior — they like to be part of a pack.
“After spending so much time watching her and seeing her life, I saw one common thread. Most of what drove her daily routine was not food, but the collection of neighborhood dogs she had befriended. They really were what she was living for,” she said. “With a gaggle of happy huskies at home, I became convinced she would do much more than survive but actually thrive if I managed to get her home.”
The setup at Garnet’s kennel is a rural 2-acre area, completely fenced with tall, wild-game fencing rather than shorter chain-link, and double and triple gates set up to contain even the most talented escape artists.
“I decided it did not matter how long it took to rescue her,” Garnet said.
It wasn’t a lone operation. Community members were asked to not leave out food, so that food would only be placed at strategic locations to help in Freedom’s capture. Petitions were started and hundreds of signatures were gathered to inform the Soldotna City Council how important this issue was in the community.
“Much of the community rallied for Freedom and many residents cooperated and volunteered with rescue efforts. Eventually, Soldotna city officials came around to support our efforts for her humane capture, and state Senator (Peter) Micciche was her biggest advocate,” Garnet said.
With so many people working with the capture efforts and a coordinated plan of feeding being carried out, the pieces fell into place. Freedom began frequenting a property stocked with what volunteers were calling “the bowl of love” — a supply of dog food, cheese, steak and hot dogs. Volunteers also provided a straw bed and water bowls to reinforce Freedom visiting regularly.
The cameras at the location gave insight into what time of night Freedom was sneaking to the bowl for a bite to eat. With this knowledge, volunteers staked out the area hoping to corner and catch the husky.
At 4:18 a.m. Jan. 11, “she confidently trotted right into the enclosed yard where we were waiting for her with the bowl of love,” Garnet said. “When she noticed the five of us standing there ready to do whatever it took to get our hands on her she just sat down and looked at us. It was a calm and peaceful surrender. There was no chasing or cornering or tackling, we were simply amazed. Senator Micciche himself gently guided her to a waiting dog crate, after covering her with a blanket.”
The dog was brought to Twin Cities Veterinary Clinic where it was given a clean bill of health, despite being on its own for so long. Freedom was then brought to Garnet’s facility, where it initially spent time indoors with her and her boyfriend before being released into a small outdoor enclosure with other dogs.
“We made the plan long ago to set her loose in one section of our 2 acres, allowing her to meet a few dogs at a time. We are never planning to force her beyond her own desires. If she chooses to bond with her people, great. But we are committed to her free will,” Garnet said. “She spent her entire first day playing with a few dogs and running the fence line meeting and interacting with the others. By dusk she was already lying down asleep. She ate a nice meal with ease. It is going better than we predicted by far. We have a loose plan to ease her to the entire 2 acres with access to the dog door over time.”
Without the patience, time and energy invested in developing trust with Freedom, Garnet said that this would never have happened so easily. And that wouldn’t have happened without the help and support of so many in the community. Garnet especially wants to thank Sen. Micciche, Tami Murray, Amanda Burg, Susan Endsley, Jenn Barkman, Sean Rice, Branden Bornemann, and Al and Rita Parker.
For more information on Freedom’s rehabilitation, visit the Facebook page, “Save Freedom,” or Garnet’s kennel site http://www.redshedracing.com.