Adventure racer’s dog is a hero |

Adventure racer’s dog is a hero

Leslie Brefeld
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily Danelle Ballengee and one of her rescuers " her dog, Taz.

SUMMIT COUNTY ” As the second day broke in Moab after Danelle Ballengee’s paralyzing fall into a remote and deep canyon in December, she told her dog she was hurt and to find help.

Although she did not expect Taz, the nearly 4-year-old Australian shepherd mix mutt that she’s had since a puppy to understand, he clearly did.

Taz would put himself in the way of the rescuers that Friday morning, not allowing himself to get caught ” instead insisting that the rescuers follow him to his injured companion.

“Dogs know when their owners are hurt,” Ballengee said. “Nobody was coming and he took off to try and find someone.”

Taz was honored by the Los Angeles branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals with its 25th annual National Hero Dog Award in California in early May.

The organization brought Ballengee and Taz out to Los Angeles for the ceremony, where Taz received several dog gift baskets and saw the ocean for the first time.

Taz’s effect on Ballengee’s eventual survival truly began immediately after the fall. She couldn’t see where she was going due to her injuries, so right after the accident she was able to drag herself along, following Taz’s path to a puddle.

She said Taz being there the first night “helped so much. It was lonely out there and I was hurt and stuck. He helped keep me calm.”

He cuddled with her the first night, keeping her warm. The second night, she said, sensing something was wrong, he did not sleep next to her, but checked on her frequently.

Ballengee said as each of the search-and-rescue team members reached her, Taz licked and greeted them, tail wagging.

“He knew he’d done his job well,” she said. “It was almost like he was relieved ” everything was going to be OK.”

When Ballengee first got the pup, she wondered what she had gotten herself into.

“When he was a puppy he was wild and completely out of control,” she recalled.

Taz’s high energy was what attracted Ballengee to him in the first place, thinking he would be good to take along in her training ” running, hiking and kayaking.

At about nine months, the dog she picked up from the Brighton rescue ” the first dog she’s owned on her own ” began to calm down, and she was able to take him on more runs to release his energy.

“He’s always been kind of a best friend. Now, going through that kind of experience there is a deeper feeling and connection,” she said. “Knowing what loyalty he had for me, I just want him to always be a happy dog.”

Support Local Journalism