A blog by Bill Hess

Running Dog Publications

P.O. Box 872383 Wasilla, Alaska 99687


All photos and text © Bill Hess, unless otherwise noted 
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Wasilla is the place where I have lived for the past 29 years - sort of. The house in which my wife and I raised our family sits here, but I have made my rather odd career as a different sort of photojournalist by continually wandering off to other places to photograph people and gather information, which I have then put together in various publications that have served the Alaska Native Eskimo, Indian and Aleut communities.

Although I did not have a great of free time to devote to this rather strange community, named after a Tanaina Athabascan Indian chief who knew Wasilla in the way that I so impossibly long to, I have still documented it regularly over the past quarter-century plus. In the early days, my Wasilla photographs focused mostly upon my children and the events they participated in - baseball, football, figure skating, hockey, frog catching, fire cracker detonation, Fourth of July parade - that sort of thing. 

In 2002, I purchased my first digital camera and then, whenever I was home, I began to photograph Wasilla upon a daily basis, but not in a conventional way. These were grab shots - whatever caught my eye as I took my many long walks or drove through the town, shooting through the car window at people and scenes that appeared and disappeared before I could even focus and compose in the traditional photographic way.

Thus, the Wasilla portion of this blog will be devoted both to the images that I take as I wander about and those that I have taken in the past. Despite the odd, random, nature of the images, I believe they communicate something powerful about this town that I have never seen expressed anywhere else. 

Wasilla is a sprawling community that has been slapped down hodge-podge upon what was so recently wilderness of the most exquisite beauty. In its design, it is deliberately anti-zoned, anti-planned. In the building of Wasilla, the desire to make a buck has trumped aesthetics and all other considerations. This town, built in the midst of exquisite beauty, has largely become an unsightly, unattractive, mess of urban sprawl. Largely because of this, it often seems to me that Wasilla is a community with no sense of community, a town devoid of town soul.

Yet - Wasilla is my home and if I am lucky it will be until I grow old and die. Despite its horrific failings, it is still made of the stuff of any small city: people; moms and dads, grammas and grampas, teens, children, churches, bars, professionals, laborers, soldiers, missionaries, artists, athletes, geniuses, do-gooders, hoodlums, the wealthy, the homeless, the rational and logical, the slightly insane and the wholly insane - and, yes, as is now obvious to the whole world, politicians, too.

So perhaps, if one were to search hard enough, it might just be possible to find a sense of community here, and a town soul. So, using my skills as a photojournalist and a writer, I hope to do just that. If this place has a sense of community, I will find it. If there is a town soul to Wasilla, I will document it. I won't compete with the newspapers. Hell no! But as time and income allow, it will be fun to wander into the places where the folks described above gather, and then put what I find on this blog.


by 300...

Anywhere within a 300 mile radius of Wasilla. This encompasses perhaps the most wild, dramatic, gorgeous, beautiful section of land and sea to be found in any comparable space anywhere on Earth. I can never explore it all, but I will do the best that I can, and will here share what I find and experience with you.  

and then some...

Anywhere else in the world that I happen to get to, such as Point Lay, Alaska; Missoula, Montana; Serenki, Chukotka, Russia; or Bangalore, India. Perhaps even Lagos, Nigeria. I have both a desire and scheme to get me there. It is a long shot. We shall see if I succeed.

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Did someone drop her out here and intentionally abandon her to die? Or did she purposely head out to die alone? Or was she, perhaps, bumped out of the back of a pickup truck?

I spotted the dog ahead on the trail that leads through the marsh, looking at me. I was much further back than this. I expected it to either turn and run, or come to check me out. It did neither, but just stood there and this struck me as strange. I could see that it was a very old dog.

Jacob, Kalib and Muzzy were on the trail, a short distance behind me.

As I drew closer, I saw that the reason that it had neither fled nor approached was because it was too feeble and stiff. It growled, bared its teeth menacingly, and voided all of its urine. It was then that we knew that it was female - a very old female.

