Ada watches the birds from our front yard, the Pacific Ocean, in Wrangell. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Faith Prescott)

Ada watches the birds from our front yard, the Pacific Ocean, in Wrangell. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Faith Prescott)

Planet Alaska: Rescuing Ada

Dog days of summer.

I lean on my truck’s open tailgate, peeking into the small soft-sided kennel. When I unzip the carrier, two dark eyes with a baby Yoda face and Einstein eyebrows peer up at me. I say, “Hi puppy” and carefully lift the dog into my arms. The puppy is shaking, and I press her against my chest to feel my warmth and the beating of my anxious heart. My daughter’s mother-in-law has just arrived in Wrangell from Anchorage having hand carried our new rescue dog on the airplane.

I first saw this small terrier on a Facebook post. My Facebook friend and fellow writer, Cynthia Steele, runs a foster home for dogs with the AK Cat & Dog Rescue organization in the Wasilla/Anchorage area. “AK Cat & Dog is entirely foster based. Our animals aren’t held in shelters but are integrated into daily family life within our foster homes.” This approach to rescuing animals allows foster homes to socialize the dog or cat and take care of any behavioral issues.

Over the last few years, I’ve seen photos of Cynthia with big dogs on her lap and small dogs kissing her face. She and her husband Bill have a houseful of their own dogs—six of them—and still open their hearts and lives to helping AK Cat & Dog Rescue find homes for dogs. “My husband is my partner in this. We started doing this about three years ago.” The Steeles started fostering after COVID-19 restricted them from doing their other volunteer work—taking

Lilly, their therapy trained dog, to work with mental health groups at Providence Hospital.

When I saw the small dog’s face—a sideways glance with terrier attitude—I knew she was the dog I wanted to adopt. My Welsh terrier, Annie, who was my little writing muse for years, had died of old age several years ago, and I was ready to add a terrier to our family again.

Ada gives a sideways glance as she explores our beach for the first time at Mickey’s Fishcamp. in Wrangell. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Faith Prescott)

Ada gives a sideways glance as she explores our beach for the first time at Mickey’s Fishcamp. in Wrangell. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Faith Prescott)

Because of the pandemic, shelters are overcrowded with dogs and cats needing homes. I’d rescued dogs before, so I was familiar with dogs that might have issues because of neglect or abuse or simply needed to be rehomed. After seeing the photo, I was the first one to put in an adoption application online. I crossed my fingers and tossed a wish rock into the sea.

Now, I wrap the puppy in a blanket and hold her close. She sniffs me. I’ve never seen a silkie before (Australian silkie terrier), and the first thing that comes into my mind is how anyone could give her up or neglect her. Cynthia had explained to me: “When foster dogs come to us, they’re part of a group that’s rescued from a community during a sweep. They are dogs that are unowned or unwanted and are becoming problem dogs. The foster agencies like the one I volunteer with has an agreement to take the adoptable ones.”

I buckle us into the truck seat and hold the dog close. It’s a 7-mile ride back to our Fishcamp and the foster mom said the dog gets car sick unless she’s held. As I was holding her, I knew I didn’t have to take a second look over my list of potential names. “Ada,” I said to her, “we’re your new family.”

Ada meets her new family Kéet and Oscar in Wrangell. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Faith Prescott)

Ada meets her new family Kéet and Oscar in Wrangell. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Faith Prescott)

I named her Ada, after the heroic explorer Ada Blackjack from Nome. In 1921, twenty-three-year-old Ada Blackjack, Inupiat, accompanied four men and cat on a half-baked expedition dreamed up by Arctic explorer, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, to claim Wrangel Island (the one farther north) for Canada/Great Britain. Ada was the only one to survive that expedition. My little Ada was also a survivor from Nome, now living with me on the other Wrangell Island. Also fitting, since Ada is my new writing muse, I named her for the new U.S. Poet Laureate, Ada Limón.

