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

Good Dog

As he turned away from the canyon, Marshall noticed movement in a creek bed about 150 feet below. He peered over the edge. There was a dog down there. He knew Danelle ran with her dog. This one was probably wild, but if it was hers, Danelle was in bad trouble. He’d heard that a dog will stay with its owner unless the owner is severely injured or dies; then it leaves.

This dog ran up a trail and stopped 30 feet away. Marshall whistled. He held out his hand, coaxing the dog to come closer so he could catch him. The dog wagged his tail, ran in circles, but refused to come near.

He bolted up the road, dashed around a corner and stopped at Danelle’s pickup. The dog sniffed the truck and ran back into the creek bed, then vanished.

At that point the search team, a crew of 12 volunteers and two ATVs, arrived.

Marshall split them into groups to explore different trails. He was about to send them out when he glanced down the road and saw the dog in the distance. Animal-control officers had arrived on the scene and were trying to tempt him with biscuits, food and water. But the dog would not let himself be caught. He turned and ran up into the canyon.

This was too much like Lassie to be real, Marshall thought. Yet the dog had spent the last 30 minutes making sure that every person in the area had seen him. Maybe it was Danelle’s dog.

“That dog is back,” Marshall told the team by radio. “Don’t try and catch him. Repeat, do not catch him. Let him go. See if you can follow him.”

Bego Gerhart, one of the rescue-team members, was exploring up ahead when the dog blew by him and then slowed and started to pick his way up a rock-filled trail. Finally the dog disappeared. Gerhart climbed off the ATV and went after him. Paw prints in the sand led to a path the searcher had never noticed. And then, shoe prints.

Danelle hadn’t heard Taz for a while. She closed her eyes to wait for the end — alone, cold and scared.

Then in the distance she heard the jingle of a dog’s collar. A moment later Taz was beside her. He’d been running hard; he was panting. He lapped water out of the little hole. She thought she heard a vehicle’s engine. But it went silent.
Back on the narrow trail, Gerhart had turned off the ATV’s motor. He listened to the desert, waited for it to speak to him. Then he heard a voice: “Help me.” He grabbed his radio.

“I have verbal contact with the subject,” he told Marshall. “Stand by.” He raced ahead on the ATV and spotted Danelle lying on the canyon floor, the dog next to her. Gerhart knelt beside her and called for a helicopter to fly her out.

As Danelle began to weep, Taz nuzzled her and licked her face. “Good dog,” she said. “Good dog.”

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