Jacob took Kalib and Muzzy on toward home. I stayed behind, to see if I could figure out how to help her. I wanted to check the tags on her collar, but, as you can see, when I would draw near, she would growl menacingly.

I did not want to get bitten.

So I put my hand on her back, just in front of her tail. She continued to growl. I spoke soothingly to her and gradually moved my hand up her back and then her neck. She quit growling, but the look of fear stayed put.

Her tags were very worn. There was a phone number on the rabies tag, but it could not be read. Her license held the number for the animal shelter. I called, but it was closed.

I did not know what to do. I tried to coax her to follow me toward the house. But she would not. I took hold of her collar and tried to lead her along, but each step that I forced out of her pained and terrified her.

I could only think of two reasons why she might be out here. Perhaps her humans did not want to deal either with taking her to the vet to be euthanized or to put her down themselves, so they had just brought her out and dumped her.

But then, sometimes, when a dog or cat is very old and knows it is going to die, it will purposefully wander off to do so in private. This is what we believe happened to Harry, the great dog of my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood.

So perhaps this is what she had done.

I walked away, wondering if I should just leave her to meet what may well have been her chosen fate.

I had not gone more than 100 yards or so when I heard the calls of ravens. I looked up and saw these two, cavorting in the sky, alert to any potential meal upon the ground. The dog could make many a fine meal for these ravens, who certainly do deserve to eat.

But I felt kind of bad about it so, as soon as I got to the house, I retrieved my reading glasses and went back to the dog. It did not help. I still could not read the phone number.

So I called Jake and told him to bring a leash. 

Then it occurred to me that the dog might belong to the people who own the marsh, the ones whose property is always being trespassed upon by four-wheeler drivers who are mental midgets and should be dispossessed of all rights to drive machines, period.

It was not their dog. Carol Shay, the lady of the house, had seen it a couple of days before, standing in the middle of Seldon, oblivious to the cars racing by it on both sides. She had tried to rescue it but its growl and bared teeth had scared her away. 

She had called the animal shelter and had told them to come and pick it up, but they had failed to do so.

Now she came with her poodle and a golden retriever and husband Dodd not far behind. They had lost an aged dog in this very marsh. It had just disappeared while they walked with it. She and her husband looked and looked, but they could never find it.

So Carol was very moved to see this old girl.

She decided to take the dog in overnight. Tomorrow, she would call the animal shelter, give them the number on the license and they could hopefully track down the dog's people. She also suggested a third possibility as to why this old dog was wandering the marsh. Perhaps she had been in the back of a pickup truck and got bumped out.


I don't think so, but perhaps.

She picked it up and carried it home, her poodle close behind her.

Now, I must return to Cocoon Mode.

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Reader Comments (21)

thank you for this post. this happened to us two weeks ago. our beloved 17-year-old little dog just disappeared from our yard. we searched the neighborhood for two days and never found even a sign of where she went. i would like to think someone like carol found her and took her in.

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdahli22

Thank you so much for helping this old sweet girl. I volunteer on Saturdays at a local shelter, and it breaks my heart to see so many people just abandoning their pets. While it is true that some dogs and cats do wander off to die alone; so many are left to die, frightened and lonely. Considering the joy they offer their humans, it certainly doesn't say much about our character that we can just dismiss them as a disposable commodity. It is certainly our loss.

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSoCalWolfGal

Bless Carol and bless you too for acting with kindness.

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCGinWI

you're amazing, bill. all you do is leave home and you have a wonderful new adventure. and usually you end up making somebody feel good like this lil ole dawg.

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRuth Z Deming

Well, that post made me cry. I went outside to bring in firewood today. When I came in, my own old dog was whimpering at the top of the basement stairs. I came around to look, and it broke my heart. His legs had given out on him, halfway down the stairs, and he was collapsed on the steps, afraid to move, I carried him back up the stairs (no small feat, since he is no small dog). It breaks my heart to think of what comes next. Getting old wreaks havoc on the body, for both man and beast.

