Blind dog survives 45-foot fall from cliff
“You don’t throw away a whole life just because it’s a little broken.” – Tom Smith (played by Chris Cooper) in Seabiscuit
On August 12, 2021, my blind 10-year-old golden retriever, Sooner, fell off a 45-foot cliff straight onto a rocky river bed. We had been fishing in the craggy canyon of Lake Fork of the Gunnison River near Lake City. Here is our story…
I rescued him in August 2013 through New Mexico Retriever Rescue in Albuquerque. He was 2½ years old and had been abused along with his female companion at a puppy factory in Carlsbad, New Mexico. We connected immediately. He had never been in the water and was swimming free within five minutes. This is how our eight-year relationship began. He loved hiking, cross-country skiing, but especially fly fishing.
In the winter of 2016, his vision began to fail and he was diagnosed with Golden Retriever pigment uveitis, a genetic disease. In April 2016, he underwent a bilateral enucleation (removal of both eyes). Adjustment used to start without a vision and happily accompanied me on hikes, ski and fishing adventures, sometimes in challenging terrain.
In the fall of 2020, Sooner was slowing down and showing signs of hind leg weakness. Multiple tests revealed polyneuropathy, a problem with the innervation coming from his spine. Follow-up blood draws revealed diabetes. He began to regain his strength within two days of insulin injections. A special diet along with vitamins and supplements helped him regain most of the 30 pounds he lost. He recovered from the side effects of the steroids and his neuropathy improved.
Back to August 12th, a Thursday. Coming out of the gorge we finished the first steep section of the barely visible trail back to the truck. I was tired, lost my concentration, heard him yelp and knew immediately he’d gone all over the face. He was wearing his Ruff Wear life jacket, which cushioned his fall and likely saved him. X-rays later miraculously showed no broken bones. He had no obvious external injuries or bleeding. His breathing was normal, but otherwise he was unresponsive. There was no way to pick him up without a backpack or other tool. I left him and hiked this steep terrain back to my truck. Incredibly, the person I had seen fishing earlier, Josh Bollish, a Gunnison fishing guide, was in his truck about to set off. I explained that my dog had fallen badly and he agreed to help. He grabbed his backpack for his boulder crash pad and we made our way down. We packed Sooner and Josh carried him to my truck. I doubt that without Josh I would have gotten help in time to save him.
I drove 45 miles north to the vet clinic in Gunnison. The vet on duty said they could do an exploratory laparotomy and if his internals were a mess I would lose him. Incredibly, he only had one damaged area, the capsule around one kidney. He was bleeding internally and they repaired the damage. He had lost a lot of blood and his blood counts in the lab were exceptionally low. Staff kept an eye on Sooner 24/7 until Saturday morning when I loaded him into my truck and drove the 171 miles to Colorado Springs, where I arrived at Animal Emergency Care in the early afternoon. The vet met me and said they would do anything to save him. He would be given IV fluids, medication, telemetry, blood draws, and two units of whole blood.
Incredibly, his hemoglobin, red blood cell count, hematocrit and platelets all returned to normal on Sunday morning. He was standing and could go outside to pee with help. He was better by Sunday night, wagging his tail and fully acknowledging me.
Monday night, while two friends and I were waiting outside in the dog run just 96 hours after his accident, the Doc Sooner came to see us. That was a happy Mr. Sooner and a happy me. It had to be a cosmic blend of bliss and incredible wonder.
On Tuesday morning I received discharge instructions and a reminder to follow up with the Gunnison vet. We stopped at the vet clinic in Gunnison and the vet’s jaw dropped in surprise that he had survived. Subsequent visits to our local vet have revealed normal blood counts.
I know that some people understandably give up their pets for financial, time, or other reasons. But there was no surrender in him; I could never give up on him. I guess it’s just the way I roll
I close with two messages: 1) Save whenever possible. There are so many animals that need a loving home. 2) Take care of, love and respect your pets and all animals. They do the same for you.
Carl and Sooner, The Miracle Dog, make Durango their home and back for hiking, fly fishing and as retirees.
Many thanks to: Gunnison Valley Veterinary Clinic: Drs. Kathleen Seward and Kara Erickson, Tech Heather Miller and associates; Animal emergency care: Dr. Mark Myrzglocki and Kara McArdell and associates; Southern Colorado Veterinary Internal Medicine: Dr. Chris McReynolds and associates; Durango Animal Hospital: Dr. Meghan McCaw and associates; Animas Animals Holistic Veterinary Clinic: Dr. Heather Perkins; Durango Animal Chiropractor: Dr. Iris Davidson; and retired veterinary consultant: Dr. Chris Bauer.