Two lost dogs recovered after week-long, community-wide search
By Ann McCreary
Two standard poodles that went missing at Big Valley Ranch on Dec. 22, and became the focus of a widespread community search, were found nine days later in the Rendezvous area after surviving subfreezing temperatures.
The dogs were weak and dehydrated, and had to be carried from a knoll above the Gunn Ranch Road, where they were spotted on the afternoon of Dec. 31, said Darcy Walker, whose family owns the dogs.
The snow was packed down where the dogs were found, indicating that they had been there for a while, said Walker. “They were on top of a little knoll, with no shelter or trees. They had obviously been laying there. They were totally out of it. They were excited to see us, but they were super tired, and could barely stand up. When we found them, they weren’t even responding when we called,” Walker said.
Reports of the lost dogs, and the posting of a $5,000 reward for finding them, drew considerable attention on social media and through word of mouth in the Methow Valley during the holidays. Walker said the community response and concern was both wonderful and intense.
“If we hadn’t had that response, we absolutely wouldn’t have found those dogs. We had so many people helping. People would call me to cry with me. People were calling and texting. It was amazing. There were people out there every day helping us,” Walker said.
The saga began when Walker went skiing on the morning of Dec. 22 with her parents, Beverly and Jerry Walker of Tacoma, who own Sasha, age 4, and Bazi, age 9, both purebred poodles. The Walker family has been staying at a cabin in Mazama during the Christmas holiday for more than 10 years and have always brought their dogs with them.
Darcy Walker, 26, lives in Portland and joined her parents for the traditional vacation in the Methow Valley. As they do most mornings, the family and dogs headed to the Big Valley Ranch trailhead to take the dogs for a ski. Sasha and Bazi often run ahead and sniff animal scents, but always return to their humans, Walker said.
“They have been on the trail tons of times before, and always stick with us,” she said. But as they skied along, Walker realized she hadn’t seen the dogs “in a concerning amount of time.” It was about 12:45 p.m., and she began skiing back and forth calling for them.
“I searched the trail, skiing up and down until 11 p.m. that night. I had a friend with me and we were on the trail calling and whistling,” Walker said. Her parents drove to nearby houses to look for the dogs and tell residents about their missing pets. Then they returned to the parking lot at the trailhead where they stayed until almost midnight, hoping the dogs would return.
“That first night got down to single digits, and it was even colder the night after that,” Walker said. “After that we didn’t even think they had made it, so we were feeling kind of depressed. But I had friends who told me stories about dogs who survived much more treacherous situations.”
Walker posted information about the missing dogs on Facebook and on the Methownet bulletin board, and made about 100 posters that she put up all around the valley. Initially the posters offered a $750 reward for finding the dogs, but after a day the family decided to increase the reward to $5,000.
“The Facebook post got shared so many times” and news of the dogs spread by word of mouth, Walker said. “By Christmas Eve I couldn’t believe how many people knew about this,” she said.
The family explored a variety of ways to search for the dogs, including working with local people who flew drones to try to spot them. They focused their search along Highway 20 around the Big Valley Ranch area north of Winthrop. “We had a few trackers who came out to help,” Walker said.
“The first seven days after the dogs were gone that’s all we did — got up early and made a plan every day for what avenues to go down,” Walkers said. “I felt like I was project-managing the search.” There were three reported sightings of the dogs during the first eight days they were missing, but only one seemed credible, she said.
“On the eighth day we decided to just come to terms with the fact they were gone. On the 31st I said, ‘Let’s just go skiing and have a nice day,’” Walker said. She and her parents skied and then went to the Old Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop to have lunch and watch football.
“All of a sudden all our phones started buzzing,” she said. Beverly Walker answered the call and spoke with a woman who said she had seen two poodles sitting on a ridge above Gunn Ranch Road in the Rendezvous area.
The Walkers immediately drove there and met a couple from Seattle, Dawn and Chuck Hoffer, waiting for them on Gunn Ranch Road not far from the turnoff to the ski trailhead, at about 4 p.m. The Hoffers pointed to the dogs’ location, which Walker estimated was about 1,000 feet from the road.
“If I had stared at that spot for an hour I wouldn’t have seen them. It’s amazing she saw them,” Walker said.
Chuck Hoffer and Walker walked through “waist-deep snow” up the hill to the dogs, which were whimpering and wagging their tails, but too weak to bark or stand. They carried the dogs to the car and the Walkers brought them home. Darcy Walker said the dogs, especially Sasha, were very thin. “You could see every bone in her body,” Walker said.
The dogs are being nursed back to health, and have been given intravenous fluids to help rehydrate them, but seem to have survived their ordeal remarkably well, Walker said. “They’re doing fine, nothing seems to be wrong.”
Walker said she and her parents are grateful to the “amazing community” of the Methow Valley for all the support they received. Walker said her parents plan to fulfill their pledge of a reward for finding the dogs. “I’m an only child and the dogs are kind of like their [her parents’] children,” she said.