After more than an hour of navigating the pothole-pocked dirt road leading up to the park Tracey and I finally made it to our campsite in the Big Sandy Opening in Wyoming's Wind River Range. It was cold despite the sunshine, especially considering that we had spent the previous day (the 17th) splitting Eocene-age shale in a heat-baked rock quarry. It wasn't long after we began to unpack that the dog appeared.
We thought she belonged to someone else. She was an adult Pyrenean Mountain Dog, and was happily following a pair of backpackers who had just come off the trail. We both shook our heads at the fact that she was off-leash in bear country, but we were not about to go tell the departing backpackers their business.
We had just sat down to lunch when the dog came wandered over. The backpackers were nowhere in sight, nor was their car. Why had they left their dog behind? Then we noticed that this dog was not in good shape. She was missing both her ears and half her tail, and her fur was matted and torn. We fed her some of our hot, cheesy pasta, and as we did Tracey and I puzzled over where this dog could have come from.
Tracey checked the trailhead message board for any clues and, sure enough, there was a note there about the dog. It read;
NOTICE Sunday the 26th [of July]
There's a 6 mos. old white Pyrennes sheep dog here in the parking lot. He belongs to Pete, a sheep herder from Farson. She's (the dog) been following me from Raid, Marm's skull lakes from 3 days, but I'm now at trailshend and unable to get her
tointo my car. I've notified Forestry and will try to notify family in Farson. She will take food, but she's not tame and will bite if trapped. Time from Mols.
This dog was clearly more than six months old, but what other dog could Tim have been talking about? She was still young, only about three or so judging by her teeth, so maybe Tim made a mistake. No matter. The dog had clearly been on its own for some time and needed help.
Loathe as we were to do it, we leashed the dog and tied her to a tree. At least it was daylight and it wouldn't take long to walk to the lodge down the road. When we arrived there the man there told us that a puppy had been lost on the trail some time ago, too, and that dogs used for sheepherding in the area often got lost. Tracey and I told him that this dog had clearly was emaciated and was on its own for quite a while, but there was nothing the man could do to help. He told us to head back down the bumpy road to the ranger's station at Dutch Joe. That he had not seen the ranger all summer was not much encouragement.
It would have been a pleasant day were it not for our worries about the dog, but we could not just leave her. After a brisk walk back to camp we released her, hoping that she would stay in the area while we started on the long drive down to the ranger's station. We had no idea whether he would be there or not.
The ranger's station bore signs of recent activity, but no one was in. The only thing we could do was leave a note. Even if we could somehow fit the dog into our luggage-stuffed car it was by now too late to start the more than three-hour drive to the animal rescue near Jackson, Wyoming. Any attempt at rescue would have to wait until morning.
Then we saw the second dog. When we pulled into camp there was a second, smaller dog of the same breed that another hiker was trying to coax into his truck. This was the puppy that the lodgekeeper and the note had referred to. The dog had an infected eye, probably from a fight with a husky we had heard tussling with another animal earlier that day, and it did not approach too closely. It would take beef jerky thrown close to it, but the dog would not get close enough for us to catch it.
The dogs continued to trot around the camp for the rest of the afternoon. The pup ran into the woods and back out again, while the larger of the two dogs approached every new campground visitor to beg for a morsel or two of food. (This was despite the pasta, chicken, and tuna we had already given her.) It seemed that the hike we had planned was off. Finding a way to get these dogs off the mountain became the priority.
Tired and cold, Tracey and I tucked into our sleeping bags early. It would turn out to be a sleepless night. Perhaps because we fed them the two dogs decided to guard our tent. It was not long after nightfall that I was awoken by the growling and barking of the larger dog just outside the tent, and Tracey searched the darkness of the nearby woods for any eyeshine that might tells us that a bear was nearby. Nothing. We tried to get some rest, but all through the night the dogs growled and barked at each other, our movements in the tent, and the wildlife that passed by unseen in the pitch blackness.
