An 11-year old Labrador retriever is home safe after running away from a Sun Valley Animal Center employee during a hike earlier this month.
Sun Valley Animal Center Pet Lodge Manager Betsy Kauder said Tuesday that Murphy, who had been boarding with the facility since he was a puppy, was on a hike with an employee on Sept. 11 when he was spooked by a moose and refused to return.
The employee, Carlos Anguiano, had taken three dogs for a hike out Cove Creek past Triumph that afternoon.
Kauder said that Anguiano and the dogs had reached a creek when a moose stepped out of the woods. Two of the dogs went for the moose, and as Anguiano grabbed their collars to keep them from bolting toward the moose. Murphy got spooked and ran away.
“Usually, dogs will do what the first two did,” Kauder said. “I have never had a problem like this before.”
Kauder said Anguiano searched for Murphy for an hour before calling the pet lodge for more help. The lodge sent more employees to search well into the night and throughout the remaining week.
Murphy’s owner, Sun valley resident Judith Smooke, said that she and her husband were on a trip to London and had just barely landed when they received a call from the center saying their dog had run away. The Smookes returned home Friday and immediately began rallying friends to help, she said.
The family’s housekeeper, Nancy McAfee, slept near Cove Creek for six nights, hoping the dog would come to her. However, each time the dog was spotted, Smooke said, the dog would run away.
“It was just terror, I guess,” she said.
Posters were plastered around town, and friends and family scoured Elkhorn and the East Fork region. Jennifer and Kevin Swigert aided in the search with their bloodhounds, and it was eventually Kevin Swigert who captured Murphy on Sept. 19, tackling him as he tried to cross a creek.
“He was dirty and really thin and he could barely walk,” Smooke said. “He was shaky and scared.”
St. Francis Pet Clinic veterinarian Karsten Fostvedt said on Monday that he examined the dog shortly after his recapture. Despite being hungry and sore, the dog had no serious injuries, he said.
“He had obviously lost some weight and was fairly exhausted,” he said. “We took some chest and abdominal X-rays and did some blood tests. Miraculously, there is no permanent damage.”
Fostvedt said that the dog’s age naturally complicated matters. Though the dog had managed to eat, judging by bone fragments in his stomach, Fostvedt said that the dog was very lucky to survive.
“It would be like a 70-year-old getting lost in the wilderness for eight days,” he said. “Thank God there was a big network of the owners’ friends out there looking for him.”
Both Kauder and Smooke said the dog is typically calm and obedient. Kauder said that Richard Smooke, Judith Smooke’s husband, had asked that Murphy be taken for a hike, which the lodge only offers to dogs that are frequent boarders and that are trained to come when called off-leash.
“I treat every dog that comes through those doors as one of my own,” Kauder said, adding that Murphy has been taking hikes with the lodge for more than a decade. “We’re just happy he is home safe.”
Sun Valley Animal Center veterinarian Randy Acker said that the lodge employees hike dogs near Cove Creek to prevent encounters with children, uncontrolled dogs, motorcycles or other recreational users. It’s safer, he said, than trying to hike dogs closer to town. No other dogs have run off on hikes, Kauder added.
Smooke said that despite the experience, she is just thankful Murphy is at home.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” Smooke said. “We don’t know the truth of what really happened or what caused him to bolt. People prayed for him and I’m sure that's what kept him safe.”
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org