A three-year-old dog that went missing for four months is finally home after volunteers rescued him from the California woods.
Russ, a pit bull-terrier mix, ran off from his owner, Ricardo Rodriguez, during a camping trip in the Lake Tahoe area in late August. Rodriguez, a traveling nurse, was with four of his friends when the canine got spooked and ran away.
He and his companions spent hours searching for the pup but failed to locate him. Rodriguez also hung fliers and called local shelters to report him missing before being forced to leave the area due to the Caldor Fire raging through California, which destroyed 222,000 acres of land and over 1,000 structures within the course of 67 days.
Rodriguez thought he would never see his best friend again.
“After months of not hearing back from anyone, I assumed he was in good hands with a different owner,” he told CNN. “I was hopeful that one day he would return.”
But on December 16, the animal search and rescue non-profit group, TLC 4 Furry Friends, was notified about an abandoned dog in Twin Peaks, located west of South Lake Tahoe.
A skier reported that the dog appeared to be stuck in the snowdrift. However, they couldn’t help him as the dog growled at anyone who approached him.
El Dorado County Animal Services Officer Kyle Shumaker was alerted about the animal, but the five-foot-deep snow and steep terrain prevented him from reaching the dog. That’s when he notified Wendy Jones, founder and executive director of Tahoe PAWS & TLC 4 Furry Friends, about the situation.
Jones, who was attending to another rescue mission at the time, sent out two of her volunteers to the site.
When Leona Allen and Elsa Gaule learned of the task at hand, they immediately put on their gears and trekked up the snowy hill.
“We didn’t even hesitate,” said Allen, 61, a seasonal firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service who has been volunteering with Tahoe PAWS for about three years. “This was a one-shot deal, we either got him or he didn’t survive the night.”
When the pair arrived at the scene, temperatures were expected to drop to -2 degrees Fahrenheit by evening. The area was filled with nearly five feet of fresh snow, putting more challenge to their hike up the hill.
Wearing her headlamp and snowshoes, Allen followed the dog tracks with Gaule, who followed close behind with an animal service sled provided by Officer Shumaker.
Then, she saw a “dark blob” in the snow under the tree well. Allen feared the worst as the dog was not moving, but he eventually opened his eyes and lifted his head!
At first, Russ let out a slight growl at them out of fear. But after coaxing him with treats, Gaule was able to earn the dog’s trust.
“I took my hand and put it under his chin, and he rested his head on my hand right away,” Gaule recalled. “That’s when they knew he was trusting and ready to be saved.”
They wrapped Russ in blankets after removing him from the heavy snow. Allen placed the dog onto her lap, and the trio went on a almost two-hour hike down the hill to meet Officer Shumaker, who brought the canine to a veterinarian.
Doctors confirmed that Russ was in good health despite being alone for months and encountering a wildfire and a blizzard. Russ stayed in the shelter for a few days, with Allen and Gaule regularly visiting him. They said the dog behaved sweetly and gently toward everyone.
Thanks to a microchip, animal service workers were able to connect him to Rodriguez. Finally, the pair reunited on December 26.
“If I tried to put myself in that position I don’t think I would’ve done it,” Rodriguez said. “This guy is something else right here. He’s been through it all.”
This dog is definitely a survivor! Learn more about Russ’s long journey home in the video below.
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