Barb Gordon says she goes for a walk every morning with her neighbours Dan and Debra Brookes and their two dogs in the Glen Grove Subdivision area which is just off Agate Bay Road near Barriere. During their morning walk on Sunday, Aug. 9, Barb says they could hear a dog barking consistently from some distance away the entire time that they walked.
“By evening we could still hear the barking and it sounded quite distressed,” said Barb, “But sound bounces off the mountain so it was hard to tell where the barking was actually coming from.”
By 5:30 a.m. the next morning they could still hear the dog, and it was now howling as well as barking. Being animal lovers and well acquainted with canines, they all agreed it sounded like the dog was in distress.
Debra and Dan took the next step and checked out Facebook, Missing Pets in BC, and contacted the BCSPCA. But the SPCA said they couldn’t get involved because it could not be pinpointed where the dog actually was. The couple then reached out to Barriere RCMP, explaining how worried they were about the weird constant howling and barking, perhaps it was not just a canine in distress, the dog could be with a human who needed help.
Debra says, “We were quite impressed when we called the police that they immediately opened a file. An RCMP member came out the same day and went up and down the road and around the neighbourhood, but she couldn’t find anything within the area.”
However, the distant sound of the barking dog had not ceased, and at that point the couple decided the next step in being proactive was to help. So they packed some dog food and water, notified neighbours and the RCMP where they were going, and proceeded to hike towards where the barking seemed to be coming from.
“We got permission from neighbours to go through their property, and we hiked for about an hour,” said Debra, “But the sound seemed to be going further away, and so far away that we eventually turned back.”
She tells of two young men from the Glen Grove subdivision who also hiked up the route Debra and Dan had taken to search for the dog.
“ Cole and Derrick hiked for quite awhile, but when they thought they were getting closer the barking stopped and it was getting late,” said Debra, “They were extremely disappointed that they had to come back.”
With no success at solving the mystery the Brookes say they continued to worry about the dog.
“It was tummy clenching thinking about that dog,” said Debra. “Dan and I had another sleepless night, and on Tuesday morning we could hear it again, and we just knew we had to try to help the animal, or whoever was in trouble – maybe a hiker, or someone who’d gone off a forest service road. We are not as young as we used to be – but we had to try.”
Preparing to hike a long and unknown distance with multiple challenges up the side of a mountain is no small feat, but the determined couple prepared carefully for their expedition by packing two fully charged cell phones, a dog collar and leash, a climbing rope, water, and snacks. Before leaving they contacted the RCMP, their neighbours, and their kids to tell them where they were going.
Debra said they were also in contact with the RCMP while they were hiking.
As the couple headed out they followed the sound of the barking as best they could. But that meant there was no trail to follow, just finding a way through brush and trees, and then up the side of the mountain in the general direction of the barking.
The couple kept calling to the dog, and it kept barking, and the barking was getting louder as they got closer.
“Eventually we were pretty high up,” tells Debra, “We’re not as young as we used to be and we were getting pretty tired – but we could still hear his bark.”
Stopping for a rest they looked at the climb ahead of them, and both wondered if they should go on?
“We just looked at each other – and we knew we had to keep going,” said Debra, “We continued on, being very cautious of the steep terrain and not being foolish.”
She tells that at one point the rock face in front of them looked to be going straight up, amazingly that was where the barking was coming from. It was here that the pair split up a little to see how best to negotiate the very steep rocky incline in front of them.
Then suddenly Dan yelled, “I see a white dog!”
And there was the dog! Running back and forth across a ledge far above them, with a ravine below and a creek running through it.
They were super excited to finally see the dog, yet wanted to be cautious so as not to scare him away. They never had that opportunity.
In the next instant there was a cloud of dust and rocks started rolling down the cliff with the dog in the middle of it all, struggling and scrambling to keep his footing as he charged straight down the cliff face to get to the people below.
“There must have been dog gods,” tells Debra, “Or he was super smart. Or maybe in the excitement he lost his footing. But he baled over the edge of the ledge and came straight down the cliff face – somehow managing to keep his feet – and ended up in the creek below. Dan never hesitated, he went right into the creek to get him – and the look on that dog’s face when Dan took him in his arms made it all worthwhile.”
There was excited greetings all around, and numerous face licks from the happy pooch before the Brooks offered him water and a few snacks while checking him over and determining his identity.
“We knew it was Sharon McWatters’ dog Tonto as soon as we saw him,” said Debra, “Sharon lives in the area, just off Agate Bay Road, and we had seen a picture of him she posted on Facebook, saying her dog Tonto, with his harness on, had run away from home on July 22 due to a loud thunder and lightening storm, something he had never done before. That was so long ago, almost three weeks – we never imagined it could be her dog up the mountain, but he looked just like his picture and he still had his harness on! We had even been calling his name as we searched, just in case he was out there.”
Amazingly, although “very thin”, Tonto appeared to be in fairly good shape after almost three weeks of being lost on the mountain.
Once all the excitement had settled down the long trek back to Glen Grove had to take place. Even though Tonto was sticking to them like glue they put him on a leash and headed for home.
Debra says it was a long trip back down the mountain. “Dan had shorts on, and after hiking up the mountain through bush and climbing up the rocks and then sliding back down his legs were pretty gashed up. Mine weren’t so bad as I had jeans on, but I had to slide down on my bum in a few places as it was too steep to walk down where we had climbed up before.”
On the way down the couple used a cell phone to call a friend who then notified Sharon at work to surprise her with the news that Tonto had been found safe and sound.
After five-and-a-half grueling hours on the mountain, they were safely home and Tonto was introduced to their own two dogs.
“We gave Tonto more water,” said Debra, “And then I made him a small meal of scrambled eggs which I read somewhere is supposed to be gentle on the tummy – then he crashed and went right to sleep until Sharon got off work and picked him up at 6 o’clock. It was pretty emotional when she picked him up, everyone was tearing up, but it was a real ‘feel good’ to be able to bring him home safe.”
Life is now back to normal for the Brookes household.
Debra says, “The whole experience was extremely emotional – the days of trying to find the dog, climbing up high – really high to follow that far off barking that wasn’t changing – that was weird. And now when we sit on our deck and look way off in the distance to where he was so high up on that mountain – I still find my tummy clenching and my heart wrenching. But it really does feel good to know we were able to help get Tonto home safely.”
Barb Gordon nominated the Brookes for the Star/Journal’s Community Spirit page, saying how immensely impressed she was with the courage of her friends and their unwavering commitment to help.
“I don’t know how they did it, they’re both in their 60’s and Deb has a bad knee. Your jaw would drop if you saw where they went to rescue that dog. It’s almost straight up a rock face to the top where he was stuck, they were absolutely amazing.”
Will Dan and Debra ever go back to the top of that mountain?
“For the dogs – yes!” said Dan, “Just for a leisurely hike – no!”