A loyal dog watched over its owner’s body for more than two months in the Colorado mountains, rescuers say.
A 71-year-old hiker went missing Aug. 19 after setting out to summit Blackhead Peak in the San Juan Mountains with his Jack Russell terrier Finney, the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office said in an emailed news release.
The mountain is just east of Pagosa Springs in southwestern Colorado, where hiker Rich Moore was from, officials said. Pagosa Springs is about 160 miles southwest of Colorado Springs and about 45 miles southeast of the San Juan National Forest.
A local hunter found Moore’s body at about 3 p.m. Oct. 30, officials said. It was about three miles south of Blackhead Peak in the Lower Blanco drainage basin — and the white dog was keeping a close watch nearby.
Rescuers flew over the area to find a landing zone and dropped in the next day to recover the body, officials said.
That included Taos Search and Rescue member Delinda Vanne-Brightyn, who responded with her certified K9 AkioYodasan, officials said.
They searched just south and west of the mountain peak and “down the mountain toward where his car was located” as strong winds blew in, Vanne-Brightyn said in a statement posted to the team’s Facebook page Nov. 7.
“It was so steep, we were inserted in by a helicopter,” she said in the statement. “He was found 2.5 miles east of the mountain-top beneath where we were inserted.”
Rescuers located and identified Moore’s body, then flew it off the mountain, the sheriff’s office said.
Moore’s dog Finney “was alive and recovered by the search and recovery team,” officials said.
The team took her to a local veterinary hospital for treatment, and she was reunited with her family afterward, officials said.
People shared their awe over the little dog’s loyalty in comments on the Facebook post.
“Amazing that the dog stayed with him,” someone said. “They are truly man’s best friend.”
Others agreed with the sentiment.
“So sad, and yet so beautiful that the little Jack Russell stayed with him for all these weeks…. Sometimes tragedies remind us of the bond between man and his best friends,” another person said.
It’s at least the third time a dog has been found alive next to a hiker’s body since last year, CBS Colorado reported.
“In May 2022, a Labrador was found lying next to the body of a 74-year-old Arizona man who had died during a hike,” the station reported. “The month before that, a missing 29-year-old hiker was found dead in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park with his dog by his side. Family members said it appeared the dog hadn’t left his side for two weeks.”
Officials haven’t yet determined the man’s cause of death, but they don’t suspect foul play.
A trail report on Summit Post says the standard route up the 12,500-foot Blackhead Peak is three miles one way or six miles roundtrip — but “it’s a steep and challenging hike” that requires “navigating rocky cliffs’‘ to reach the summit, outdoor website Advnture reported.
“Temperatures in the area on the day Moore disappeared were in the high 80s, which may have added a level of risk,” the blog reported.
How to be prepared while hiking
If you’re planning to hike, the National Park Service says there are 10 essentials you should take:
Navigation: Pack a map, compass and a GPS system. Make sure you study your route beforehand and understand how to use the tools.
Sun protection: Sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat can help protect your skin and eyes from UV rays.
Insulation: A jacket, hat, gloves, raincoat and thermal underwear can help you be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions.
Illumination: A flashlight, lantern and headlamp can create light if you get stuck in the dark — and don’t forget to pack extra batteries.
First-aid supplies: It’s a good idea to have a first-aid kit on hand while hiking. Check the expiration date on items before you pack them.
Fire: Matches and a lighter can help start fire to act as an emergency signal in times of need.
Repair kit and tools: Duct tape, a knife, screwdriver and scissors can be helpful if items break during your hike or you need assistance.
Nutrition: You should pack an extra day’s worth of food in case something goes wrong. Park officials recommend having “salty and easy to digest snacks.”
Hydration: You should drink water often and before you feel thirsty if you’re hiking in hot weather. Keeping your body hydrated is “of utmost importance,” park officials said.
Emergency shelter: Packing a tent, space blanket, tarp and bivy can help you be prepared if severe weather breaks out or your plan takes a turn.