Dog that went missing for four months and survived a wildfire and a blizzard is now home with his owner

After four months of being missing, a three-year old dog was finally found safe and sound after volunteers took him from the California woods.

Russ is a pit bull-terrier cross who ran away from Ricardo Rodriguez on a late August camping trip in Lake Tahoe. Rodriguez, a traveling nurse was with four of his buddies when Russ ran off from his owner, Ricardo Rodriguez.

Rodriguez and his companions spent hours trying to find the pup, but they failed to find him. Rodriguez also posted flyers and called shelters to report that he was missing. Rodriguez was eventually forced to leave due to the Caldor Fire, which decimated 222,000 acres and over 1000 structures in California over the course of 67 day.


Rodriguez thought he would never again see his best friend.

“After months of not hearing back from anyone, I assumed he was in good hands with a different owner,” he told CNN. “I was hopeful that one day he would return.”

TLC 4 Furry Friends was notified on December 16 about an abandoned dog in Twin Peaks west of South Lake Tahoe.

Russ curled up over a thick blanket of snow

A skier reported that the dog appeared stuck in the snowdrift. However, they couldn’t help him as the dog growled at anyone who approached him.

Kyle Shumaker, El Dorado County Animal Services officer, was alerted about this animal, but the snow and steep terrain made it impossible for him to reach the dog. That’s when he notified Wendy Jones, founder and executive director of Tahoe PAWS & TLC 4 Furry Friends, about the situation.

Elsa Gaule shining a light onto a blanket-covered dog

Jones was on another rescue mission at the same time and sent two volunteers to the site.

Leona Allen, Elsa Gaule and their task was revealed immediately. They quickly put on their gear and started climbing up the snowy hill.

“We didn’t even hesitate,” said Allen, 61, a seasonal firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service who has been volunteering with Tahoe PAWS for about three years. “This was a one-shot deal, we either got him or he didn’t survive the night.”

The temperatures were expected to drop down to -2 degrees Fahrenheit when the pair arrived on the scene. Their hike up the hill was more difficult because of the five-foot fresh snow.

Leona Allen and Russ on a sled going downhill

Allen, wearing her headlamp, snowshoes and snowshoes followed Gaule’s tracks, who was following closely with an animal-service sled provided in Officer Shumaker’s hands.

Then, she saw a “dark blob” in the snow under the tree well. Allen was afraid for her safety as the dog didn’t move, but he finally opened his eyes and lifted the head.

Russ began to growl at them, initially out of fear. But after coaxing him with treats, Gaule was able to earn the dog’s trust.

“I took my hand and put it under his chin, and he rested his head on my hand right away,” Gaule recalled. “That’s when they knew he was trusting and ready to be saved.”

After removing Russ from the snow, they wrapped him in blankets. Allen placed the dog on her lap and the three of them went down the hill for nearly two hours to meet Officer Shumaker. Shumaker brought the dog to the veterinarian.

Ricardo Rodriguez and Russ reuniting

Doctors confirmed that Russ survived being alone for months, and even experiencing a wildfire or a blizzard. Russ stayed at the shelter for a few more days with Allen and Gaule regularly visiting. They said that the dog was gentle and sweet with everyone.

Animal service workers were able, thanks to a microchip to link him with Rodriguez. The pair were finally reunited on December 26,

“If I tried to put myself in that position I don’t think I would’ve done it,” Rodriguez said. “This guy is something else right here. He’s been through it all.”

This dog is a true survivor! Learn more about Russ’s long journey home in the video below.

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