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by Mick the Ram
An astonishing story of tragedy and survival emerged when the body of a man missing for more than 10 weeks was discovered in the Colorado mountains at the end of last month.
Rich Moore, an experienced 71 year old hiker, had set off to climb Blackhead Peak in the San Juan mountains on 19 August, with his Jack Russell terrier, Finney, tagging along for company.
Sadly he never returned home and despite an extensive search of the steep western side of the mountain, close to where Mr Moore’s car was parked, there were no signs until a hunter located his remains on 30 October, around 2.5km (1.5 miles) from the peak he had set out to scale.
Incredibly, Finney was by his side, having survived a remarkable ten weeks in the remote setting. She was guarding the body, remaining fiercely protective of it, even when rescuers tried to tempt her away.
Eventually a can of dog food laced with sedatives did the trick and the dog was flown back to safety, allowing Mr Moore’s body to be recovered.
After being checked over and given the all clear by a vet, Finney was reunited with the rest of her family.
Advised against taking hike
Mr Moore, who was from nearby Pagosa Springs, had hiked the 12,500ft peak previously, but that was in the company of a friend. He was advised by his wife, Dana Holby, not to go alone, but it seems he didn’t feel there was anything to concern him and chose to make the trip.
Ms Holby was visiting her sick sister at the time, so the alarm was not raised immediately. The Archuleta County Coroner, Brad Hunt, ruled that Mr Moore had died of exposure/hypothermia. He is believed to have become confused and disoriented, although Mr Hunt could not determine a date or time of death. Whenever it happened his loyal companion stayed with him.
Delinda Vanne-Brightyn, of the volunteer group Taos Search and Rescue believes that Finney was able to survive by drinking water from nearby underground streams and by hunting small animals such as mice, chipmunks and possibly even squirrels; but added that managing to avoid predators such as mountain lions, coyotes and bears was surprising.
The dog was very skinny when found, weighing around six pounds, which was less than half her original weight. Ms Vanne-Brightyn remarked that Finney’s endurance was a “testament to her dedication and loyalty to her owner,” before adding: “Jack Russell’s are pretty fierce; I have to say, they are tough little dogs.”
Mystery remains how owner became lost
Trying to ascertain just how Mr Moore had come to arrive at the other side of the mountain, Ms Vanne-Brightyn said it defied all lost person behaviour how an avid, experienced hiker could lose his bearings from a peak that on a bright sunny day – as it was when he went missing – he would have been able to see his parked car. Turning to the wonderful survival story of Finney, she said: “It just brings us all to tears, the loyalty of that dog.”
Learnt new skills
Ms Holby, who is 78-years-old, and still understandably grieving the loss of her husband, has noticed a change in Finney since his return. She explained that she previously was quite friendly and social with other dogs, but now cowers away.
She has however been demonstrating some previously unseen talent as an expert bug catcher, swatter of flies, an ability to dig up grubs in the backyard, all skills presumably mastered during her ordeal.
Describing the condition Finney was in when fetching her from the animal hospital, she said she was shocked at the state of her, with ribs showing and a deep gash on her nose, as well as being covered in scabs and dirt. Ms Holby said: “I will do anything for her; I am just happy to have her back,” adding that Finney was now “her purpose, which is good because before I had no purpose.”
She also said that she feels that the dog was sent to her by her late husband: “She’s a piece of us, and within Finney also lives a piece of Rich.”
The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America, believe that Finney’s natural instincts kicked in, because first and foremost they are hunting dogs and are bred to survive. Certified dog behaviourist Russell Hartstein commented that it is not unusual for a dog to develop such intense loyalty to its owner, adding that sometimes they will take that loyalty to the death.
Fortunately that wasn’t the outcome for Finney, and she is now a local celebrity.