Spoiler alert: In this story, all three dogs survive through what in and of itself could make for another “Homeward Bound” movie.
Over the last few weeks, a dedicated group of a lot of people – volunteers from the Simi Valley-based Dog Days Search & Rescue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and the Sheriff Department’s Montrose Search and Rescue Team – came together to save three abandoned Cane Corsos that were seen wandering on Angeles Crest Highway, near mile marker 46, in the Angeles National Forest.
Hikers and others had reported seeing the dogs to deputies at the Crescenta Valley sheriff’s station, but no one from the station or the Montrose Search and Rescue Team could ever get close enough to capture the dogs.
Cue the animal rescue group.
Dog Days Search & Rescue said in a post on its Facebook page that it first learned of the dogs in early April. The group has spent the last few weeks visiting the dogs, feeding them, talking to them and helping them to get used to people.
The group also provided frequent updates about the dogs on its Facebook page.
In the nonprofit’s first post in early April about the dogs, Dog Days Search & Rescue noted that bad weather was approaching, and because the dogs were living at a high elevation, the area they were roaming could get snow and cold weather.
The organization put three dog houses on top of pallets, covering them with tarps, and also provided plenty of fresh water in case they couldn’t reach the dogs because of the storm.
“So we focused on the shelter for today,” the group wrote. “With such a steep area we had to create a flat spot that was in a covered area away from ravines which would be filled with water or snow eventually. After an hour of driving, avoiding a road closure, lots of digging and working in the cold and rain, we had our mission accomplished!”
The rescuers visited the dogs daily, first establishing a scent trail to the food to remind them there was food readily available and of the location of the shelter.
Soon, the dogs had names: Stevie, George and Gracie.
On April 7, during a break in a storm, a volunteer trekked up the mountain area, taking the dogs a “juicy steak” and food scent items. The group was nervous about whether the dogs had made it through the storm and whether the shelter was still standing.
“But today would not disappoint,” the group wrote in its Facebook post.
Soon, the volunteer saw all three – first, George, then Gracie and Stevie.
George was suffering from “cherry eye,” or a prolapsed eye gland. The dogs appeared underweight, and they had poorly docked tails. But the good news was, they had eaten the food the rescuers left, and appeared more curious about the humans who kept coming to see them.
The following day, two more volunteers braved the cold weather to care for the pack.
George was skittish toward them but happy to receive chicken from the volunteers. Gracie and Stevie traveled down the hillside but were too scared to venture all the way down.
“They have their safe spots on the mountain and love to bark at people from there,” the group wrote about these very good boys (or technically, two girls). “Today they all barked to say hello at various times.”
In the following days, the dogs survived more snow, moving thankfully closer to the shelter.
Throughout mid-April, the rescuers spent several hours on the mountain in hopes of rescuing the dogs.
“We are working on desensitizing them to the traps to help this but this is a slow process,” they wrote on April 12. “We wish it were quicker and easier but many rescues are just not, especially remote ones in tough terrain.”
On April 14, a fox gave an update about the dogs, via the rescue group’s Facebook page.
One of the challenges the group faced, as noted in its April 16 post, was that people outside the rescue operation kept feeding the dogs. If the dogs weren’t hungry enough, they wouldn’t go inside the cage.
Because the dogs had such limited trust in humans, the group had to be especially careful about how it caught them.
“We cannot risk anything going dramatically wrong as it could affect the dynamic of the three and how we catch them,” Dog Days Search & Rescue said in its April 16 post. “We have to take everything into account; the weather, the remote location, the terrain they are in, the dangerous highway, their bond, and their habits and behavior.”
On April 18, the group reported a new turn of events: There was a thief.
After spending several days with the dogs, the group’s volunteers were starting to see the personality of each.
Stevie, the male in the group, was the quiet one. George, the largest in the pack, would eat anything and “constantly has us laughing with her personality,” the group wrote. Meanwhile, Gracie “is the Alpha and talker of the bunch.”
As the days rolled on, the dogs started to think that maybe the humans who kept delivering them steak and chicken like their very own forest-based DoorDash service weren’t so bad. Before the animal rescuers came, the dogs had been scavenging for food, eating trash and gravel.
“Even though they are still very skittish some trust has been established and George, Gracie & Stevie are super excited to see us when we arrive,” Dog Days Search & Rescue said in its April 24 post. “They talk to us, bark at us, follow us and can’t wait to be fed.”
The next update provided the only breaking news that matters in this story.
On Monday evening, the group outlined in another Facebook post about the extensive plan it had to put in place to get George, Gracie and Stevie off the mountain. Because the dogs weren’t easily going into the regular traps, they had to build something larger.
At 5,300 feet elevation, “high in the mountains and far away from everything,” the group built a temporary enclosure – 14 kennel panels with a soccer net roof – to catch all three dogs safely.
“It also had to be away from the busy highway turnout they were frequenting,” the group said in its Facebook post Monday evening. “Building this would normally not be a problem but throw in a mountain, some steep ravines, thorny bushes and climbing up a hillside to find a flat, safe area to do it was a whole new challenge. But we did it!!”
Jo Ann DeCollibus, co-founder of Dog Days Search and Rescue, said once the dogs went inside the enclosure, she used a walkie-talkie to radio a team member who triggered a mechanism that remotely closed the door, a device set up by animal tracker Mike Noon.
Next, members of the Montrose Search and Rescue team used ropes and other equipment to build a custom lowering system to take the dogs, first loaded into cages, finally off the mountainside. In total, the rescue itself involved about 25 people.
DeCollibus said the three dogs were taken to a boarding facility where they’re being monitored and hand fed special meals four times a day.
The thing that saved the lives of Gracie, Stevie and George, she said, was persistent animal lovers who made a lot of calls and didn’t give up.
“It’s a feel-good story,” DeCollibus said. “You want a happy ending, and you want to get them off the mountain.”