You tell that Carol I said 'good job!' While you're at it, pat your own fuzzy faced self on the back. Took a lot of nerve not to be turned away by the growling!

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdebby

Could we get a followup on how this sweet rescued dog is doing?

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLynne

What a tender story. It made me cry for all the lonely souls around. Bless you for caring enough and for sharing so much of youself with us.

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMAnxMamma

Could we get a followup on how this sweet dog is doing?

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLynne

Am I dumb to get all teared up?‏ (So wrote I to my wife who's on the job in NYC this week). She replied, "No, you're not dumb. Poor baby (you and her). Did you tell Aggie and Armstrong [our chocolate and black labradors] how lucky they are? Give them hugs for me."

Carol and Dodd are to be commended for their taking in of this "stray" - what a beautiful dog, beige and white with blue eyes. Our best wishes go out to this pup and Carol and Dodd.

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlbert Lewis

I thank you all for your concern and your kind words. Dahli, sorry for your loss. Debby, I have been through what you are going through and I know how tough it is.

And, yes, I will be certain that Carol sees all of your words.

As for the update, I have been trying but so far have failed. I stopped at the Shay house three times today, the latest being 9:30 pm and I have sent an email, but so far I have found nobody home and the email has yet to be responded to.

I will learn and I will let you all know.

September 29, 2009 | Registered CommenterWasilla, Alaska, by 300

Do you suppose maybe her owner was old, has taken sick or died, or something? Obviously this was. at one time. a cared for dog. Maybe whoever 'inherited' her care did not love her. Maybe she set out to find her master?

I'm just taken with this story, the look on her face as the story unfolds in your pictures, that final picture as the growling 'don't touch me' dog is carried along in the arms of a kind woman. Doesn't it seem as if, sometimes, the people that growl the loudest and the fiercest are the most needing of help?

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdebby

It made me sad and sympathetic to read this story, too.

Quite a few years ago I adopted a dumped stray cat whom I called Fang, because he got scared and bit me very first thing (and I had to get ER treatment for cellulitis in my hand) -- but I loved him because he became a great companion, like your black cat.

Seemed he had a congenital heart condition and when he was 6 y/o, he became quite ill with congestive heart failure. I made the sad decision to help ease him into his next life, because he was suffering so badly from fluid in his lungs. It was the most heart-wrenching thing I've ever had to do, to date.

Since then we've adopted many other cats, all but one strays -- and sadly, we've lost most of them, too, but to coyotes. Some of our cats were old, some were young and beautiful, a couple were HUGE, and we miss them all.

But I really think there should be a special place in hell for people who dump their unwanted pets or other animals, or mistreat them as is so often seen with horses.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKarenJ

Any new information?

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWendy

I have a good friend in Anchorage who sent me this story at Denver. You wonder how such a story could find interested people for so many miles. It's all a matter of how we love pets and particularly dogs.

You many never know how this dog got into the area, but you will know her last days were made enjoyable because of a few people who cared.

My sons found a toy poodle sitting bewildered in the woods once when they were mushroom hunting when we lived in Missour. They brought him home and we spent a great deal of time trying to find an owner. None surfaced when we placed newspaper ads, telephoned shelters and tried iligently to find an owner. He died at what we thoght was about age twenty after giving us eighteen happy years.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Anthony

Thanks to good samaratins like you, our animal friends will always have someone to love and care what fate has in store for them. I have a rescue cat that is the joy of my life and will always keep her with me as long as God will let me. Bless you.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterseattlady

Praise for all who participated in the rescuse of this lovely old lonely lady (dog). You are all to be commended. Please keep us all up to date on future happenings. You can't put out a story like this and not touch thousands of hearts. Inspite of what anyone may say, there are still many, many carrying people left in this world.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNC in AZ

