The dog who would become known as Trooper had his muzzle bound with duct tape, had been shot in the head “execution style” and had then been left to die in the wilderness of Washington state.
The utility workers who found him Nov. 2 in a ditch next to a highway near Mount St. Helens were wary as they approached, unsure if he might attack. They soon realized they had nothing to fear.
“He just kept trying to lay his head in my arms,” said one of the workers, Dylan Shulda. When Shulda started to get up to grab shears to cut the duct tape, the dog implored him to stay.
“The look on [his face] was ‘Just don’t leave me,’” Shulda said.
For four days, Shulda, 46, and his crew had been working on underground power lines near Mount St. Helens to do preventive maintenance before the winter snow hits. As they headed back down the mountain around 2 p.m., Shulda saw there was a dog lying in a ditch next to Spirit Lake Highway.
He and his crew stopped to help and, as they approached, noticed that the dog was filthy and that its muzzle had been wrapped in duct tape. Shulda used his finger to try to loosen the tape but couldn’t get it off. He retrieved shears from his first aid kit, but because the tape had been wrapped so tightly, he struggled to fit the clippers between the dog’s snout and the tape. He and his crew finally used a razor to slice through the tape.
They got some water for the dog, whose spirits had already lifted by having people around, Shulda said. The animal was friendly but sluggish.
“He looked pretty weak, like he’d been there a while,” Shulda added.
As the utility workers inspected the dog, they noticed a flash burn on the top of his head and what looked like a bullet hole.
“He was shot at very close range,” Shulda said.
They loaded the dog into the pickup truck of Shulda’s supervisor, who drove about 60 miles to the Humane Society of Cowlitz County shelter while Shulda and the rest of the crew prepared to finish their work. Before they left, one of the young men on the crew apologized to Shulda, ostensibly for slowing down work, explaining that he just had to stop to help the dog. Shulda told him that he didn’t need to apologize, that they had done a “really good thing today.”
“It was that moment that I broke down and cried,” Shulda said.
The dog arrived around 4 p.m., said Darren Ullmann, executive director of the humane society. Staff members finished removing the tape, gave the dog a bath and probed the wound in his forehead. That initial test led them to get him X-rays, which revealed that someone had indeed shot the dog “execution style,” as the humane society put it in a Facebook post. When the bullet pierced the dog’s skin, it had broken apart upon hitting his skull, fragmenting and then dropping down toward his jaw, Ullmann said.
“You can actually feel it in his neck right now,” Shulda said.
Other than the gunshot wound and a small injury to his nose, the dog “seemed perfectly healthy,” Ullmann said. Because he wasn’t dehydrated or emaciated, Ullman estimates that the dog hadn’t been in the wilderness for more than a couple of days. He’s about 2 years old, and although Ullmann has heard “a million things tossed around,” his best guess is that Trooper is a blond golden retriever.
The dog came in with a leather collar attached to a green Seattle Mariners leash, but had no microchip, tags or anything else that would identify him, Ullmann said.
A day after the dog was found, the humane society gave its followers an update on “the most gentle, sweet dog,” who, despite having endured a horrific experience, was pulling through like “a super trooper.” Two days later, it posted a 16-second video of “our Super Trooper” relaxing at his foster home while being licked by his foster mom’s golden retriever.
The name stuck. The dog who had been unceremoniously shot and abandoned on the side of the highway became known as Trooper, Shulda said.
And his inauspicious interlude appears headed for a happy ending. Shulda said he and his wife have decided to adopt Trooper. While they considered naming him “Spirit” or “Fargo,” they’re all but certain they’ll stick with the name bestowed upon him.
While investigators are still trying to figure out more about Trooper’s past, Shulda is more certain of what lies ahead. Trooper’s future includes hanging out with his soon-to-be siblings - two Australian shepherds named Echo and Storm - and availing himself of the amenities provided by his new humans. Those include regular Chewy orders, a BarkBox subscription and permission to sleep on the couch, Shulda’s bed “or whatever the heck he wants to do.”
“He’s going to be spoiled for sure,” Shulda said, adding: “The special thing is that we get to give this dog a better life and get to change his whole story.”