Fairbanks motorists help catch runaway dog team

Posted: Tuesday, March 05, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- When Tom Fisher saw the dog team coming down the road at him, it was a sight that demanded action.

''I could see that nobody was in the sled and one of the dogs was dragging,'' said Fisher, one of two motorists who helped corral a runaway 13-dog team sprinting down Farmers Loop Road in lunch-hour traffic Monday afternoon. ''I just knew we had to get them off the road.''

Fisher spotted the dog team around 12:30 p.m. as he was driving north on Farmers Loop. He immediately did a U-turn, as did a woman driving a van in front of him who had also seen the dogs.

The woman, whose name remains a mystery to both Fisher and Alaska State Troopers, took the lead in trying to steer the dogs off the road.

''She said she was a musher and she knew what she was doing,'' Fisher said.

Using her van to cut them off, the woman guided the dogs toward the side of the road. Fisher, meanwhile, was paralleling the back of the team in his old blue Honda Prelude.

''I drove right up next to them and was trying to reach out the window and grab them,'' he said.

It wasn't until the woman pulled her van off the side of the road at an angle and the dogs had no place to go that Fisher finally got his chance.

He immediately found himself in a wrestling match with a team of huskies, most of which were still barking and yelping to run.

Another unidentified passing motorist stopped and helped tie the dogs to a light pole.

Fairbanks North Star Borough Animal Control and troopers responded to the scene. But by the time they got there, things had calmed down and the team's owner identified.

The dogs belonged to German sprint musher Michael Tetzner, who was training on nearby trails when one of his handlers, Gerd Bittl, lost a team.

Tetzner, who is training for the Open North American Championships in Fairbanks March 15-17, was planning a short run on Monday after having placed 10th in the Fur Rendezvous World Championships in Anchorage eight days earlier.

''It was just for fun, to try to get their speed back up,'' Tetzner said in a thick German accent.

The 60-year-old Bittl, a German sporting goods store owner who travels to Fairbanks each spring to mush, was following behind Tetzner when he fell off the sled about 2 miles into the run trying to set the snow hook. The dogs continued down the trail and almost knocked a surprised Tetzner off his sled when they came speeding by.

Reacting quickly, Tetzner managed to grab hold of the second sled as it came by and for a moment was driving both 13-dog teams down the trail, with one foot on one runner of each sled.

''It was crazy,'' Tetzner said as he loaded up his dogs at the Dog Musher's Hall after the incident.

Tetzner managed to drop the snow hook on his sled in hopes it would dig in and stop the team. It did, but the force of the sudden stop threw Tetzner over the other sled and into the team Bittl had been driving. He found himself tangled up in the tuglines of the two wheel dogs, being dragged down the trail.

The team of 13 dogs bolted down the trail, leaving Tetzner lying in the snow.

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