Nothing prepares adventurers for the anxiety of looking for a lost dog, especially in the backcountry as the sun sinks below the horizon and the coyotes yip in the distance.
Dogs generally use their senses to find their way, sooner or later, back to their owners.
The contact phone numbers smart pet owners put on their dogs’ collars often prompt calls from good Samaritans who recognize a lost dog and gather it up.
In extreme cases, a happy ending might depend on the luck of losing a dog where people are willing to go the extra mile for a stranger.
Mariann Crooks was snowshoeing on Sunday with 10 other Spokane-area hikers east of Republic at Sherman Pass. Rebel, her daughter’s 7-month-old bluetick coonhound, was along to burn off youthful energy.
“Hounds have to be first, so Rebel was up in front of the group,” she said. “I’m not fast, so I was at the back of the line. When we got to the summit (of Columbia Mountain) just before noon, Rebel wasn’t there.”
The group searched for hours, but the weather was deteriorating. Calling for the dog was fruitless as the wind roared through the Colville National Forest.
“We saw a lot of deer sign in a band of trees, and I assumed Rebel got excited and took off,” she said. “With all the tracks and windblown snow, we couldn’t tell which was which.”
Not equipped to spend the night, the group left at dark. Crooks returned Monday but found no sign of Rebel.
She was getting desperate, haunted by the thought of her daughter’s dog alone 100 miles from home in the winter woods where predators prowl.
She printed posters, alerted the Forest Service and spread word by email to friends, who circulated the plea for people in Ferry County to keep an eye out.
On Tuesday morning, word about Rebel reached Jim Beckwith, who coordinates the forestry technician program at the Curlew Job Corps Center.
The center is host to about 200 young adults from across the West training in a range of occupations.
The forestry group, sponsored by the Forest Service, includes 18- to 24-year-olds who are completing their education and learning skills such as wildland firefighting, forest recreation, tree climbing, saw skills and forest management, while being exposed to aspects of working outdoors.
Staying inside and continuing their chain saw mechanics training would have been more convenient. The weather was foul and the forecast called for up to 4 inches of new snow on the Kettle Range.
But Beckwith recognized someone’s crisis as an opportunity to rally his 10 students for search-and-rescue training.
“We like to mix up our routine with other ways of learning,” he said, noting that everyone who plays or works outdoors should practice search and rescue. “Sooner or later, you’re going to need it.”
Beckwith made the students take time to assemble essential gear and make a plan.
If the dog kept moving in the deep snow, it probably would go downhill. They would search lower elevations later in the day, but first they would snowshoe north on the Kettle Crest Trail a few miles to where the dog was last seen.
They trudged through an unpleasant wind about a mile toward Columbia Mountain and found almost instant gratification in a set of dog tracks.
Still visible in the drifting snow, the tracks had to be fairly fresh.
“Rebel!” one of the students called.
“We all dropped our jaws when the dog hobbled down around the trail,” Beckwith said. “He was shy at first but soon came to the group.
“The students shared their lunches with him – I think he got the best part, the roast beef.
“The plan was to walk him out, but he struggled badly and sat down after a hundred feet.”
Two students with a radio were dispatched on a two-mile round trip to retrieve a rescue sled from the vehicle parked at Highway 20, while others wrapped the dog in jackets.
“He was really done in,” Beckwith said. “I don’t think he’d have made it through a third night.”
Rebel seemed to know he was in good hands as he settled into the sled and let students haul him off the mountain and down to a veterinarian in Republic.
Crooks was in the vicinity and quickly responded to the call from the vet.
“It was a great experience for the students, and everyone did their part getting the dog out safely,” Beckwith said.
On Wednesday, Rebel was taking it easy in a warm home in Nine Mile Falls, thanks to a few people who made it their business to help.
“I see nicks and scratches, but he doesn’t appear to have frostbite,” Crooks said, noting that Rebel has a good story to tell – but isn’t speaking.