Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Sept. 23, 2020

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‘Miracle dog’ survives 9 days in Washington wilderness after falling over ridge

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After an incredible nine-day journey through the backwoods around Mount Shuksan, Penny, a 3-year-old miniature Australian labradoodle, is back home in Portland.

Despite search attempts by rappelling rescue crews, a heat-sensing drone and even a psychic’s intuition, the 20-pound ball of fluff somehow made it to civilization all on her own.

“She’s a little fluffy dog that we used to think was a West Hills prima donna but now we know she’s a backcountry badass,” said her owner, Kim Spiro.

Penny’s adventure began July 31, when she accompanied Spiro and three of Spiro’s friends on a backpacking trip in the wilderness west of Mount Shuksan in northern Washington. The group had hiked five miles, and several thousand feet elevation, from the trailhead to their campsite near Lake Ann for a weekend getaway to celebrate Spiro’s 50th birthday.

Penny was leashed during the hike, but Spiro unleashed the dog when they neared the lake.

“We were hot and sweaty and took off our packs to sit down at the tree line in the shade,” she said. “I had just unclipped her, not appreciating that we were about 30 feet away from a very, very steep drop off into a 600-foot canyon.”

Within moments, Spiro said, Penny had kicked up a rock and went chasing after it as it rolled past the tree line and out of sight.

And so, too, did Penny.

“We were calling her name, and we couldn’t find her, and I started to panic,” Spiro said. “We hiked along the ridge about a mile in each direction and we couldn’t hear her, and we couldn’t see her.”

Presuming Penny had perished, the group camped overnight and planned to trek back to the trailhead the next day. But the next morning, when Spiro revisited the edge of the ravine where Penny went missing, she heard a faint, distant barking.

“I don’t know if I’m hearing a ghost, if it’s my mind playing tricks on me, but I think I hear her,” she said. “And one of my friends says, ‘I hear her, too.'”

They hiked the ridge but had no way to get down the ravine and no cell phone reception. They went back to the trailhead, where Spiro called two rescue organizations, Summit to Sound and the Washington State Animal Response Team.

Twelve volunteers with the groups went out the following day with dog treats and rope gear in search of Penny, but they had no luck.

Spiro’s brother suggested a drone search and put her in touch with a drone operator and climber out of Seattle. When Spiro reached the drone operator, he was at the vet having to put down his own dog.

He said, of course he’d help.

But a 10-hour search with two drones turned up no sign of the pup. Another friend even contacted a psychic, who sensed Penny was indeed alive and trying “to get back to a Chloe,” who is Spiro’s daughter.

Meanwhile, in Portland, the Spiros’ neighbors sent cards, flowers, food and wine as condolences over the loss of Penny.

“My dog is the mayor of the neighborhood, everyone knows her,” Spiro said. “So, when we thought she was gone, they sent a letter out to the neighborhood and everyone was devastated.”

And then, a miracle.

Sunday morning, nine days after Penny disappeared, Spiro got a call that Penny had been found.

“I cried, I laughed, at first I didn’t believe her,” Spiro said.

Helaina Hurwitz was meeting up with a group in the wee hours Sunday to climb the Fisher Chimneys at Mount Suskan, when a dog ran in front of one of their cars in the trailhead parking lot. The dog was shivering, whining and lethargic, but quickly jumped into the car.

“I fell in love with her pretty much immediately,” Hurwitz said.

The climbers fed the dog canned sardines they had packed for the day, but at 4:30 a.m., the ranger station was closed and they weren’t sure who to call.

“We didn’t really know what to do, so I offered to not climb and try to take Penny back home with me and then probably to a vet,” Hurwitz said.

It was a three-hour ride back to Hurwitz’s home in Seattle. Once she got there, Hurwitz was able to call the park rangers, who knew about the search for Penny.

“What a little adventure dog,” Hurwitz said. “Although, she doesn’t look it.”

Penny’s family immediately drove to Seattle for a tear-filled reunion. For the Spiros’ return to Portland, neighbors lined the streets with welcome signs and banners proclaiming “Welcome Home Miracle Penny!”

After a trip to the vet, Penny was found to have some broken teeth and a gash down the bottom of her chin. Her owners aren’t sure exactly how she made it back to the trailhead parking lot, but she may have taken a 15-mile journey following two creeks along untamed forest.

“If only dogs could talk. This dog has a story to tell,” Spiro said. “She survived nine days in the backcountry where there are coyotes and cougars and bears — I mean, bears! It’s insane. We’re in disbelief.”

To Spiro – the drone operator, the psychic – it just felt like, cosmically, Penny ought to be found.

“Eventually you start going, all these coincidences aren’t leading to anything, what’s wrong with the universe?” Spiro said. “And then this little voice would pop in our heads, ‘But maybe she’s alive? Maybe we’re those people?’ We simultaneously wanted to believe it, but as the days went by, the less hope we had. But we’re those people! We’re in the paper! We’re those people!”

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