Amelia Milling hugs Nanook after being rescued via helicopter by Alaska State Troopers. (Photo: Alaska State Troopers/Facebook)
Scott Swift knew pretty early on that Nanook — aka Nookie — had an adventurous spirit. Not long after he was adopted six years ago, the Alaskan husky decided to go exploring.
Swift lives in Girdwood, Alaska, about 35 miles south of Anchorage. His home is at the end of an 8-mile-long dirt road right before the start of the popular Crow Pass Trail. Nanook decided to become an unofficial trail guide dog for those who decided to go trekking.
"He likes to go off on adventures on his own," Swift tells MNN. "He just disappears and goes and hooks up with a hiker or backpacker or a mountain runner. One time he met up with the Army doing a training exercise. That time he was gone for seven days."
This week, Swift got a surprising call about Nanook's latest adventure; the husky had rescued an injured young woman and waited with her until help arrived.
Amelia Milling, 21, had set out solo on a planned three-day hike. Milling is a college student from Tennessee who studies at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. She was about four miles into Crow Pass when her trekking poles broke, causing her to slide in deep snow down a 300-foot mountain. She crashed into a large boulder, which threw her about 30 feet sideways, and that impact sent her the rest of the way down the mountain, another 300 to 400 feet, according to the Alaska State Troopers.
Bruised and stunned, Milling was greeted at the bottom of the mountain by a tail-wagging Nanook.
"My first response was, where's the owner?" Milling, who is deaf, told the Anchorage Daily News through an interpreter. "Then I saw the collar and it said (the dog) was a Crow Pass guide, and I realized that he was there to help me."
Milling followed the friendly dog, who led her back to the trail. He stayed with her through the night and was at her side when she came to Eagle River Crossing. The current was strong and when she slipped and lost her footing, Milling says Nanook grabbed her backpack straps and pulled her safely to shore.
When Milling activated a satellite-operated emergency beacon, Nanook waited with her until rescuers arrived by helicopter.
When rescuers landed, they saw Nanook's tag and contacted Swift to tell him about his dog's adventures.
The stories keep coming
Nanook chills in between rescue jobs. (Photo: Nanook 'Nookie' Swift/Facebook)
This isn't the first time that the dog has done something heroic, Swift says. About two years ago, a family was hiking the Crow Pass Trail when a little girl lost her footing and fell in the river just like Milling did. Swift says he heard that Nanook grabbed her and brought her to shore, staying with her until the family caught up with her.
With Nanook's recent fame, other people have come forward saying they've hiked the trail with the self-appointed canine trail guide. A neighbor said a guest at his bed-and-breakfast said she was showshoeing when there was an avalanche and Nanook stopped her from sliding down the mountain.
Because now he's even more curious about his dog's exploits, Swift started a Facebook page for his pet, asking people to share any adventures they've had with Nanook on the trail. He's been approached by people wanting him to write a book or film a documentary about the rescue dog and is considering attaching a GoPro to his pet so he can see what really goes on when he leaves the house.
Until then, the dog will have to rely on people reading his collar to know he takes his job seriously.
Nanook has gone through several collars through the years; his first one said, "I love to ski, I love to play, but please bring me back at the end of the day."
But now he proudly sports one that says, "Crow Pass Guide Dog."
As for Milling, she thinks he's much more than that.
"I believe the dog is a guardian angel," she told the Anchorage Daily News. "I told him several times that I love him and I'll never forget him."