FAIRBANKS - McKenzie Grapengeter was resigned to the fact that her family would never see their blind 8-year-old dog, Abby, again.
Abby, who they raised up from an animal shelter puppy, usually spent afternoons sniffing around their five-acre lot off 14-mile Chena Hot Springs Road, but went missing on Dec. 13 during the worst part of the recent snow storms.
The family searched and searched the neighborhood, but as hours turned to days and temperatures plummeted to a frigid 40 below zero, Grapengeter wasn’t so sure they’d find the short-haired brown-and-white mixed breed dog who began bumping into household fixtures a few years ago when she went blind.
But then, on Sunday, she got a call.
Abby had been found. A week after she had gone missing, during nights where the mercury dipped well below minus 40, she had been found more than 10 miles away by trails.
“It’s a miracle, there’s no other words to describe it,” she said, emotion choking her voice and tears coming to her eyes. “We never expected to have her to be returned safe and alive. She’s blind. It’s a miracle. It’s amazing.”
As with many other members of the community, musher and veterinarian Mark May said he saw Abby curled up on the trail while running his team on Wednesday afternoon, but wasn’t able to stop to grab her.
“This poor little dog had no coat and it had melted a hole about 10 or 8 inches deep,” he said. “It ran with us for about a mile on the way home before she fell off the pace, but I had a big dog team so I couldn’t grab it. I said boy I hope it finds somebody’s house.”
The next day Abby found a house, May's house, which is down near Nordale and Freeman Roads. Some community members had planned to set live traps to bring her in, but there she was, sitting at the edge of his dog lot, he said.
“Everybody just assumed it was some kind of scardey cat, but there it was in front of the door in our dog lot and it was blind,” he said. “It was sitting there, all the way from 14 mile on the winter trail down into this neighborhood, I guess by just sniffing, so I picked it up and brought it in.”
Other than being hungry and cold, May said he was amazed that she didn’t have any signs of frostbite from the week in the cold.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “No frozen ears, no frozen toes, she’ll probably go back home and it’ll business as usual. She’s no worse for wear but quite an adventure.”
But without a tag or microchip, May couldn’t find the Grapengeters. That’s when the community mobilized, sharing the dog’s story and description through emails and Facebook posts. And before long, the Grapengeter’s neighbors recognized the dog.
On Christmas Eve, Abby was warmly cuddling with her family under the tree, a stomach filled with hearty dog food and a new tag on the collar around her neck.
“We’re so so grateful for all their hard work,” McKenzie Grapengeter said, the tears still streaming. “This community is so amazing, we would have never seen her again if it wasn’t been for the people. They've given us the most amazing Christmas gift we could ever ask for and we are all so grateful to them”
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 or follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.