I don't know who was happier to be out hiking that beautiful autumn day, my dogs—Sophie, a nine-year-old white standard poodle, and Tex, a five-year-old parti-color miniature poodle—or me.
We were out in the Sierra foothills on one of our favorite trails, by Feather Falls, the sixth highest waterfall in America. A mile down a wooded canyon to a creek, then two miles back up to where I had parked the car. A good, vigorous hike.
We were almost to the creek when a squirrel darted across the trail and into the trees. Sophie bolted into the canyon, hard on the scent of her elusive prey. The chase was on!
Sophie loved going after squirrels. Not that she ever caught one, but she kept hoping. I had to admire her spirit. Tex looked up at me as if wondering whether or not to follow.
“You stay here,” I said. “She’ll be back soon.”
I knew the routine. In a few minutes, Sophie would admit defeat, pop up on the trail again and trot back to my side.
But 15 minutes went by and she wasn’t back. I peered down into the canyon. The brush and fallen trees were too thick to see through. “Sophie!” I called, then paused, listening for an answering bark or rustling in the brush.
She can’t have gotten lost, I thought. We’ve hiked here a hundred times.
What if she’s hurt? Or worse? I didn’t want to even consider the possibility but I couldn’t keep my mind from going there.
Not long before, I had lost the oldest of my dogs, my Rottweiler, Sadie, to bone cancer. I couldn’t take it if something happened to Sophie.
“Sophie!” I yelled. “Come here, girl!” I looked uphill and down. No sign of her. My cell phone was useless this deep in the woods. Should I hike back to the car and find help?
Ahead, the brush stirred. Tex yipped. Sophie stepped onto the trail. Whew!
Wait…she was hobbling. Her left hind leg dangled uselessly. It looked broken. “You’re a brave girl,” I said.
Her tail wagged. She hobbled a few more steps, then collapsed on the trail to rest, panting. Sophie weighed 50 pounds. How was I going to carry her two miles uphill back to the car? And I couldn’t leave her here, injured and alone, to go for help. Help was going to have to come to us.
I bowed my head. God, this is an emergency. Please send someone to get us out of this fix. I’m still not over Sadie. If I lose Sophie I don’t know what I’ll do….
I had to admit, though, I had serious doubts. We hadn’t seen another soul on the trail all day.
Sophie had just struggled to her feet again when I heard voices. Two hikers, a strapping man and a slender woman, came striding down the trail.
“Can you help me?” I asked them. “My dog…”
The woman took everything in with a single glance. “Her leg is definitely broken,” she said. “We need to put a splint on it.”
Before I could ask how, she shrugged off her backpack and took out scissors and surgical tape.
My jaw must have dropped because she said, “I used to be a veterinary assistant. Go find a straight stick we can use for the splint.”
I found a small branch and brought it back to the woman. She used it to stabilize Sophie’s leg.
“My turn,” her companion said. He hoisted my dog onto his broad shoulders and carried her all the way uphill to the parking lot where he gently placed her in the backseat of my car.
We were at our vet’s within the hour.
It took a while since Sophie’s getting up there in age and the break was pretty bad, but her leg healed just fine.
A few months ago we hiked the Feather Falls trail for the first time since the accident. I don’t know who was happier, Sophie or me. I do know, however, who to thank for her incredible rescue—the One with whom all things are possible.
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