Dexter restored my belief in humanity, and my faith in God.

To me, Dexter was the perfect mutt. We adopted him from a shelter, and it was largely because of him that I got back in shape, just to keep up with his amazing athleticism. In fact, it was long walks with Dexter that inspired me to again take up my childhood love of hiking among the majestic peaks of Colorado.

One such hike was in the midst of some crushing personal struggles surrounding my work, my family and my faith. I felt completely abandoned in my struggles. To escape from the stress, a friend and I took Dexter for a hike up one of Colorado’s highest peaks.

I had long wanted to hike up the more difficult route along a certain beautiful ridge during sunset, and descend along the easier main trail after nightfall. About half way up the ridge, however, it became clear that things were about to get difficult.

My friend suddenly came down with a severe case of altitude sickness. His vision became blurry, he started vomiting and became very sleepy. During the struggle to get my friend down safely, Dexter became lost in an area ominously named “Dead Dog” ravine. I called for him in the dark, but all I could hear was the blustery, frozen wind.

I frantically called my wife on my cell phone, asking her to post a message about him on 14ers.com, a local mountaineering website. My friend and I finally reached the base of the mountain at 2AM, exhausted, but alive. I spread Dexter’s dog bed on the ground in front of my rusty old car, and my friend and I sat shivering in the front seats until dawn. We left the windows down in case we heard barking.

At daybreak, we posted a handwritten note at the trailhead and told everyone who was headed up about Dexter. I had to get my friend to a lower altitude, so I reluctantly drove back to Denver and took him home. I was exhausted, and I knew I too had to get some rest.

As I drove home, I struggled not to fall apart. I had just lost my job. I was about to lose my house. Now, it seemed, I had even lost my dog. I was completely alone. It seemed to me that all that was left to do was to give up.
By the time I arrived home, I checked 14ers.com and found that several strangers had decided to drive all the way to the base of the mountain and search for Dexter. I tried to sleep, but found I couldn’t. I got up and drove the 90 miles back to the trailhead to resume the search.

When I got there, I was surprised to find that almost everyone I met on the trail were actively searching for Dexter. I soon received a phone call that someone had caught him on the summit. An hour later, unfortunately, he had escaped, and the rescuer returned only with Dexter’s collar.

I called my wife and she posted an update to 14ers.com. She was amazed to see that hundreds of people had responded with advice, prayers and well wishes. Several more were planning trips the next day.

For the next 8 days, dozens of total strangers took time off work, rescheduled their lives and joined the search for Dexter. Each time we were about to lose hope, he was spotted in the distance, only to vanish. I met dozens of wonderful people who did everything they could to help Dexter come home. Some drove from distant parts of the state. Some came from out of state. A local search and rescue agency even joined in as a training exercise. One searcher, whom I’ve still never met, camped at over 14,000 feet in hopes of finding Dexter. Hundreds of people around the country began following the story on the website. Soon, reporters from the local news stations began calling.

After over a week of praying, searching, and pouring over topographical maps, however, Dexter had still not been found. Reluctantly, I returned to the pressing matters of life, wondering if I’d see Dexter again, but amazed at the kindness that had blossomed around me.

One morning, I received a phone call. It was a dispatcher for Clear Creek County, and she told me that a dog had been hit on I-70 near the mountain and that it had been taken to a local veterinarian’s office. She thought that it might be Dexter.

I jumped into my car and called the vet’s office. It was him. He was in shock and severely injured.

“You better hurry,” the nurse warned.

It would be dishonest to say that I adhered to the speed limit or even any measure of safety as I raced my rusty station wagon up the now familiar road into the mountains. Once I arrived, I fearfully stepped through the door to the vet’s office. They led me to the back, and my eyes fell on an animal that I barely recognized.

It was Dexter, to be sure, but he had taken a severe blow to his head and body. His face was horribly disfigured by swelling. His right eye was crushed. His paws were torn and bleeding. His teeth were broken. He was barely able to breathe.

I collapsed beside him, unable to cope with the extent of his injuries and the immediacy of his mortality. Why had I allowed him to hike with me in such a dangerous situation? Why had I not been more careful? Why hadn’t I searched further, stayed longer? This was the end, and I had brought it. I couldn’t even afford to pay for his medical bills. I mournfully stroked what uninjured bit of fur that I could find.

“You’re lucky I even caught him,” said a voice from behind me.

I turned to see a gruff animal control officer standing in the doorway.

“When I tried to get him in the truck, he wrestled free and leapt into the river. He swam clear across the rapids, but couldn’t make it up the steep bank on the other side. It was only because he had to swim back that we caught him.”
I tried to piece together a timeline.

“Was it after then that he got hit?” I asked.

“No,” the officer corrected, “he got hit before we even got there. State Patrol called me after someone saw him limping along the side of the highway. He was headed east.”

I couldn’t believe it. He was headed home. I turned and looked at Dexter. For a moment I thought I saw a faint glimmer in his one good eye.

Just then, a nurse poked her head in the door.

“Someone just called who wants to donate towards your dog’s medical bills,” she said.

She asked if I knew the caller, but the phone rang again and she darted out before I could answer. It was someone else wanting to donate. And then another.

My cell phone rang. It was a Denver TV station. They were sending a news truck. My phone rang again. It was someone who had helped in the search who said he was setting up an online donation website for Dexter. My wife called and told me she was bringing the kids. Another searcher arrived and paced in the waiting room.

The vet decided it best to transfer Dexter to a respected animal hospital in Denver. He didn’t know if Dexter would make it, but that was his best chance. It would be very expensive, he said. The office phone kept ringing.

We carefully loaded Dexter into my car and I gingerly drove him the thirty miles back to Denver. I strained to see him in my rearview mirror as he lay unconscious in the back. When I arrived, nurses met me at my car and brought him in on a pet-sized gurney.

After an hour of worry in the waiting room, a tall doctor emerged from the ER and told me the extent of Dexter’s injuries.

“How long was Dexter lost in the mountains?” he asked.

“Eight days,” I replied.

The doctor looked surprised.

“It doesn’t look like he lost much weight. I wonder what he was eating?”

He told me that Dexter would lose his right eye, and at least one tooth. There was a long road to recovery, but he thought Dexter might make it if I wanted to “pursue things.”

He pulled out a clipboard that held a list of all that would be required to treat Dexter. It was ten pages long, detailed treatment from multiple specialists, and the total was several thousand dollars.

“Of course I do,” I said, trying to sound more sure of myself than I actually was. I had no idea how I’d pay for it.

“We’ll do everything we can,” he said, placing his hand on my shoulder, “The next few days will be rough.”

He turned and walked back to the ER. Alone again, I let out a worried sigh and carried the weighty estimate out to the parking lot. I forced my car’s rusty door open, coaxed the engine to start, and headed home to my family.

Months later, happily, Dexter is still with us. As I type this, he’s curled up at the foot of my oldest son’s bed. He still loves to go for walks. He still jumps up when he’s not supposed to. And he still bumps into things on his blind side.

As for me? The donations covered the vet bills entirely. I have a new job and a new home. Perhaps most importantly, I have a new understanding of the power of faith and kindness. I now have several new friends that I never would have met were it not for Dexter’s adventure. He and I can’t even go hiking in the mountains anymore without someone recognizing him and wanting to hear the whole story all over again.

Dexter and I still love to get out, though. He still scampers out to my car when we’re leaving for a trailhead. He seems to fit my beat up station wagon quite nicely, actually.

Dexter’s TV news coverage, the 14ers.com response and a poem I wrote for my kids about what the whole thing taught me:

P.S. Sorry for the longness!


Jeremy from CO