It’s been a month now since Ada came to live with us. My two border collies, Oscar and Kéet, play with Ada and are tolerating her puppyhood. Good thing Ada had already been used to playing with dogs in her foster home, quickly bonding to their German shorthair, Hawkeye. But Cynthia said, “At first, Ada (who they called Naomi) wouldn’t come to me. She didn’t seem to know how to belong to somebody. That part makes me sad because she didn’t have a pack and she didn’t know how to have a pack with other dogs. It took weeks to develop a relationship with the other dogs in our home.”

We eventually learned Ada is a year old. I imagine Ada living under houses, on porches, digging through garbage for her food, and avoiding dogs who’d tear her apart. She has a small lump on one of her rib bones. Maybe she was dropped or kicked or hit by a car. When Ada first came to her foster home, “she was biting quite a bit and defensive of her belly region.”

Ada’s favorite place in our cabin perched on the back of the loveseat. She’s backed by art masks made by Kristina Cranston and Tommy Joseph and a Sàmi flag. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Faith Prescott)

Ada’s favorite place in our cabin perched on the back of the loveseat. She’s backed by art masks made by Kristina Cranston and Tommy Joseph and a Sàmi flag. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Faith Prescott)

I wonder, though, if someone bought this little Silkie Terrier (Australian) and what circumstances led the dog to be abandoned on the street to fend for herself. What I do know is that our little dog, Ada, is a survivor just like her namesake. On Wrangel island, Ada Blackjack, and another member of the expedition who was sick and unable to travel, were abandoned by the other explorers. During that time Ada learned to hunt and trap and eventually survived two years there. The man succumbed to his sickness, but Ada was rescued by another ship on August 20th, 1923.

Rescuing dogs means adjusting to new things. We’ve spent time puppy-proofing the cabin we live in. We’ve fenced in the deck and tried to keep things we don’t want chewed out of the way. Within the first couple of days, though, Ada ate my thumb drive with valuable data on it that wasn’t backed up. Luckily, with a tool to bend the metal prongs back, and tape to hold the device together, I was able to retrieve and save the documents.

Plus, when your dogs are middle aged you tend to forget the energy it takes to raise a puppy. Ada is aerodynamic and she leaps like a flying squirrel. She gets hyper at bedtime and thinks lying down in bed means she should jump around and be wild. Maybe it’s just a display of pure happiness, that she’s glad she finally belongs.

Ada is learning how to be a part of our pack now. She barks at the garbage truck with her new brother, Oscar. She also loves birds and during the first week she was at our fishcamp, I found myself chasing after her on the beach in my pajamas because I’d accidentally dropped her leash. She immediately headed for a flock of crows along the ocean edge. Running loose is dangerous for Ada right now because she doesn’t always come when you call her. There are a lot of bald eagles nearby. This is their beach.

As I ran full speed in my boots and pajamas, toward barking Ada dragging her leash, a pair of bald eagles flew above. I grabbed the leash and clung onto Ada. Oscar was barking and growling, jumping in the air toward the eagles flying back to their perch.

We are still getting to know Ada and she’s getting to know us. To calm Ada down you pick her up and hold her in your arms and she immediately zens out. Ada also hops up on her hind legs and dances in a circle for snacks. I didn’t teach her that. I’m pretty sure it was Cynthia and Bill’s foster home who first taught Ada to belong. “Every time we foster, I fall in love with the dog. But I’ve gotten used to that. Ours is a relaxed scene, even though we have six dogs. We have a big place and a big yard with a high fence.”

The first night Ada was at our fishcamp she curled up in the blankets on our bed with us like it was something she knew how to do. “These are my people now,” I could hear her say. “I could belong here.” Yes, I’m the kind of dog person that talks for them. I’m good at anthropomorphizing. You know all about that type of dog lover, because dear reader, I’ll bet you’re one too.

• Wrangell writer and artist Vivian Faith Prescott writes “Planet Alaska: Sharing our Stories” with her daughter, Yéilk’ Vivian Mork. It appears twice per month in the Capital City Weekly.

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