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Social media helps get Douglas County dog home

A web of social media connections and a chilly medical team helped return a runaway husky to her family.

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Anika the husky sits still for a picture at her Poplar home in August 2021, shortly after the McClellan family adopted her.
Contributed / Holly McClellan
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SUPERIOR — After eight days on the run, Anika the husky returned to her family in Poplar March 30.

Her journey home involved a full-scale social media hunt, a soaked team of medical staff and a family that didn’t give up. Seven pounds lighter, the exhausted canine crawled right into bed.

“She didn’t act like anything happened. She was so happy to be home. She slept for days,” said owner Holly McClellan.

The family, especially McClellan's 3-year-old son Milo, was ecstatic.

“To know that we had her, ... it was the best feeling ever, just everything was falling back in the place where it needed to be,” McClellan said.

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The escape

The escape took place as Anika left Superior Animal Hospital March 22 following an annual health check and vaccinations. The husky jerked forward with such force that she left both collar and leash behind.

“For her, in the beginning when she starts to run, it’s kind of a ‘catch me if you can game,’ so she runs a bit more,” McClellan said.

This wasn’t her yard in Poplar, though; this was downtown Superior. McClellan and the animal hospital staff gave chase, but soon lost sight of Anika along the side streets. That’s when the Poplar woman turned to social media to sound the alarm.

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Milo McClellan, 3, snuggles with Anika, the family dog, in their Poplar home March 30. After eight days on the run in Superior, the husky made it home with the help of the social media community.
Contributed / Holly McClellan

“Anywhere I could put her face I put her face,” McClellan said, from missing pet sites to the Superior People Page. She called shelters to get the word out that Anika wasn’t a stray.

Within a few hours, comments and calls began coming in. Anika would be seen, but by the time her family arrived she was gone. As the posts grew in popularity, searchers started beating the family to the sightings. When a number of posts reported seeing Anika near the oil refinery, McClellan’s husband, Ben, left work to check on the lead.

“And by the time he showed up, there was this really long line of cars and there were all these people in the woods and they were just looking for our dog,” McClellan said. “It was amazing because we didn’t expect any of that.”

Reports placed Anika at the refinery, near Pattison State Park, at the Pokegama railyard and at a construction site in Superior’s South End. Just as McClellan was starting to lose hope, Anika reached out.

A howl for help

Susan Backlund had been following Anika’s story online.

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“I have huskies of my own, so kind of I know they can be little stinkers about sneaking away,” said Backlund, who manages St. Luke's Mariner Medical Clinic in Superior.

A resident of Superior’s East End, Backlund said she kept an eye out for Anika every time she drove somewhere. The morning of March 30, she posted a comment saying she hoped the family would find the husky and have her home soon.

“You know, that’s always a scary feeling losing your dog, because you think of them as your own family,” said Backlund, who has a 13-year-old husky and a 7-year-old malamute.

Later that day, staff members told her Anika had just been howling at the main clinic door. Backlund and some of her staff rushed outside.

“And we didn’t even have jackets on or anything. We went out there and she was running through the parking lot and we were yelling to her,” Backlund said.

One of the staff members dialed McClellan, who added her voice to the effort.

“She was yelling to her on the phone, ‘Anika, Anika’ and then the little kid started yelling on the phone and Anika stopped and she turned around and she looked back and you could tell she was searching for her family. It was just heartbreaking,” Backlund said.

Not seeing her family, Anika ran off. One clinic employee tried to lure her in by throwing out bits of chicken. Backlund and a staff member drove up and attempted to coax the husky into a car.

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“She was just inches away. And you can tell, you know, she was tired and she was cold and she was just all worn out,” Backlund said.

Anika took off, running to nearby Great Lakes Elementary School as children came outside for recess. McClellan said school staff and the city humane officer joined the effort to keep Anika in the area.

When her husband Ben got there, he threw some food towards Anika and she ate it.

“And then when she looked up and realized it was him, she like, jumped in his arms, ran right to him,” McClellan said.

He took her straight back to the Superior Animal Hospital. In addition to the weight loss, eight days of running had left the husky with worn foot pads, a little chafing on her legs and a bit of a raw nose from digging in snow.

'So much good'

In their quest to rescue the dog, Mariner Medical Clinic staff got soaked.

“None of us had jackets on. We’re out there trying to lure her, walking through the snowbanks and slush. Yeah, we were all soaking wet when we got back into the clinic,” Backlund said.

Would they do it again?

“In a heartbeat, every single one of us. You know all of us have dogs and are all dog lovers … so yeah, we’d do it all again,” Backlund said.

Anika joined the McClellan family in August when they adopted her from the Humane Society of Douglas County. They enjoy watching her zoom around the yard and when she settles in to snuggle. Milo likes to toss toys to her and watch her jump.

“We love her so much and we missed her so much and our life was not the same when she was gone,” McClellan said.

The family picked up a new GPS collar for the husky, as well as a harness that is supposed to be escape-proof. There are plans to start biking with her, as well.

McClellan credited the social media community for helping bring Anika home.

“Looking back it’s just you really realize how much everybody did and ... I am forever grateful,” McClellan said. “I can’t say ‘Thank you’ enough because I just didn’t expect it. Especially in today’s world, you know, all you hear is the bad, so I just really didn’t expect so much good.”

This story was updated at 9:30 a.m. April 11 to add that the St. Luke's affiliation with St. Luke's Mariner Medical Clinic. It was originally posted at 7 a.m. April 10. The Telegram regrets the error.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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