Eagle County Paramedic helps save 2 dogs after fatal Vail vehicular accident

The mother and daughter pair, Harley and Shu, are back on their feet and have since been returned with their owner’s family

On July 6, Eagle County Paramedic Greg Sawyer was able to transport Harley (pictured here) and Shu from the scene of an accident to get the medical care they needed to survive.
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While a July 6 vehicle accident in Vail was fatal for the 30-year-old driver, local first responders were able to jump into action to save the driver’s two dogs: a mother and daughter pair named Harley and Shu.

Greg Sawyer has been a paramedic for 33 years — the last 15 of which have been with the Eagle County Paramedic Services — and was among the Eagle County first responders dispatched to Vail early in the morning on July 6.  

When Sawyer arrived, he noticed two dogs lying in the middle of the interstate. One was 30 feet from the vehicle, the other was closer to 50 feet away, he estimated.

“When I saw them on the side of the road, the only thing I could think of was getting them out of pain,” Sawyer said.

Typically, Eagle County Animal Control will respond to accidents like this, but due to the time of day, no one was on duty yet. Not willing to wait a minute longer, Sawyer decided to jump into action himself.

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That day, Sawyer was the supervisor, meaning he was driving his command SUV, and enlisted Vail Fire to help get the dogs into the vehicle. While both dogs were alive, neither was moving, Sawyer commented.

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Greg Sawyer with Harley and Shu as they recover from their injuries. Sawyer commented that it’s been “quite the journey” with the two dogs.
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At this point, he began driving west on Interstate 70, calling any and all local vets. At first, no one would take the dogs before 8 a.m. But then, Sawyer remembered he had a friend of a friend at Vail Valley Animal Hospital. Through his friend, Sawyer got a hold of Lindsay, a vet tech at the hospital. Immediately, she said they’d be able to help.

“I got there and I only had to wait a few minutes until two veterinarians and two vet techs arrived and took control of these dogs,” he said.

“My gut kind of says they would not have had as good an outcome had they gone to the shelter and eventually found a vet. Vail Valley Animal Hospital immediately started IVs on them, and they immediately got pain medication.”

The dogs, Harley and Shu, both sustained significant injuries from the accident. Harley, the mother, had a dislocated hip that required surgery. And Shu, the daughter, had a spinal hematoma. Both had spinal bruising.

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Now, Harley and Shu are back on their feet and home with the owner’s mother, Katie Burke. Harley was able to go home on July 17, and Shu joined her on July 20.

Burke said that both are getting around, Harley on three legs and Shu on all four: “She’s a little bit drunken sailor, but she is trying her hardest.”

“Every day it seems like they are getting better,” she said.

Burke said that Shu was the third generation of this dog family her son, Alex, had owned, starting with Harley’s mother. Harley is 4 years old and Shu is just under 2 years old.

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Harley and Shu, when Shu was a puppy. Harley, the mother, is now 4 years old and Shu is just under 2 years old.
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Burke said that when they initially heard the dogs were at the vet hospital, she was scared not knowing exactly what condition the dogs were in.

“Initially, I was told they were in stable condition, which they were, but stable in my mind meant ready to go home and life would just go on like normal. I didn’t realize the extent of their injuries,” she said, adding that when they were first reunited with the dogs, neither were moving, which only added to the fear.

However, she added that it has been a comfort to have the dogs at home with her.

“I am relieved to have the dogs. It’s been a lot of taking my mind off of the truly tragic,” Burke said. “Alex really loved his dogs, and they’re both really good dogs.”

While the dogs were getting the health care they needed to survive, there was still one looming question as to who would pay for the vet bills. Not wanting to put these fees on the family, Sawyer started a GoFundMe page for the dogs.

“I saw what I started with these dogs,” Sawyer said. “It took us 23 hours to raise $5,000; I was floored.”

And the funds have only continued to roll in. To date, the page has raised just over $11,000.

“It’s gone way beyond me and obviously way beyond the Vail Valley, but it was the network of Vail people that immediately came together and pushed that initial $5,000 in there, and it was just absolutely amazing,” he said.

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Several Eagle County Paramedics visited Harley and Shu while they were still at the Vail Valley Animal Hospital.
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With these funds, they were able to completely pay off the bills at the Vail Valley Animal Hospital and send the family almost $6,000 for the dogs’ ongoing care. While Harley and Shu are now home and on their way to recovery, both will require rehab and continued care. Any additional funds that the page raises will continue to go toward the family and the dogs’ care. 

Burke said that the funds and support from Sawyer and the community have been a godsend.

“To have the kindness of a community of people that I don’t even know put their hard-earned money into these dogs, it’s just amazing,” Burke said. “My faith in humanity is so renewed, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to Greg, to the vets up there and to the community up there. It’s heartwarming.”

While Sawyer was the one who jumped into action, for him, it’s the way the other responders and community rallied around the dogs that is amazing.

“This has gone way past where I expected when I was driving them down the road, holding Harley’s paw and talking to her, just hoping we could make it to Vail Valley Animal Hospital,” Sawyer wrote in a July 11 update on the GoFundMe. “I’m grateful for all of you.”

Burke also said she was “blown away and so grateful for the Vail community.”

“I texted (Sawyer) and said, ‘I hope you don’t mind, you’re now part of the family.’ I’ve got friendships for life that I didn’t expect or even imagine would happen, just by happenstance. It’s amazing how things come together when tragedy is so prevalent,” Burke said. “In light of the tragedy and in light of my sadness, there’s hope.”

To donate to Harley and Shu’s ongoing care, visit GoFund.Me/a8659bcf.

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