Lost pup spurs worried Vail Valley search
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” The weather promised to be perfect. My husband and I decided to take a couple of days off to go camping and river rafting. We packed up the cooler and loaded the dogs in the truck and off we went with the raft in tow. Two of our dogs, Ralph and Girl, were veteran rafters. For our new 3-pound dog, Sparta, it was her first time. Our 10-week-old puppy, Payton, would be getting her sea legs this trip.
We were in the water by about 7 o’clock Friday evening at Pump House. We planned to be in Rancho by the next day. The Colorado upper sea is a great place to raft because it is mostly a nice relaxing float trip. All the dogs were wearing their life jackets. We rafted for about an hour and decided to beach and set up camp. We set out to explore with the dogs. We like picking camping areas that are not easily accessible to other people so the dogs have more freedom and we can have a break from people.
We woke up the next morning taking our time because the river was moving so fast we knew it would be a quick trip to Rancho. The puppy was enjoying rafting. She was taking the experience in stride, even sleeping through a bumpy part of the river. Sparta was just happy to be in my lap, but she did feel comfortable enough to walk around in the boat.
It was about 1 o’clock in the afternoon, and we decided to stop at an island to eat some lunch and let the dogs run around. It is a popular island, but it was early Friday and we had it to ourselves. We ate lunch and watched the dogs. Soon, they were all curled up sleeping. An hour later, we packed the cooler and got ready to get back on the river. Brandon finished strapping the cooler in the raft and I was getting our dogs ready to board the raft when another raft pulled along side us. We told the man in the raft that we were just leaving and he said great, since he was having a birthday party and expecting a lot of boats.
I started to tell the dogs to get in the raft. I was holding Sparta when I heard a yelp. I turned around and there was a black Lab that was in a squabble with Girl and Ralph. We are not sure who started it, but the squabble was over quickly and all the dogs were fine.
Apparently there were several boats beaching on the other side of the island and the Lab had made a beeline for our dogs. We did not even know the other rafts had arrived until the black Lab showed up. We got Girl and Ralph on the raft, each on leash, and put Sparta in her crate. The black Lab ran off, and I went to find Payton, the puppy. In all the excitement, the little puppy ran off.
In all that excitement everything changed. Our lives went on hold as we began to realize that our puppy was lost.
Two of the people who had just arrived had seen her running fast to the north end of the island, yelping. Our best guess is that the Lab had run over and Payton ran up to her, and was tumbled by the bigger dog and took off running. I think that was probably the first “yelp” that I had heard when I turned around and saw this other dog.
Everyone started helping us look for her and we covered every inch of the island several times with no luck. We looked under every bush multiple times and there was no sign of her. Several of the men took a boat across the river to look for her there even though we were pretty sure she was still on island. She was so scared of the river she wouldn’t even drink out of it. Payton is a very outgoing puppy with people and dogs. So we were quite shocked that she did not come right out. After two hours of searching we were really worried. We finally decided to go to Rancho in case she had jumped in the river and drifted down, or in case someone had picked her up. The people on the island assured us they would keep searching for her until we got back.
When we got to Rancho, I ran to a phone and Brandon started to get the raft loaded onto the trailer. We told the people at Rancho that the puppy was missing and if she showed up to hold onto her for us. Payton also had her tags on with all of our phone and cell numbers. I phoned our friends, Suzy and Owen, who left immediately from McCoy to pick up Ralph, Girl and Sparta. I called to make sure my daughter had a place to stay overnight because we could potentially be out all night. We got back to the island at about 7 p.m. and we were devastated that she had not shown up yet. We continued searching, with the help of the birthday party people, until 9 p.m.
We set up our tent and tried to get some rest. Both of us were teary-eyed and scared. It had now been seven hours since she disappeared. Brandon got up a couple of times during the night and went out with a headlamp searching for her. I woke up at 2 a.m. wishing it was just a bad dream. We were laying there in the tent when we heard what sounded like Payton crying. We sat up and we heard it again. Grabbing our headlamps we flew out of the tent and starting shining the lights around, but no Payton. We finally went back to the tent, but we couldn’t sleep; we just kept listening.
At dawn Brandon went looking again, and when he came back empty-handed, we started discussing what to do. We had a really bad feeling, and we were second guessing any sound we heard. We talked about leaving again and trying to come up with other ideas, when one of the guys who had been helping us search ran up to our tent and said they were positive they had just heard her crying. This was about 7 a.m. She was not on the island, but on the shoreline where she would have had to run through streams to get there.
One guy had stayed to mark the spot where they thought she was, and the other guy had come to get us. Brandon got in their ducky to get to the shoreline where she might be. I stayed on the island to keep an eye out. Brandon searched and we called for about half an hour without any luck. Now that we were sure she was there and we had our hope renewed and continued searching. This section of shoreline was full of brush and very steep, with no way out. The guys from the party who had heard her suggested that we get a bunch of the group on the shore and try to flush her out. We decided first to try just me and Brandon. She would not be as scared. We would walk and crawl from the north to the south side of this canyon. They would watch for her from the island. We crossed through two streams to get to the shore, we still did not understand how she could have run through these fast moving streams. Brandon took the high side of the canyon and I took the bottom near the shore. We were calling for her as we went, so that she would know it was us. I thought I heard her whine, and then I knew I heard her whine.
Our spirits were up. We knew we would find her. We crawled through trees and brush trying to cover every inch in case she was injured and couldn’t move and hiding under or in something.
I was below Brandon, but off at an angle. The rocks kept sliding down. But we kept going and then when we heard her bark.
I hollered up at him to see if he could see her and he said he could. She was scared at first, but we had her favorite treats and she cautiously came too him.
She had made a nest and had removed her life jacket. From where she was she could not get back down. She probably remained in that spot the entire time she was missing. She had even gone to the bathroom on herself. I crawled up the hill towards the two of them. We needed to get her life jacket on and attach her to us to get her down.
We crawled down sometimes having to pass her off to navigate down the hill. She did not seem to be injured; just very thirsty and hungry. All the searchers were quite excited to see her and finally meet her. We thanked everyone for their help and let them know how greatly we appreciated them. We were so ecstatic to have her back safe and sound.
Payton was exhausted. It was 20 hours since she disappeared. Now it was 10 a.m. Saturday morning. We packed up camp and rafted back to Rancho; she slept the entire trip.
A simple moment turned our lives up side down even though we are always careful to keep our dogs safe. For example, anytime we come to town they are always on leash, even though at home they are never on leash. We do this for their protection. I wanted to share this story to show how things can go wrong at any moment. Payton was so frightened she only barked a few times in those 20 hours and did not move from her hiding spot. Any dog can be spooked by strange noises in new surroundings. We were lucky to have a party of people help us search and it is so important to keep searching! Payton will be on leash at all times for a while!
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