Early last Saturday morning, Jury, one of my livestock guardian dogs, was able to break her tether cable loose from where it was secured. I normally have to keep one dog or the other tethered or they gang up on me and take off. Their instincts to chase the coyotes away from the farm get the better of them and they just go! Like miles.....and miles. In the past we have found them on the back side of a mountain lake ten miles west of here. Or at the end of the gravel road eleven miles to the east of here. They run in every direction and don't seem to have a favorite hang out. But they have always made it home. Until this time.
Four days went by with no sign of my dogs. It had been over 90 degrees every day this week. I was counting on them needing water and coming home. But they didn't. After the third day ended and no one had spotted them, I knew I probably wouldn't see them alive again. That worst thing was, I knew Jury was dragging 20 feet of cable on her collar. The likelihood it was caught up in something was there. She could be in the wilderness that surrounds us, tangled, trapped, with no food and no water. And I knew her brother Judge would never leave her.
Tuesday I was trying to keep my mind occupied so my bestie Aggie and I got together to can jam and salsa at her house. As the peach jam was coming out of the kettle the phone rang and it was my mom. She excitedly told me that one of our neighbors had not seen them, but had heard the dogs barking! We hung up and Miss Holly called to tell me that she knew my dogs were stranded on a cliff on their ranch. She gave me directions to the "area" the dogs were heard. She said she knew they were in trouble.
I wish ya'll could see the place. To get there you drive miles down the highway, then miles down a dirt road into an expansive, open valley that is walled on each side with massive, jagged cliffs. The cliffs are littered with humongous boulders, yucca plants, cactus and rattlesnakes. It's like something you would see in an old western movie. There is no one out there. Big. Open. Wilderness. We pulled the pickup in behind the corrals we had been directed to. Then we looked up. The cliffs don't rise exactly straight up out of the prairie, but close. There are some deer trails that work their way up the mountain and over the boulders. That's what we followed. We climbed about a half of a mile and I began to yell for Judge. We couldn't see them anywhere are hear them. I kept calling.... and sure enough, I heard a bark! Then a whine. About another half of a mile up the rocks I could see Judge's white coat against the brown cliff. Then I spotted Jury, tangled against the boulders and wrapped in a juniper like shrub.
Judge began to bark then and came down the rocks to me. He licked my hand and then ran back up to Jury. She was very weak and thin but alive. I scrambled up the rocks and quickly unsnapped the tangled cable. In that moment I heard them..... bzzzzzzz, bzzzz. Five feet to the right of Jury's prison, was a den of rattlesnakes!! I didn't stay long enough to count them, but there was more than one. I admit I completely freaked out and Aggie and I bounded out of there! How my dogs avoided being bitten by the snakes, I will never know.
Jury was able to walk on her own but was very wobbly and weak. We stopped about half way down the mountain and gave the dogs the water from our water bottles. Once we were at the bottom, Judge led Jury to a stock water tank in the middle of a corral. Obviously, he had been able to get water there these last four days but she of course had not. She threw herself into the tank and began to drink....and drink. We waited and let her drink until she began to shiver and then I had to lift her out of the tank. Aggie and I lifted her into the pickup and Judge jumped in too. Off we went, away from the place that nearly claimed Jury's life.
A few more hours and she would have been gone. She was clearly in shock, with hyperthermia and severe dehydration. But by shear amazing luck and wonderful, observant neighbors, they made it home. Jury is still resting a lot more than normal but it appears she's going to be alright. Judge is acting like nothing ever happened. The brat.
I can't say thank you enough to the Ebeling family. If they would have just shrugged off the barking dogs they heard in the distance, my canine friends would have died up there on that mountain. But instead they are home, asleep on the rug....