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LAKEVIEW, Ore. — Shae Kosmalski could not be more grateful for the outpouring of support that has gone into the discovery and ongoing recovery of her wayward sled dog, Hatcher.
For weeks, it seemed highly unlikely that Hatcher would ever be found alive.
Kosmalski is a longtime recreational "musher" — a sled dog driver. While she used to reside in Alaska (where mushing is not an uncommon activity) she and her 15 sled dogs now live in Lakeview, where she works for the U.S. Forest Service.
But mushing isn't without its adherents even here in Oregon. On September 29, Kosmalski met with members of the Cascade Sled Dog Club at the Frog Lake Campground south of Mt. Hood. The snow-dusted campground is a common destination for Pacific Northwest mushers looking to take their eager sled dogs through their paces.
At some point during the hustle and bustle of mushers unloading their sled dogs, Hatcher — Kosmalski's 8-year-old Siberian husky — vanished.
From the beginning, Kosmalski said that she had the help of her friends in the Cascade Sled Dog Club. She and many of her fellow mushers stayed for eight days at Frog Lake, searching for Hatcher or posting fliers.
The campground sat nearby two roads, Kosmalski said, and she began to fear that Hatcher had been stolen — trained as he was to obediently jump in a car.
After those eight days of searching, Kosmalski reluctantly had to leave Frog Lake and return to work. But neither she or her fellow mushers gave up hope. They left Hatcher's dog house at the camp site with some of his blankets in hopes that he'd find his way back. Some helpers promised to keep checking the area.
It was days later, on October 7, when Kosmalski got word of the first unconfirmed Hatcher sighting east of Mt. Hood. That sighting helped to keep her hopes alive, and the mushers redoubled their efforts to track Hatcher down.
Then, on October 12, there were two separate reported sightings of Hatcher, along the Pacific Crest Trail south of Mt. Hood. Kosmalski was in Bend for work at the time, but she said that volunteer and fellow musher Geneva Lyon rushed to the area in an attempt to chase down these latest reports.
It was just a few days later that Lyon would find herself parked in the middle of the wilderness about 4-5 miles southwest of the Frog Lake campground, listening to the "chatter" of cougars in the near distance. When Lyon returned to her car, she found Hatcher there.
Hatcher was exhausted and nearly unconscious, with one of his rear legs "shot off," according to Kosmalski.
The concept still irritates Kosmalski. "It is not 'grey animal' hunting season! No wonder he was about to become cougar bait," she said. Even if someone had mistaken Hatcher for a coyote or wolf — wearing, as he was, his bright red glow-in-the-dark collar — he was in the middle of the wilderness, not threatening livestock or people in inhabited areas.
Hatcher would be rushed to the VCA Southeast Portland Animal Hospital, where Kosmalski says the husky has been receiving excellent treatment. After Kosmalski herself arrived in Portland, she was able to spend a night cuddled with the ailing pup before he had to return to surgery so that an orthopedic vet could remove more of his leg.
The veterinarians told Kosmalski that Hatcher was lucky — he had been shot relatively recently, just before he and Lyon found one another. If the wound had occurred earlier in his ordeal, it's highly unlikely that he would have survived.
Kosmalski said that Hatcher's recovery could cost at least $4,000 — quite possibly more than $5,000. Due to an outpouring of generous donations from friends and supporters, she has already raised $3,000 towards his treatment.
Since Hatcher's disappearance, the series of events has been more that Kosmalski could have possibly imagined. First, the dedication of her musher allies — particularly Lyon — who would eventually find Hatcher alive. Then the diligence of the veterinarians at VCA who have ushered Hatcher into recovery as 3-legged "Superdog." And finally, the accumulation of many small donations that are beginning to pave the way for payment of Hatcher's treatment.
It's a story, Kosmalski believes, that is all-too-rare in its optimism.
The Facebook group that Kosmalski originally created to coordinate search efforts, Finding Hatcher, remains operational and will most likely include updates on Hatcher's recovery.
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