When 13-year-old Thunder, an Alaska Malamute, went missing from Colette Ireland’s front yard the evening of Friday, Sept. 10, she didn’t know if she’d ever see him again. Ireland’s friends and neighbors helped conduct a search that night for the nearly blind and deaf dog, but with no avail, Ireland began to accept his fate.
“He was in the yard and then he disappeared,” Ireland said. “We spent many days searching for him; many people spent many days.”
Since Ireland lives near a large ravine off East Hill Road overgrown with devil’s club, fallen trees and brush, the group looking for Thunder couldn’t find him through the dense overgrowth. After almost a week and a bad storm with no signs of Thunder, Ireland decided it was time to mourn his loss and help other animals in need by donating his toys and food to the animal shelter.
“He was missing for a week, and I finally gave up on Wednesday, thinking he had passed away by now,” Ireland said. “Wherever he got into, he can’t get out and he can’t hear us calling.”
Ireland explained that Thunder doesn’t bark but instead, like most Malamutes, makes a “woo woo” sound as if he is talking to you, which made him much more difficult to find because his “woo woos” weren’t loud enough.
While the neighborhood had given up the search for Thunder by the end of the following week on Sept. 17, Allie, a 14-year-old chocolate lab belonging to one of Ireland’s neighbors, wasn’t quite ready to stop searching for her friend. Elise Boyer, Allie’s owner, said every day that week Allie was in Ireland’s yard, which was rather unusual.
“Allie never goes up to Colette’s,” Boyer said. “That week, every time I went to look for her, she was at Colette’s sniffing around. It was just a weird behavior. I had to keep going up and getting her to bring her home.”
That Friday, Allie was back on the hunt in Ireland’s yard, but when Boyer went to collect her, she was nowhere to be found. Just a little while later, the pair heard Allie barking down in the ravine and quickly decided what to do.
“We looked over the side of the ravine and she was down there. I said to Elise, ‘I’ll go get her,’” Ireland said. “So I jumped over the side. I got to her and she was maybe a quarter of the way down, but it was a mudslide.”
Ireland realized the only way to get Allie out was to slide down further into the ravine and hike out the other side.
“When we got to the bottom, it was like a 15-foot drop straight down. I could hear the stream, but it was still a mud slide,” Ireland said. “I decided I would lay into the mud, lay her on my belly and go down the shoot without digging in my heals so I don’t flip over. So I did the shoot and ended up in a big pile of mud. … I sat up, looked around and there’s Thunder! He was just ‘woo woo woo wooing,’ standing there looking me in the eye like ‘where have you been, mom?’”
“He must have fallen down the canyon,” Ireland continued. “And it’s a big mudslide, but somehow he didn’t get hurt. He fell all of the way down to the bottom; there was no way he could have stood, which was probably about 300 feet.”
Ireland said she was shocked and so happy to find Thunder waiting for her at the bottom of the mudslide, but now she was faced with the challenge of getting both dogs safely out of the ravine when she could barely move through the overgrowth herself. She knew she needed reinforcements, but without a leash to tie the dogs up so they didn’t run away again, Ireland only had one option: take off her “stretchy pants” and tie the dogs up to a tree until she could get out and get help.
“So I climbed up the ravine without pants on, covered in mud and I just went and started knocking on my neighbors’ doors saying ‘OK, we need chain saws, and you guys are going to have to cut from the bottom up because I can’t get the dogs out, and I need to get a harness and lots of rope. I’ll get water for me and food for Thunder,’” Ireland explained to them, with several other requests.
She told her neighbors that as long as she had food for Thunder, she could stay down with him if they weren’t able to get him out that night.
“Everybody looked at me when I gave them the orders, and nobody asked why I was pantsless or where my pants were,” Ireland recounted laughing.
Several neighbors and friends quickly jumped into action, preparing chain saws and harnesses for the dogs. Ireland grabbed some new pants and they made their way back down the ravine to where the dogs were waiting for them. Unfortunately, Boyer’s health restricted her from going in with everyone, but she knew the dogs were in good hands with the group that went in to retrieve them.
“It was really hard and I felt extremely helpless out there,” Boyer said. “The whole neighborhood came together.”
Kathy Sarns, a friend of Ireland and Boyer, was one of the first people they called to help rescue the pets. Sarns is the president of the Friends of the Kachemak Bay State Parks association and is known for her work clearing trails for people to use. Along with several other neighbors, including Devry Garity, Jim and Sherry Hobbs, and Don McNamara and Donna Rae Faulkner, they quickly began figuring out how they would rescue the dogs from the ravine.
Sarns said their journey into the ravine was slow going, with wrong turns and too many run-ins with devil’s club, but eventually the group was able to make their way to where Ireland was waiting with the dogs. With multiple chain saws cutting through the fallen trees and overgrowth, the team knew they could get out since they were working together. After getting the dogs some food, they harnessed Allie and put a large canvas sling with handles underneath Thunder to help him walk and began the trek home.
“He was ready,” Sarns said. “He was standing up ready to go down the hill. He was so excited to move.”
Jim Hobbs and Don McNamara led the way with the chain saws, cutting a trail wide enough for Ireland and Sarns to walk through while supporting Thunder. While it was slow going, the group was determined to get the dogs home. Even when facing a 5-foot waterfall with Thunder being carried on the sling, they were able to navigate getting down while keeping the dogs safe.
“It was really bad footing and really narrow and seemed impossible to get down, but we were going to do it,” Sarns said.
It took more than half an hour for the group to walk the roughly quarter of a mile from where Thunder was found to the exit of the ravine at Quiet Creek, but Sarns said with everything they had to overcome to get out, it felt like 10 miles.
“It was so heartening to see Thunder so excited, because as soon as he could walk, he would try to lose us and be like ‘come on, I don’t need that thing. I’m just going to walk now,’” Sarns said laughing.
“As soon as he hit the ground and started walking fast on a flat area, I felt elation,” she continued.
As the group got closer to the end of the ravine, they could hear several people who had gathered for their return just outside of the woods. As the cheering began for the rescue crew, Thunder and Allie were even more excited to go home.
With Boyer standing where they would come out, Garity called out to her to get Allie’s attention.
“Before I know it, I hear Devry say ‘Call your dog!’ and I said ‘Allie?’ and Allie just comes running out of the woods all muddy and nasty and happy as can be,” Boyer recounted. “A few minutes later they came out with Thunder!”
The next night, the neighborhood gathered at Sarns’ house for a bonfire to celebrate Thunder’s return. Ireland, Boyer and Sarns all said that after the challenges the world has faced this last year, seeing their entire neighborhood join together to help find the dogs and celebrate their return was heartwarming and a little overwhelming.
“It was just fabulous working with everyone and how concerned and how happy everyone was that Thunder was found,” Ireland said.
“There has been so much isolation this year and having everyone pull together that day, it was just a great reminder of what it’s like to live in a neighborhood with great people,” Boyer said. “I was overwhelmed.”
“There is so much good in the world and those old dogs decided to bring some of that together to remind people that people are good, and people rally for someone in need,” Sarns said.
Now Thunder is back home and happily “woo wooing,” according to Ireland, and Allie has made sure to check in on Thunder often to make sure he is behaving and hasn’t run off again.
“He’s doing fine and he’s eating,” Ireland said. “He was cut up from devil’s club, but he’s healing and happy to be home.”
The account of the dogs’ rescue was originally shared on Kathy Sarns’ Facebook.