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FAIRBANKS - Musher Amanda Byrd received a long dog hug in her backyard Monday after she picked up her old dog from the pound that morning.
Her dog, Bridget, has a new lease on life after living in the wild for more than three years. Bridget ran away from her new owner only three days after Byrd gave her away. After searching for weeks, Byrd assumed Bridget was dead.
Two days before Christmas, she received an e-mail from a fellow musher who saw a dog at the pound that looked like Bridget, a half German short-haired pointer, half Husky. She had the same black coat and distinct white coloring with black dots on her chest. But she was missing her front left paw.
In Byrd's yard, Bridget looked a little shaky and clutched her left leg toward her chest like a hook, but seemed otherwise happy and healthy.
"She was always really cuddly. She's just really sweet and loving," Byrd said.
Byrd recognized her instantly when she saw a picture taken at the animal shelter.
"I fell in love with her again when I saw her," she said.
She quarantined the 8-year-old dog in a separate pen so she wouldn't spread kennel cough to her 18 sprint dogs.
Byrd gave Bridget to another couple several years ago. Within three days, Bridget ran away while going for a walk on a retractable leash.
"She reached the end of the leash and pulled it out of her hand," Byrd said.
For the next three years, she survived on her own somewhere between Chena Ridge and Rosie Creek. A man in the Rosie Creek area, whose name Byrd doesn't know, fed Bridget but couldn't catch her.
"The will to survive, somehow that struggle is pretty amazing in animals," said Greg Sellentin, a fellow dog musher and editor of Mushing Magazine, who bred Bridget and brought her to Alaska.
"Obviously her foot got eaten by something or stuck in a trap. There were probably several months there of some pretty bad pain and torture," he said.
Sellentin brought Bridget's grandparents from Sweden in the late '90s. Sellentin, who raised her in New Jersey, also raced Bridget in Canada and Michigan before driving to Alaska in 2005. He gave the dog to Amanda when she was starting a team in 2006, but Amanda kept her as a pet instead of hooking her up to a sled.
"She came from pretty good sled dog pedigree," Sellentin said. "She was good. But she wasn't a leader."
Bridget was reported as a stray about two years ago.
The Fairbanks North Star Borough Animal Control picked her up about two weeks ago.
Bridget wasn't eager to leave the pound when Byrd first picked her up.
"I think she was so excited she had shelter and she had food," she said.
"When she got home she realized where she was and that tail started wagging and her body started wagging."
Byrd plans to keep the dog for now but might look for a new home for Bridget in the future.
Her leg, which shows exposed bone, will require a trip to the vet.
"Dogs with three legs do quite well, if they have a long appendage," Byrd said.