Jeff Link read somewhere that the most neurotic dog at the animal shelter winds up being the best companion, so in December he adopted Morty, a blond husky and Labrador retriever mix that barked the loudest.
Link visited Morty and eventually gained his trust.
“He would always run from everyone,” Link said. “He came around to me.”
Morty has rarely barked since being adopted but Link learned within four hours of taking him home that the 4-year-old is prone to bolt.
The last time Morty ran off was Jan. 25. He was gone for 16 days, endured bitter cold, was seen in multiple locations around Fairbanks and North Pole while avoiding multiple traps.
Volunteer pet detectives searched for him, and he became a bit of an Internet celebrity with people sharing tips and sightings on a lost pets social media page. Link said hundreds of people followed the case.
Temperatures at Fairbanks International Airport dropped down to 39 below zero on Feb. 8 and 9, according to the National Weather Service. Morty came out of the ordeal looking robust except for a cut on one ear.
“He must have handled it just perfectly because he maintained weight,” Link said. “Sixteen days and he didn’t have any frostbite or anything.”
Link is from Wisconsin, arrived in Alaska last April, and lives in North Pole near the Chena Lake Recreation Area. This is his first dog. During the two weeks that Morty was gone, many strangers pitched in to help find him, Link said.
“I don’t think I have ever seen that,” the 20-year-old said. “A town came together just to help one person find their dog.”
It was after a walk one afternoon, and Link and Morty were going into the house when Morty got away. Link followed him down some snowmachine trails but abandoned the search when Morty went onto private property. Link returned home, enlisted his roommates’ help and they started driving around.
“He was running around, and we were following him in our vehicles,” Link said.
Morty found another trail and “that was when we last saw him for about a week or so,” Link said.
If Link wasn’t working, he’d sometimes follow clues — often posted online — of where Morty might be.
“He kind of figures out the warmest spots in nature,” Link said.
One person spotted Morty hanging around a fast food restaurant in Fairbanks.
Another time when Morty escaped, Link figured out that he had been sleeping on a tarp with leaves underneath.
This time, Morty was caught in a trap that had been set for him after he was seen hanging out near a sled dog yard. Link got the call in the middle of the night.
“He probably felt comfortable there. That’s where he’s from. He was in a sled dog pack,” Link said.
Volunteer pet detective Teri Key said there was a sighting of Morty posted on a Fairbanks and North Pole lost pets Facebook page about every other day.
He averaged running a mile a day, she said. There were sightings reported as far from Morty’s home as Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge and Chena Pump Road.
“We finally caught him because he was at a sled dog kennel eating off of their meat saw,” Key said.
“It was really an awesome experience because the community got so involved in helping find him, people were constantly asking for updates and giving us support. It was pretty nice. We have such a great animal community here in Fairbanks,” Key said.
Link has started doing research into the husky breed.
“I am trying to work with his personality,” he said. “He’s a super chill dog. He will let me look inside his mouth and clean his ear. He’s a sweet dog but sometimes he gets that instinct. If he has a chance to run, he is most likely going to take it.”
Morty’s habit of bolting has strengthened the bond between Link and Morty, Link said. He has lost and found his dog four times.
“He has learned that I am going to try to get him back as much as possible,” Link said. “He is going to have to deal with it.”
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.