Two Dogs and One Sleepless Night

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The larger of the two dogs in the campground in Wyoming’s Wind River Range mountains.

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 to into 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.

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The note left at the trailhead.

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.