A faithful dog survived for 10 weeks next to her owner’s side after the 71-year-old man sat down next to a tree and died in the wilderness east of Pagosa Springs, according to law enforcement.
Rich Moore and his dog, Finney, a white Jack Russell Terrier, were reported missing Aug. 19 near Blackhead Peak, about 12 miles east of Pagosa Springs, said Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office undersheriff Robert Hill.
Rescue workers searched by ground and air with no luck. In total, nine agencies searched for nearly 2,000 hours, Hill said.
The big break came about 3 p.m. Oct. 30 when a hunter in the Lower Blanco drainage basin reported finding a deceased man and a white dog, Hill said.
The next day, members of the sheriff’s office and Upper San Juan Search and Rescue were flown into the area and positively identified Moore. The team also located Finney.
“When our first guy got there, the dog was right by Rich and was in the attack position, showing her teeth and verbally saying, ‘Get the hell away from us,’” Hill said. “So yeah, she's a little survivor.”
Crew members transported the dog to a local veterinary hospital for examination and treatment. She lost about half her body weight, but was otherwise in good shape, Hill said.
She has since been reunited with her family.
“It's a little bittersweet,” Hill said.
Jack Russell Terriers were bred as hunting dogs and are able to survive on rodents. Hill suspects that’s what Finney did until she was rescued. A nearby creek would have kept her hydrated, he said.
There is no indication the dog ate Moore to stay alive, he said.
“There's a lot of speculation about that, but we didn't see any sign of that,” Hill said. “What's remarkable is the area is loaded with bear and mountain lions. That's big-time cat country. And that dog survived. Pretty amazing.”
Law enforcement are uncertain about what happened to Moore.
It is possible he became lost and disoriented while on a hike, but he also could have suffered a medical emergency like a heart attack. He was found sitting down leaning against a tree with his feet out in front of him, Hill said.
“He was not on a trail and he was quite a ways away from a trail,” Hill said.
If he was lost or experiencing a medical emergency, he may have been trying to get to another point to access cell service, Hill said. Rescue workers were told he had a cellphone, but they didn’t find a cellphone on his person.
“He may have been using it for light and fell and dropped it in the dark,” Hill said. “We just don't know.”
Hill believes Moore lived in the Pagosa Springs area for “20-ish years.”
Moore was “very active” with an outdoor hiking club, Hill said.
“He was happy, he was healthy (and he) made this hike a couple of times,” Hill said. “So it was kind of a shock that he did disappear.”
No foul play is suspected, Hill said.