“The bond with a dog is as lasting as the ties of this earth can ever be.” — Konrad Lorenz
There was a real life “cliffhanger” in progress when the phone rang afterhours. A man’s best friend had lost her way in the woods. Spotted perched on a crumbly rock ledge above a dark abyss, late-night rescue efforts were already underway.
Katrina (not her real name) the aging pit bull and her owner/adopted “dad” live in the Santa Lucia Mountains on land that suffered major fire damage during the 2016 Chimney Fire. Steep and slippery terrain dotted with boulders under blackened widow-makers surround their cabin.
Before Katrina came to live in the backcountry of Cambria she was found scrounging the streets of a Central Valley red-light district. To find Katrina a good home, her original rescuer held a contest — write an essay, win a pit bull.
Katrina’s soon-to-be adopted “mom” heard about the contest on a Fresno radio station. She wrote in, won and drove to the valley to pick up her sweet prize.
Well over a decade later, Katrina was diagnosed with cancer. No expenses were spared. Whatever Katrina needed, Katrina got. Unfortunately, no matter the course of treatment, expenses didn’t solve the problems, and in Katrina’s case mysterious maladies and occasional seizures increased in frequency. Episodes caused disorientation, agitation and a ravenous appetite.
It was after one of her seizures that Katrina lost her way in the woods. The first time it happened, search efforts came up empty until professional outdoorsman Gary Silveira and his dog Teddy came to help. Up and down strenuous slopes, under a punishing sun, Silveira and Teddy hiked the hills until they found Katrina wedged in a deep and narrow ravine.
The second time Katrina lost her way, it took a day and two nights to find her on that ledge atop the cliff overlooking a rocky burned up canyon below. Darkness coupled with land that is difficult to traverse made Katrina’s situation dangerous for all. Nevertheless, ingenuity and improvisation played out as a heavy-duty plastic tub (big enough to support a 70-pound dog) was used as a sled. Rope attached to the tub was run up to and through a pulley system that was moved and secured to various trees along the way.
The route was fraught with obstacles. The footing was unstable. Still, under a moonlit sky, neighboring rancher Daniel Hoover managed to provide the manpower it took to pull Katrina’s sled up the slope as her dad guided the contraption around rocks and stumps. The two-man team got Katrina home where the 14-year-old dog was comforted and loved until she had her final seizure the following day.
The loss is great for Katrina’s widower dad, a man who already knows grief all too intimately. Perhaps only a fellow animal lover can understand the heartache that’s associated with the loss of a beloved four-legged family member. It’s real. It’s painful. It’s love and devotion no less than any earthly other.