By dawn we were so stressed and sleep-deprived that we knew that we couldn't stay. Tracey was in tears. The puppy, in need of veterinary attention for its infected eye, was too wary to be caught and we had no room for the older dog in our car. We just did not have the ability to get those dogs out. Frustrated and sad, we packed up our gear and started to drive back down the mountain.
Then, not far down the road, we saw the bright green pickup truck that had been parked at the ranger's station the day before. He had been on his way up to talk to us about the note we had left, and Tracey explained the situation to him. We left him with a bag of beef jerky, hoping that he would be able to at least coax the larger dog into his truck.
Whether the ranger succeeded or not, I do not know. The plight of these dogs was well-known (we later met a woman in Jackson who was worried about them), but as much as I would like to report a happy ending they could still be there on the mountain for all I know. I sincerely hope that they have made it home.
I certainly would think the park ranger would at least be better rested and thus better prepared to handle the dogs...
In any event, I am curious as to why the backpackers did nothing...
Amazing story. This breed wanders far and wide quite naturally, and they are one of the few breeds that can actually handle brown bears (if there are three or four healthy adult dogs, that is). Ranchers have been encouraged in the area you were visiting to use pyrs for keeping bears/wolves/whatever from their livestock instead of poison or shooting the wild animals. If you do enough of that, you are going to end up with strays like this as some point, I guess.
Hopefully both dogs will have a nice ride in the ranger's truck to a better setting.
Interesting story. Had a couple of emaciated bear dogs find our campsite once 10 miles into a nice long weekend hike, at dinner time naturally..so eamciated I don't know how they would have made it without us, or how they could have gotten so lost. I thought dogs were supposed to be good at this. Anyhow, as with your's, it bacame "a mission" and while we had to curtail (no-pun intended) our trip, it was a memorable experience and we're glad we helped those two bags of bones find their owner even if he was one gruff s.o.b.
Here's a link to that campground. I see it was in the Shoshone Nat Forest, which is not National Park so they tend to have less oversight and less interp/campground hosts/ranger presence, but the landscape up in the range to the east, which I presume was you destination, sure looks like it's worth another try next time.
One of my best friends has been rescuing dogs from parks for years; two of her dogs were "keepers" from this rescue process. People will deliberately take dogs -- typically large dogs which they no longer wish to care for -- to campgrounds and dump them there, either out of a belief that other visitors will take care of them/adopt them or out of a misguided belief that they will be able to live on their own in a "wild" environment.
This is not a problem confined to the US, sadly. Campground dumping of dogs is widespread in France and sometimes Italy, too, although they are more often rounded up there and put down.
I would like to report that the older dog was returned to Pete and in excellent condition. I was the Ranger in the bright green truck. I found the dogs right where I was told they would be. The older dog came to me quickly and enjoyed the beef jerky. The younger dog would not get close at all but would come to the jerky when placed on a rock. The large dog refused to get into my truck voluntarily and let me know it would not be forced. Rather than spook the dog too much, I left it there and ran back to my cabin for food and water. When I returned, the dog was still there so I put the food and water under what I believe is the same tree you had tied it to. I tied it to an overhead limb hoping it could not get tangled up while I notified Pete to come pick up his dog. Later when I checked on the dog, I found that it had chewed through the rope but was happily laying near the food bowl. Pete came to pick up the dog and I happened to drive up while he was loading it into his truck. He was very glad to get it back saying it was a young dog and had only recently been shipped into the country from St. Petersburg, Russia. He said it was a Russian Wolf Hound. Full Blooded or not, I don't know. Pete put out live traps trying to catch the younger dog but I don't think he had any luck. I never saw it again or found anyone who said that they had seen it. So that you are sure I am who I say I am, I met your vehicle very early that morning just as you were coming into a sharp right hand curve. Brian you stayed in the vehicle while Tracey came back to tell me about the dogs. Tracey went back to the vehicle to get the Beef Jerky. The note you mentioned was left at the front door of the cabin.