'We were shocked': Dog reunited with Penticton family after surviving five months in North Okanagan wilderness

'Shocking' dog survival

A Penticton family who thought they would never see their dog again is shocked and overjoyed to have him back after a miraculous five months spent surviving in the mountains.

Koa Hughes and her husband Duffy Baker have Henry the Australian shepherd home safe and sound this week for the first time since early July. Henry had been on a farm in Ashton Creek near Enderby when nearby fireworks spooked him and sent him running into the wilderness.

"We looked for him, everyone looked for a few weeks, we went out there. We looked, other people looked, we put up posters, there was posts all over Facebook and everything all over the Enderby area looking for him," Hughes said.

"And nobody saw him. There was no sightings of him at all there the entire summer."

Henry was a house dog in every sense, so the more time dragged on, Hughes began to feel resigned to the worst.

"The heat of the summer, living on the mountain, cougars, coyotes ... we thought, no way. What's he going to eat? How is he going to sleep, how's it going to be safe? As much as we wanted to have hope we just thought, that poor dog," Hughes said.

Months passed, then in early December, Hughes woke up to multiple missed phone calls from a Sicamous number.

"It was the rescue saying that they think they've seen our dog," Hughes said.

For the past month, a small black Australian Shepherd had been frequenting Sicamous — a community roughly 45 kilometres from Ashton Creek by road — stealing food, running scared from humans and drawing the attention of locals and K-9-1-1, an animal rescue.

Locals banded together to try and figure out whether the dog belonged to someone in town, and when it became clear he did not, they started keeping tabs on him. A coordinated group put out meals, tracked him and allowed him to sleep on their porches as the temperature plummeted.

One day the dots were connected to the missing dog Facebook posts the family had put up back in July. The rescue contacted Hughes and Baker, and sent security footage from one of the homes that had been allowing Henry to use their porch.

"We said that is 100 per cent Henry, we know him for sure," Hughes said.

Baker travelled to Sicamous, bringing along Henry's bed that he had shared at home with his dog brothers, and connected with the rescue.

They had been trying to get Henry comfortable with a live trap, leaving it out at one of his usual haunts without setting it. No one had had success approaching Henry directly.

They put Henry's bed out beside it, and that night, Henry curled right up on it. But over the next day, he broke his routine and disappeared.

After discussion with his wife and Debbie Fortin, who runs the rescue, Baker decided to drive around trying to find Henry, and attempt a cautious approach.

"Debbie said, I think we should try to bring you near him and see what happens. We're not having luck any other way," Hughes said.

"So let's see what happens if we try to get him to get a scent of you."

One of the locals that had been helping track Henry spotted him taking a nap, so Baker headed to the house. He pulled up on the road and sat in his car with Hughes on the phone, who heard Henry frantically barking in alarm when Baker tried to call to him.

"My husband thought for sure he had screwed it all up," Hughes said, but she advised him to move a little further away from him and keep trying.

The rescue had talked about scent lures, so Baker dropped his toque out the window and backed away. Henry followed, and sniffed the toque with interest. Next, Baker dropped his coat, and backed away again.

"He kept doing that, he dropped something out of the car and drove up further, a sweater, a gymnastic suit for my daughter that was in her bag in the car," Hughes said.

"And at that point he opened the car door and just left his hand out, and Henry sniffed it and was circling the car."

It was a tense moment. Henry came back to the door and looked like he wanted to jump in. He gave one more sniff, then suddenly leapt into Baker's lap.

"He started losing it, just yipping and screaming in excitement and joy," Hughes said. "And my husband called me back and he's just bawling his face off."

Clearly, Henry remembered his family. Baker brought Henry home the next day, which happened to be extra special for another reason.

"It was our daughter's birthday [the day after he was caught], and she was like, bring him home for my birthday," Hughes said.

"And he did."

The family is full of endless gratitude to the community of Sicamous and especially the K-9-1-1 Rescue group.

"There is no amount of thank you we can say for everything that they did to bring him home. They kept him safe and fed and with warm places to sleep for that month he was there in the community," Hughes said.

"There were so many people trying to get him and involved in tracking him every day and following his movements, making sure he was okay."

Henry has already settled back in to his life at home, and while he is a little skinny, a visit to the vet turned up no other major problems.

How Henry survived for so many months before finding help in Sicamous will remain a mystery, but Hughes said she wants Henry's story to inspire hope.

"You always see dogs missing. And once they're gone for a little while, you think that they're never coming home. But amazingly, even though he's a house dog with no survival skills, apparently he does innately have those skills to survive, and he did."

The K-9-1-1 Rescue group, run by Debbie Fortin and her partner Doug often out of their own pockets, is currently fundraising for expenses from food to bedding to large vet bills for all of the animals like Henry that they help. Find out more and donate here.

More Penticton News