LOS ANGELES — 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”