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Missing 7 days, Iditarod dog found unharmed 150 miles away

Jill Burke
Musher Newton Marshall tends to his dogs near Rohn during the 2013 Iditarod. Loren Holmes photo

An Iditarod dog missing seven days is back under the watchful eye of friends delighted to be reunited with her. May, an experienced lead dog from the kennel of veteran Iditarod musher Jim Lanier, ran off March 6 when musher Newton Marshall worked to untangle a line between the checkpoints of Rohn and Nikolai in an area of the Iditarod Trail known as the Farewell Burn.

Those who know May suspect she was making a run for the race start in Willow or her home kennel in Chugiak.

The saga of her disappearance, sightings and eventual capture can be assembled through a series of posts on the Facebook pages for the Iditarod Trail Committee, Marshall and Northern White Kennels.

On Thursday, three snowmachiners caught the reddish-blonde dog with blue eyes at Horseshoe Lake -- near Big Lake. She'd lost weight and developed sore feet but otherwise was said to be in good health. Not bad for a dog that'd just done a solo 150-plus-mile journey through some of the Iditarod Trail's most unforgiving terrain. Then again, May is a seasoned Iditarod runner, having completed races previously with Lanier, his wife Anna Bondarenko, and Girdwood's Nicolas Petit.

Long trek for 'timid girl'

The trek was arduous -- first forward to the checkpoint of Nikolai, then back to Rohn, and a long return haul up and over Rainy Pass before heading back toward Willow. Described as a “timid” girl, May had been spotted numerous times at various checkpoints, but she always bolted whenever anyone got close.

People posting on Facebook, including members of the search party, theorized May was headed home and that she was smart enough to follow the crumb trail of kibble and other food left on the race course by other mushers who'd stopped to snack their teams.

Fans of Marshall, who made a splash a few years ago by running as a rookie under the guidance of Lance Mackey, had accolades for the musher from Jamaica with a big smile who sacrificed his own race to help two of this year's rookies.

Treat of salmon, kibble, massage

As the story goes, the warm-weather musher stopped to help Anchorage pediatric dentist Christine Roalofs repair a badly damaged sled and assist California's Cindy Abbott, who had injured her leg early in the race. At some point, Roaloafs “stopped short” in front of Marshall, causing his team to ball up and tangle. In the process of untangling the dogs, May got loose.

One dog short of the team he'd left Rohn with, Marshall was unable to officially check into Nikolai and he was forced to scratch on March 7. The search for May continued using snowmachines.

The night she was recovered, word is May was treated to a dinner of Copper River red salmon, soaked kibble, a quart of water, a massage, and a good, long sleep on clean sheets.

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com

Correction: This story was updated March 15 to fix the spelling of May's name.