River’s incredible story came to an end when he was finally caught in a live trap on Dec. 13, 2020, after spending 16 days of surviving on his own in a North Thompson Valley wilderness area. (James Akey photo)

River’s incredible story came to an end when he was finally caught in a live trap on Dec. 13, 2020, after spending 16 days of surviving on his own in a North Thompson Valley wilderness area. (James Akey photo)

Bringing River home for Christmas

Lost dog saved from B.C. wilderness by a community that cared

“Right now my dog River is sitting on my lap – and yes, I guess he is famous,” said Dave Tremblay while speaking to this reporter over the telephone last Monday.

“You know, this dog is only a year-and-a-half old, and he managed to survive 16 days on the lam, in deep snow, amongst wolves, and somebody even took a shot at him as well. But here he is.”

Dave was speaking from his home in Barriere, B.C., where he and his wife Joanne reside. Dave is now 84, and calls himself “a broken down old logger”, who is no stranger to the North Thompson Valley, having spent his working life on Birch Island in the Clearwater area. They then resided on the Sunshine Coast for 21 years before moving back to the valley where they have a son in Barriere, a daughter in Birch Island, and another daughter in Kamloops.

River has been a constant companion since the pup joined their family at three months of age. He is a happy dog and no one would ever imagine he could have been the catalysis that joined a community together to help bring him home.

River’s incredible story of survival started on Monday, Nov. 28.

“Ken Beddington, lives two doors away from us, has a yellow lab, and Ken and his dog and my dog are real buddies, they roughhouse and play and whatever,” tells Dave, “Ken was up on the ridge above Birch Lane with the dogs and his side-by-side, and he met a guy with a blue heeler which attacked Ken’s dog…. and my dog ran, and he ran, and he ran. He crossed the Barriere River and he went down Barriere Town Road to the Yellowhead Highway, then across the North Thompson River and then he disappeared.

Ashley Haws and Diana Eifert quickly put the word out on Barriere and Area Happenings’ Facebook page to keep a lookout for River, resulting in numerous folks keeping an eye out for a black dog somewhere north of Barriere.

“Thanks to our neighbour ladies here who took it upon themselves to organize the troops so to speak – they did a marvelous job,” said Dave.

The word was out, but there wasn’t much being reported. A few sightings of traveling pooches turned out to be other dogs, and a possible sighting of River in the Darfield area could not be confirmed as he was some distance away and quickly out of sight.

However, a few days later a social media post said a black dog was spotted by a bridge building crew in the snow up on Gorman Lake Road. Could that be River? No one was able to get close enough to tell, it was a long way from Barriere, and part way up a snowy mountain.

By now the social media posts were growing traction, and people were starting to join together in whatever way they could to bring River home to Dave.

“He moved around,” said Dave, If he hadn’t he would have been cougar bait if he’d stayed in one spot, but he moved around up there from about 12 kilometer to six and a half kilometer. He was seen almost daily the last 10 days, but he wouldn’t come near anybody, and was gone in a flash if they saw him.

“I never asked anybody to look for him. But the nicest guys this town has to offer, about five or six young men, sacrificed their own time and commitments so they could look for the dog,” said Dave.

James Akey, Brad Hyslop, Daymon Parish, Steve Cochran, Kevin Thalheimer, and Donny Kleinfelder all contributed hours of time and dedication to helping bring River’s story to a happy conclusion.

Dave says he thinks the dog knew he needed some help to get out of the fix that he was in, but by then he wasn’t trusting anyone he didn’t know personally.

“I’m a poor one to look because I’m totally blind,” said Dave, who also has only one arm. “I lost my sight about a year-and-a-half ago, but I went out with my son a couple of times, and my grandson, and my wife – just along for the ride so to speak.”

“My grandson and I figured we were about two hours behind River on Saturday as we followed his tracks because it had snowed the night before up there. We also saw wolf tracks following on his tracks, which was not good, and he would have had to keep moving to be safe. We did find a little swampy area with a pothole in it where the dog had broken the ice to get a drink, and it looked like he had been keeping it open.”

Dave said the snow level in the area where River was “on the lam”, depending on how high they went, was anywhere between eight inches to three feet deep, and part of the problem was being able to follow the dog into the deep snow areas without getting stuck and having to dig out.

After many attempts to bring the dog in, even trying to “run him down so he would be tired enough to catch”, it was realized that a live trap would be River’s last chance to come home before he succumbed to the elements, starvation, or a predator.

A trap was set in the area where River had been sighted. But the trap remained empty.

Then James Akey and Brad Hyslop set the trap at the entrance into the North Thompson Fish and Game Club Gun Range which was in the area where River had been seen. They baited the live trap with a culinary concoction cooked up by James of fried bacon and wet cat food. James’ daughter Makala says the smell of it made her gag!

“But that’s how he was caught,” says Dave, “In that live trap! James’ cooking must have brought him in.”

James says River looked a little scared in the trap, but the dog made eye contact with him like he was saying “please help me”.

Seeing the dog in the live trap was such a happy sight for James and Makala.

“We sounded so silly cheering and telling River he was a good boy,” said James, who then loaded River up in the back seat of his vehicle, where the dog settled down with his head on Makala’s lap for the trip home.

Dave tells, “James drove into my yard with his daughter Makala, and she was crying when she got out of the vehicle and brought River over to me. I’ve been around this old ball of mud a long time and crying doesn’t come easy – but I cried to.

“River was pretty happy to see everyone, and his friends and his neighbours. We have tremendous neighbours here and they all think the world of the damn dog.”

Dave commented it was fortunate that River had found the food in the trap before the wolves and the cougars did, or he may never have been caught.

Asked if River had lost a lot of weight during his 16 day ordeal, Dave answered, “He lost weight, but not near as much as you would think. At only a year-and-a-half old, he’s proven himself to be a pretty smart dog to have survived in the wilderness for 16 days. He’s still a puppy. He is a mix of black lab and husky, but he looks like a black lab, there is no physical sign of husky. He taught himself how to catch rabbits, because he had to have been eating something over those 16 days. Maybe at best he lost 20 per cent of his body weight during those 16 days, but he was in very fit condition when he took off – very muscular. At one sighting of him those young guys clocked him running up the road doing 40K.”

Dave says he missed the dog greatly while it was gone, especially as River has been a big help due to Dave’s loss of site, “He helps me every day. He’s learning that he can help.”

“I want everyone to know how grateful I am to the people I mentioned and for everyone who helped in one way or another. And also for all the comments on social media – there was no negativity anywhere. It’s a great story in as much as it shows people what the Barriere young people are like, they were just so nice and it was great. Everybody wanted to help.”

“I’m going to be keeping a pretty tight rein on River at the moment,” said Dave with a chuckle., “He was home about five minutes and he wanted to play with Beddington’s dog.”

Those posting on social media all agree that River’s story is a great story, especially at a time when people need good stories.

Carriere Sterling posted on Barriere and Area Happenings, “Yay! Welcome home River. I feel this should be a Hallmark Christmas movie now that it has a happy ending! This is amazing effort! Way to go community you all rock!”

“Yep, it’s a great story,” says Dave, “Damn dog.”

Jill Hayward is editor of the Barriere Star Journal

contact her at: news@starjournal.net