Every year, sled dogs and their owners train hard to cross over 900 miles of brutal terrain and endure the cold conditions they’ll face in March at the Iditarod.
There are hazards everywhere, in training and in competition. Musher Bridgett Watkins of Kennel on a Hill and her friend Jen were training for the race recently in Salcha, Alaska, when they had a heart-stopping run-in with the one animal no one wants to cross.
“This has been the most horrific past 24 hours of my life,” Watkins’ post from Feb. 4 began. “I am overwhelmed with the outpouring of support and love sent our way. I would love to share all the details with everyone but I simple don’t have the emotional bandwidth left in me at the moment.
“In short; we were attacked by a very large healthy bull moose on a 52mile run. As he charged me I emptied my gun into him and he never stopped — I ran for my life and prayed I was fast enough to not be killed in that moment.
“He trampled the team and then turned for us and charged us humans who sought refuge beside our machine. He stopped a mere 2 feet in front of our snow machine.”
Watkins shared that she was able to cut six of the dogs off their lines, but the moose went back to the others and “trampled them over and over; repeatedly, for nearly an hour.”
“I have never felt so helpless in my life,” she continued. “He would not leave us alone and he even stood over top of the team refusing to retreat. Our friend that lives out on the river was able to finally get to us and kill the animal that dropped just beside the team.”
After that harrowing ordeal, Watkins and the others rushed the dogs to the vet. A trauma team was ready for them upon arrival, and while most of the dogs were found to be bumped, bruised and cut, four dogs were seriously injured.
Flash, Bronze, Bill and Jefe were the four dogs who’d suffered the most. Flash was in the worst shape of all, having sustained a major head injury after being trampled by the bull moose.
Bronze had suffered internal organ damage necessitating surgery. Bill’s back leg was broken in half. Jefe needed staples to close the gashes he’d gotten.
A friend of Watkins’ started a GoFundMe to help pay for the dog’s medical needs, and over $9,000 was raised in about a day before donations were closed.
Watkins asked for prayer as her dogs struggled to survive. The next day, she posted an update on their conditions.
“[Y]our prayers were poured out and heard as we truly witnessed a miracle,” the update read. “24 hours ago we had done all that [veterinary] medicine could do and we had to wait- a very long night that I never left his side and literally listened to every breath as I lay beside him. As morning came he began to make more purposeful movements and tried to get up. He is now awake, alert, eating, and walking on his own. He’s wagged his tail and perked his ears as the boys came in room. God is good.”
Bill and Bronze also showed marked improvement, eating and moving around and doing quite well, considering what they’d gone through. Jefe, who Watkins described as “a big silly goofy boy” was “110% back to himself.”
She thanked everyone for their support, praised God for protecting them and promised she wouldn’t let this setback stop them. The injured dogs need time to fully recover and won’t be running come March, but she swore that she’d do her best with the rest of her healthy team to get to that starting line in four weeks.
@kennelonahill Getting back on the trail was emotional today! But the team adjusted and overcame and is back to training! Here we come Iditarod!#alwaysanadventure ♬ Rocky ( From “Rocky”) – Big Movie Themes
“We truly believe there were [angels] among us and Gods hand of protection spared ALL of our lives,” she wrote. “I am thankful for this day and age to share the great things that you have all been part of.”
She also shared some words of wisdom: “Musher advice; carry a bigger gun.”