Best Animal Instinct

After the runner fell in the wilderness, it was up to Taz to keep her alive.

from Reader's Digest Magazine | May 2007

Something Went Very Wrong

Friday morning broke. The night had been brutal. Her fingers were numb, and she could no longer do sit-ups. Another night and she’d freeze. She decided to make a final attempt to crawl out. Taz paced nervously. He was hungry and tired too. Would he stay with her?

“Taz, I’m hurt,” she said. “Get help.” She held up a weak hand, and Taz walked forward and nuzzled her palm. After a moment, he loped away. But did he understand?

Danelle started crawling again. She watched the sun move across the sky. Three hours later, she inched back to the water hole and drank. The pain seemed unbearable. Suddenly Taz’s collar jingled in the distance. “Taz,” she called, “Taz.” The jingle faded. He’d left her.

John Marshall, in two layers of clothes and a heavy coat, shivered as he waited for his search-and-rescue squad to arrive at the trailhead. He stared out across 10,000 acres of brutal landscape. He had no idea where to look for Danelle Ballengee, but he had to come up with a plan.

On Thursday afternoon a neighbor realized she hadn’t seen Danelle for two days and called the runner’s parents. They contacted the police, who searched for Danelle’s Ford Ranger in all the likely spots with no luck.

This morning, though, an officer had made a final pass up a little-used road and found the truck. Marshall was called to assemble a search squad. Now he looked anxiously at his watch. In a few hours it would be dark and the team’s task would be impossible.

Marshall knew Danelle was an extreme runner. He’d helped out at an endurance run where he’d treated her for exhaustion.

“We’re not going to be looking for a tourist,” Marshall told his team. “This woman went out there to run the hardest trail she could find. She’s tough. If she’s still out in that country, something went very wrong.”

Marshall tried to think like an endurance runner, focusing the search on five potential trails. When the team arrived, he’d send out squads on all-terrain vehicles. It was a long shot.

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