Merle the Australian Shepherd
This week’s true Saturday dog story features a blue Australian Shepherd dog named Merle, thus named for his coat. His owner, whose name we’ve been unable to identify, often liked to go on long hikes and runs. Merle quickly proved himself to be an excellent running partner for his owner, staying close and being able to run 15 miles easily.
On one particular day Merle had been on a long hike with his owner on Grand Traverse Peak in Colorado, USA. They had set off at 7:00am and had been travelling for roughly 8 miles when they reached the very top of the mountain they’d climbed. As Merle’s owner reached the summit he heard a slight yelp from behind him. He naturally assumed his dog would be a few paces behind him as he had been all day.
After taking a few pictures, however, the owner realised that Merle was nowhere to be seen. He called out for him a few times as he started to head back down the trail, but Merle did not appear. Although slightly worried, Merle’s owner convinced himself that his dog was strong, young and athletic and would be fine.
Several hundred feet later down the mountain, he saw Merle’s paw-prints in the snow at the top of a steep couloir. Even more worrisome was the fact that the paw-prints led to the edge before disappearing into an 800 metre drop below. Realising that the yelp he had heard must have been Merle falling off the side, his owner quickly called his wife to let her know what had happened and try to come to terms with it.
As he explained to his wife that their dog likely wouldn’t be coming home with him, he suddenly saw Merle running around within the basin 800 metres below. Quickly updating his wife and then hanging up, he ran down the ridge as fast as possible even though Merle was sprinting away from him downhill. He couldn’t follow Merle’s nearly vertical route, so kept going as best he could down a gentler path.
Several hundred feet later down the ridge Merle’s owner found a couloir filled with rotten snow which he began to descend backward, punching his hands and kicking his feet into the snow each time in order to form steps, even as his feet began to bleed. Eventually he was able to slide down with the use of his pickaxe, but as he reached the bottom he realised he’d gone to the wrong basin. Sprinting through the snow, his owner hurried round and back up the mountain to where he had last seen Merle descending.
Thankfully, after 30 mins of climbing back up to the correct place, his owner spotted Merle. He called to him, apologising, but Merle immediately ran away. His owner didn’t blame him – feeling like he had been selfish to bring him to such a dangerous place and push him too far. He followed Merle up the basin and could see that he was swollen, covered with lacerations and was hobbling. As he approached again, Merle dove into a crack within some rock fragments. He managed to grab his back legs, but Merle squirmed so much that he eventually let go.
Merle’s owner didn’t give up though, digging through the snow and moving rocks aside until he could fit his head into the crack. He could hear Merle’s collar jingling within the darkness, but couldn’t see him. He tried a variety of different calls, mixing between angry and worried tones of his voice, but to no avail. Deciding Merle needed some space, he left the cave to checking out Merle’s fall; the dog had slipped on the upper snowfield where the paw-prints were, before falling off a 40 foot cliff, rolling and then falling off another 100 foot cliff to the snowfield they now stood in. It was amazing that he had walked away.
Returning to the cave, he spent another hour outside the cave trying to get Merle to come out, but he suddenly realised the jingle his dog’s collar and the deep breathing from within the cave had stopped.
As night approached, Merle’s owner found himself on the wrong side of a mountain, many miles from home with no preparation for spending the night outside. Faced with no choice, he begrudgingly packed up his stuff and called his wife, confirming to her that their dog had died before heading home.
Both Merle’s owner and his wife questioned themselves on whether they’d done enough to keep Merle safe. Their vet reassured them he’d done everything he could, and that Merle’s behaviour of hiding and hunkering down in the cave was typical of a dog in distress or on the verge of dying.
Three weeks later, a local real estate agent named Dana Gumber was preparing a property nearby when she spotted a ragged-looking dog hanging around nearby. At first she though it belonged to the construction workers who were working on the property, but it remained there even after they’d left. The dog was limping, and was dirty, weak and malnourished, so Dana took it home with her for some food and water. Afterwards she realised it still wore a collar – and was in fact Merle! She immediately called his owner and left a voicemail that she had him.
Merle’s owner had been in Austria at the time on business. Unsure whether it was some sort of prank, he phoned his wife who agreed to call back Dana. She was thrilled to find that Merle was in fact alive, sinking to her knees and gently stroking his battered body when she saw him. Thanking Dana, she took him straight to the vet where they discovered he had all kinds of injuries including two detached retinas, a punctured lung, facial lacerations, and sores on his hind legs. He’s also lost nearly a third of his weight, and his excrement showed that he’d been eating pine needles and berries to survive.
Merle had fallen more than 140 metres. He’d then gone into the cave and hunkered down and fallen into a coma. When he woke up, he had then covered 20 miles in 20 days to return home whilst seriously injured. Experts think the breeding herd within Merle had helped his survival instincts kick in, as well as his positive association with home and his owners driving him on.
Over the next week Merle made a full recovery – gaining weight and losing his hobble. When his owner finally returned a couple of weeks later, he nervously wondered how their reunion would fare, and whether his dog would run from him again. As he entered the room where Merle lay, he kneeled down and called to him. Merle gave a quick bark before tucking in his tail, wiggling onto his owner’s lap and kissed his face. All was well again.
At Bowerland Holiday Cottages and Devon Dogs, we provide specialist training workshops to help you build up the trust and relationship between you and your dog. Why not come along to one of our workshops, and help your dog be like Merle and his owner!
Read more Saturday Stories HERE.