An Alberta couple’s dream retirement trip through Yukon and Alaska this past summer turned into a community search and rescue mission. Cindy and Grant Reekie didn’t get past their first major destination point of Skagway before losing their dog, Jessy, on the Dewey Lake hiking trail.
Normally kept on leash, Jessy was enjoying a rare moment of freedom when a shrill train whistle spooked her off trail. That was June 13. Her owners would not see her again for almost three months! After searching to no avail that fateful June day, Cindy and Grant returned to the Pullen Creek RV Park where they had planned to stay for just a couple nights. The managers, Cori and Mandy, made a decision that catapulted the community into action. They posted the missing dog information to the best networking tool in any small Northern town: their buy and sell Facebook page, the Skagway Swap.
The response was immediate and overwhelming.
“I just couldn’t keep up with all the posts and Facebook messages,” said Grant. Everyone, from individual citizens to the Parks Service, began mobilizing to find Jessy or to offer the Reekie’s assistance in doing so.
“It was extraordinary!” said Cindy. “We’ve never experienced anything like that in our lives, and we come from a smaller community near Edmonton (Beaumont) that is very close-knit, but the Skagway community! Well, we made some very close friends that felt like family by the time we left there because they embraced us like family!”
Though it was the height of tourist season and the RV park was booked solid, Grant recalls that their hosts reassured them, saying “don’t worry, we’ll find space for you. Stay as long as you need to.” The Reekies quickly fell into a rhythm of searching for Jessy for seven to eight hours each day, repeatedly hiking the Dewey Lake trail system. Tired, they would return to their trailer to find treats and notes left by Cori and Mandy. Their moral support, and that of numerous others, kept the Alberta couple afloat and still warms their hearts all these months later.
At the suggestion of several locals, the town offered the Reekies special permission to camp on the trail system and organized the necessary permits. Though avid backpackers, the couple were on a road trip and didn’t have any supplies with them. Skagway residents quickly organized and mobilized everything they would need, from a tent to cooking gear, dropping it all off right at their trailer. The Reekies, and all of Skagway it seems, searched relentlessly for Jessy for about 10 days. Mentally and physically fatigued, Grant and Cindy decided to “take a break from it” and go to Whitehorse for few days. Only a two-hour drive, they figured they could return quickly if they heard any news.
Though they originally had grand plans to travel as far north as Dawson City and through interior Alaska, they had now spent much of their timeline in Skagway. They loved their short stay in Whitehorse, even canoeing a section of the Yukon River, before finally getting back on the road to start the drive home to Alberta, with Jessy noticeably absent. They got as far as Ft. Nelson when the Skagway police called to report that a tugboat worker had spotted Jessy from the water!
“So we just turned around and drove back to Skagway. It was almost 1,000 kilometres … It took us two days to get there,” recalled Grant.
Kevin Murphy, the tugboat worker, was waiting with his own skiff ready to go! He had a cooler full of snacks and water, binos and a full tank. After endless generosity from the town, Grant and Cindy were not surprised when he said “we can look for as long as you want” and proceeded slowly up and down the coastline. It was the end of June and the couple resumed their now-familiar routine of searching daily by foot. They stayed in town until July 3, when they once again headed back home empty-handed. This time there was no phone call at the midway point and they had to accept that Jessy might never come home.
But even with the Reekies gone, Skagway kept hope and kept Jessy top of mind. After the entire town had rallied behind the search, it was the mayor himself, Andrew Cremata, who spotted Jesse down at the docks on August 29.
Seventy-eight days since her disappearance and massive efforts to find her, a thin and skittish Jessy waltzed up to a cruise ship of her own accord. At the time, Cremata was across the road, far out of reach. This wasn’t the first time locals had seen Jessy from a distance since her disappearance. Could it finally be the day she would be captured and brought to safety?