I read this with tears running down my face. My heart goes out to animals that are sad or hurt or lost or abandoned - I wish I could help them all.
I hope the dog wasn't abandoned. There is no excuse.
I think it is wonderful that Carol took this old dog, and I hope they both derive comfort from the rescue. I understand that animals - cats and dogs, anyway - do sometimes go off to die alone, but I hope this old girl finds comfort and peace in her last days. I hope she has some good days left.
Thank you for this story. In these cynical times when all that seems to hit the papers is grief and more grief, it is wonderful to read such a story.
I would love to see an update on this dog. Does she have a name now?
Thank you, Bill, for the story and your concern in the first place, that set you to investigating. Many people would have ignored her.
Thank you, Carol and Dodd, for taking her in.
P.S. Bill - I think you don't stay in "cocoon mode" for very long. And THANK YOU for that. :-)

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNancy

Thank you for that beautiful post! It brought tears to my eyes, I'm so happy that you found her and were able to get her somewhere safe! Its good to know that there are animal lovers out there. You all are wonderful and so kind

Please let us know how she is doing

October 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelinda

All the way down to Homestead Florida we are reading and sharing this story. Those of us who work in Animal Rescue down here know only too well the irresponsibility and cruelty of so many who belong to the human race. Any time I read of kind people going out of their way (as opposed to those who passed this dog by in their car when she was on the street!) to help an animal in trouble I feel renewed and hopeful that good people in the world still exist.

Unfortunately where I live animals are dumped daily... out in the Everglades, in the middle of the city, out where I live in that last vestiges of farmland in Miami. There is no excuse for not giving an animal at least a pain and terror free death at the local veterinarian if it is sick, old or unwanted and unable to be rehomed for some reason. Dropping off a terrified dog, be it young and full of energy or old and feeble... to die a lingering death from hunger, illness and/or injury is a cowardly act, every bit as bad as shooting helpless wolves from low flying airplanes.... and YES.. there MUST be a special place in hell for such cowardly and cruel human beings when their time comes to face their Maker and explain their actions and lack of compassion for His creatures.

October 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenternanci

Oh I am heartbroken. I have been looking up if dogs wander off to die alone and I think it must be true. We have had the best dog in the whole world for 14 years. I have no idea how old she is because she just wondered up to a relatives house one day and we couldn't stand to leave her there. She was malnourished and one of her legs had been terribly injured at some point in the past and had caused the bones to heal all wrong. I remember she used to tuck her tail and pee when we first tried to play ball with her. But after about 6 months she realized we weren't like the people she ran from and she loved us for the next 14 years. The vet said she was much older than that due to the degeneration in her eyes and joints. Then she started to tremble alot and yelp when she ran. She loved to play ball but we had to hide it because of the suffering and stiffness it would cause her. I noticed the past two weeks that her food intake dropped but I thought maybe she just wasn't as hungry as she used to be. We live on a large tract and although it has fences, it is still large. A week ago, we had a large storm so I put her in the basement. When the storm passed I knew she might need to go outside because she couldn't hold her pee in anymore. When I called to her to come out she looked at me and seemed happy to be in the darkness of the basement, but she finally came out. I knew she takes her time to do her business so I left her be out for a bit. She never and I mean never went far from the house. She would always be right there when she'd hear me come out. 2 hours later I went out to see her and called. I looked and looked but couldn't find her. By now, she is nearly almost deaf, but still I called and called. I haven't seen her since. Our whole family has fanned out looking for her to no avail. Today I noticed a strange thing. Apparently, in that 2 hour window when she decided it was time, she tried to dig a large hole in the mud in front of our house but apparently hit some rocks and gave up. This was her final act near her home. I wish she had finished her little hole, at least I could have found her. This is such an old thread, that I'm really just writing this to let her know...I'm so glad you found me. I love you so much. You were the best friend and had I known that when you looked at me in the basement that that was the last time I'd see you, I would have just stayed with you. I miss you so much and am so thankful for how gentle to the kids you were. You were and are the best dog in the whole world and the first thing I'm gonna do when I finally die, is ask you..."where did you go?" Good bye sweet baby girl.

July 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMoo

Moo, I am touched by your story and sorry to learn of your loss and I hope that somehow you find her whatever her fate may have been. I am also glad that you gave your sweet baby girl the good life she might otherwise have missed.

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