For anyone who has ever had a pet run away, the worry and fear are overwhelming. For some, it's the equivalent of losing a family member. You feel totally responsible, and can’t help but think of the worst. You think that another animal has gotten to them, or that they’re hurt in some way. This is especially true if the pet is elderly or disabled.
This is exactly what happened with the Cole family’s dog, Sage.
Last March, Sage, a 12-year-old yellow Labrador retriever went missing from her home in Boulder Creek, Calif. The Cole family was having some fun in the back yard. An hour after going back inside, they realized that they accidentally left Sage outside. When they went out to look for her, she had left the yard. To make matters worse, Sage is completely blind. Now, their blind senior dog was lost and nowhere to be found.
They were hoping that Sage didn’t wander too far off. After all, at her age and with her disability, how far could Sage really go? Surprisingly, a whole team of people couldn’t find Sage. “Ten of our neighbors joined our family in the search that lasted until late that night,” Beth Cole said. “Then they came back several days after that.”
The days waned on, but the family kept looking for her. They posted to social media about her disappearance. They put flyers all around the neighborhood and they spoke to all the neighbors in the area to keep a look out for Sage. However, things were not looking good.
The days had gone on and on, and by the eighth day Sage was missing, the Cole family started to give up hope. They began thinking that she could have been attack by a larger animal in her weakened state. “We have predators in the area, so we thought there was a chance she died,” Beth said. “I decided there was no way that she could still be alive,” said Beth’s husband. But, on the eighth day, the Cole’s luck was about to turn around.
Dan Estrada is a local fireman and the Cole family’s next-door neighbor. Estrada likes going for hikes in the Santa Cruz Mountains close to his home, and this day seemed just like any other. Estrada was with his two dogs, Barnabas and Köelsch, and his friend Vincent. They had only been hiking for about 15 minutes when he noticed something at the bottom of a ravine, next to a stream.
“I look over and I see, what I thought was a trash bag,” Estrada said on the Today Show. “At second glance, I knew it was Sage and that’s when my heart sank.” Sage was lying motionless, and Estrada was sure that the poor dog was dead. “I just said to myself, ‘Oh, no.’ because now we’d have to do a body recovery,” Estrada told The Dodo. “On top of that, I’d have to tell her family, and be the bearer of bad news.”
As Estrada went down the slope to examine Sage’s body, his friend Vincent called out to him. That’s when Sage weakly lifted her head. Estrada said, "He yelled, ‘Dude, she’s alive!’” Now, knowing that he wasn’t recovering a body but trying to reach an injured animal, Estrada flew down that slope to Sage’s rescue. “I climbed a lot quicker, jumped into the stream and hustled over to her,” Estrada said. “I put my arms around her and kissed her and started to pet her. And she was able to hold her head up and wag her tail.”
Sage was particularly happy that Barnabas and Köelsch were there. Sage walks with them sometimes and she was glad they were there. “She picked up her head, and she’s looking around for them and she’s happy,” Estrada said. “I think she was more happy to see Barnabas and Köelsch then she was to see me.” But, getting Sage up that steep hill wasn’t going to be easy.
Sage had lost seven pounds after not eating anything for eight days. She was weak and exhausted, and her age didn’t help her frail condition. "She walked maybe ten steps, but she was moving a little bit slow," Estrada said. "Then she ran into a log. I realized that there was no way she was going to be to walk on her own. So, I put the dog on my shoulders, and we made our way back up." By the time they got up the slope, Sage’s owners had already been contacted. There were a bunch of people waiting for Sage and Estrada when they finally made it up.
It was an emotional reunion, to say the very least. “They were crying, they were happy,” Estrada said. “We were about halfway up the mountain, and I could see that they were all teary-eyed.” The Cole family would forever be grateful to their neighbor and hero, Dan Estrada for reuniting them with their dear dog, who they thought was a goner. “Dan, I think Dan’s great,” said Mr. Cole.
“Our family is so grateful to have Sage home,” Ms. Cole said. “Our small town has really pulled together around this happy ending made possible by our neighbor Dan.”
The Coles had originally offered a $1,000 reward for anybody who would find Sage. Estrada refused the reward. Instead, he asked that the Coles offer up the money to an animal charity. Estrada also echoed Beth Cole’s sentiment about how Sage helped draw the community together. “It’s caused a lot of us to do some soul searching as to not what separates us as Americans, but what brings us together,” he said.
And as for Sage and Estrada? Well, let’s just say they’re pretty close.
“Before Sage was just my neighbor, now she’s my friend,” Estrada said.