The bond between humans and their pets is strong one, as proven by a locally-known dog named Kenai. Gone missing more than a month, he'd lost a third of his body weight and part of one paw during his lonely attempt to hobble home.
"He was skin and bones, and very, very dehydrated," said his owner, Colin Lowe of Cooper Landing, when he first got his dog back late last month.
The dog first went missing on Feb. 20, while hiking with Lowe and his family in the Russian River area, near Cooper Landing.
"We were walking around the ferry area when Kenai took off," Lowe said, referring to his 6-year old black Labrador -- a hefty 110-pound male.
"It wasn't that unusual at first," Lowe added. "He usually explores a little, then comes back, but this day he didn't come back."
Lowe and his family became worried, as minutes turned into hours, and eventually hours turned into days and weeks.
"We went back daily," he said. "We would call and search for him. We even made a search grid of the old camping area. We were very broken up about the whole thing."
Lowe and his family pursued all the usual channels for attempting to find a lost dog. He posted the dog on several Web sites and radio programs for lost pets, and regularly called animal shelters in Kenai, Soldotna, Anchorage and Wasilla.
"We even called the UPS driver in this area to keep an eye out for him," Lowe said.
Finally, after 35 days missing, the Lowe's phone rang. On the other end was Anchorage resident Robert Heavlin, who was calling to say he had picked up a skinny dog along the Sterling Highway on his drive home from Soldotna.
"He called the number on Kenai's tag," Lowe said. "He had picked him up about 3/4 of a mile from the ferry, after seeing him limping down the road."
Lowe and his family immediately drove to meet Heavlin and reunite with Kenai.
"We were ecstatic. My wife was in tears," he said.
But when the family got there, they barely recognized Kenai as the same animal they knew a month earlier.
"I'm not sure how much longer he would have made it," Lowe said.
They quickly rushed Kenai to a veterinarian, where it was determined the dog had lost 45 pounds. But more critically, the dog had lost several toes and roughly half of his left paw.
"There's no way it's frostbite or from another animal's bite," Lowe said.
As an experienced woodsman and the owner of the Kenai Cache Outfitters in Cooper Landing, he recognized the tell-tale signs of the dog's injury.
"The type of wound that it is, the chop is so lean -- like his foot was in a paper cutter -- I think it had to be a caused by a trap," he said.
While many trappers would consider leaving a trap unchecked for more than 30 days unethical, the State of Alaska does not require trappers to check their traps regularly. However, in this area of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, all leghold traps must be checked at least every four days.
This is not an isolated incident. In 2007, approximately half a mile upstream from the Russian River Ferry crossing, troopers found the carcass of an adult black bear, dead for at least two days, that had been caught in a trapper's snare set for wolf or coyote two months after trapping season had closed.
Lowe said once reunited with Kenai, he tried to track the bloody paw prints back to a trap, to alert authorities if it was set illegally, but a fresh snowfall complicated his efforts.
Since returning home, Kenai is slowly putting on weight and the Lowes are still working with veterinarians to save the rest of his paw.
"He's on antibiotics and bed rest," Lowe said. "We want to keep him immobilized so that it can heal. He wears a bandage and plastic bag over it when he walks around."
For years, Kenai has accompanied Lowe to work at the outfitting business. As a result the dog has made many friends.
"He's a celebrity around here," Lowe said. "Everybody knows him, and there's Internet sites and blogs about him. He doesn't even eat dog food in summer -- he doesn't have to, people cook him steaks."
As such, many people have come to wish him well upon hearing of his return.
"He's received several calls, e-mails and doggy treats since he's been home" Lowe said. "Everyone's happy he's back, he's happy he's back and we're happy to have him back."
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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