Beloved dog found alive after nearly two weeks lost

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Ad in Courier reunites Evergreen resident with 12-year-old blue heeler

By Vicky Gits

After 12 days lost in the sparsely populated far west Evergreen area without food or water, a 12-year-old thunder-phobic female cattle dog who ran off in a storm has been reunited with her owner, thanks to an ad in the Canyon Courier.


Rio went from 44 to 29 pounds, suffered a 2-inch-deep puncture wound in her leg and sustained a 2-inch-long cut in her side during her adventure trek.

The blue heeler jumped through a screened window in a house on South Pine Road in the Evergreen Lake area, dropped 10 feet and disappeared July 8.

"Her spine is sticking out. I can't believe how horrible she looks," Rio's elated owner, Elizabeth Gonzales, said last Friday. Gonzales had spent hours posting fliers, calling animal shelters and talking to neighbors over nearly two weeks.

On the advice of an animal communicator, she left signs at the Brook Forest Inn. She prayed and visited the spot on Evergreen Lake where she and Rio went every day.

"I'm a mess. I lost weight. I lost sleep. Every day that passes, you go through the roller-coaster. Everybody starts looking at you funny," said Gonzales, who has lived in Evergreen for 14 years and works as an assistant vitamin buyer at Vitamin Cottage.

"The deck was so stacked against us," Gonzales said. "She was bleeding since the second day. The grass is so tall, and there are so many nooks and crannies." Plus, Rio is almost deaf.

With the help of a couple of newspaper readers, Gonzales nabbed Rio about 3 miles away as the crow flies in Hangen Ranch near Snowshoe Road in an area that backs onto national forest and is full of coyotes.

The dog turned up on Wednesday, July 20, the day the paper came out, and a Hangen Ranch resident, Libby Tallman, saw the picture and recognized the animal.

There were two calls that day, but the first was a dead end. About 6 p.m. Gonzales took a call from Sandy Chidester on Snowshoe Road, who said she had seen the dog with a neon green collar 10 days before.

That prompted Gonzales to jump in the car and go to the area and hunt for the dog herself. It was a 5-mile drive to the address but about 3 miles as the crow flies.

But Gonzales couldn't find the dog in the neighborhood of few houses, big barns and spacious horse properties.

Back home later that same night, she got a call from Tallman, who lives on Modoc Lane, which branches off Snowshoe Road. "Your dog is here," she said. But it was getting dark, and Tallman said there were a lot of coyotes.

Tallman said she got home from work late in the evening on Wednesday and let her dog out. When she went back in the house, she looked at the latest issue of the Canyon Courier, something she doesn't usually do until the weekend. She has been a subscriber for 17 years.

She noticed the ad about Rio going missing for 12 days.

Then her dog, Otis, a wire-haired pointing griffon, started "going nuts. He was barking, whining and crying." Then Tallman saw there was a strange dog standing in the driveway. As soon as the dog saw Otis, she limped away to another house.

At first Tallman thought it was just a neighbor's dog, but then she suspected the driveway dog was the pooch she saw in the paper and immediately called the number. It was beginning to get dark, and Tallman was worried the lost dog would disappear again.

Tallman asked what she could do to attract the animal, and Gonzales told her to put out some food.

Gonzales and her ex-husband, Dave Campa, raced to the scene and found the dog about 8:45 p.m. Wielding a flashlight, they managed to coax her into a fenced-in yard at Snowshoe and Modoc Lane. At first Rio didn't recognize the couple.

"We converged simultaneously. I popped a lid on some salmon, thinking, ‘Maybe she will catch a whiff.’ But she ran right past me. Finally I caught her. I started sobbing. I put her into my car and went straight to Evergreen Animal Hospital," Gonzales said. By then it was pitch dark.

"It was like divine intervention," Tallman said.

As soon as she got in the car, Rio seemed to recognize Gonzales again.

The vet said to take Rio home, feed her and give her some antibiotics before coming back on Friday to be stitched up.

Rio was expected to survive her ordeal in good condition. Gonzales started feeding her cooked eggs, salt-free canned salmon and a bit of kibble every three hours, and she had already gained a pound.

Gonzales said she knew Rio was afraid of thunder, but usually she's very gentle and obedient. She thought that since the dog was deaf, it would become less of a problem, but that wasn't the case.

The dog was indoors at Gonzales' house on South Pine Road near Evergreen Lake on July 8 when the thunderstorm drove her to leap out the window.

After every other attempt to locate the dog failed, Gonzales came to the Canyon Courier offices on July 15, where a staff person encouraged her to put the ad in the next week's paper.

Gonzales said she is extremely grateful to the Evergreen community for all their concern. "They helped me search. They encouraged me. They supported me," she said.

Contact Vicky Gits at vicky@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042.