Jeff Busic was hiking the Calico Trail near Priest Gulch with his two coonhounds on a picture-perfect, late summer day when the unthinkable happened.
The red hounds, named Juniper and Cedar, took off and didnt come back.
They have taken off after things before, but they would always come back, Busic said over the phone last week.
Busic, who worked at Osprey Packs in Cortez, was beside himself, explained Jerry Berg. Berg and his wife, Lynn, who also worked at Osprey, spent the next weekends in September looking for the dogs and camping in the San Juan National Forest, talking to anyone and everyone who might have seen the two spayed, female dogs.
Friends and co-workers joined Busic in his search for the dog, all knowing that he would soon be transferred to a job in Vermont, Berg said.
During the search, a few hunters said they had seen the dogs, but the coonhounds were never found.
Busic said he saw them run by in October on Taylor Mesa, but that was the last time he saw them.
I will never forget the look on (Busics) face. I could only imagine the mental pain he was feeling, Berg said.
So Berg continued the search after Busics departure. Berg, who is retired, made posters, visited area ranchers and talked to hunters.
Nearly six months later, on Feb. 16, the dogs were finally trapped above Dolores on Granath Mesa. They had survived together, and they looked a little thin but not too bad.
Could you imagine the story they could tell, probably of mountain lions, bears and coyotes, said David Doran, owner of the land the dogs were finally trapped on.
Doran said he first saw the dogs in his abandoned barn on a very cold January morning. It was likely 20 degrees below zero that morning, Doran recalled.
He went into the barn to feed his cats, and he saw the redbone coonhounds. They spotted him and ran off. He shook his head and assumed the dogs belonged to a neighbor.
Doran later saw the dogs fending off four or five coyotes in a tussle over one of his cows that had died.
I later saw the poster up of the dogs, and I said, Hey I know those dogs, Doran said.
He quickly called Berg, who put out a live trap near the dead cow.
Berg said putting one trap out was nerve-racking because he feared one of the dogs would be caught while the other would be left alone to fend for itself against the coyotes. So when Juniper was caught and inspected by veterinarian Susan Grabbe on the night of Feb. 16, he was thrilled when Doran called him the next morning saying Cedar was trapped too.
I was amazed the dogs lasted that long, Doran said.
The winter threw out some real cold weather, and the dogs survived and looked good, Doran said.
Berg said he was expecting the dogs to be wild or to be somewhat aggressive after their ordeal and to need some rehabilitation, but when he first saw Juniper, her tail was wagging a mile a minute.
I got chills because now the work was over, Berg said of their capture.
Busic recalled the day he heard the good news.
It was a huge relief. Jerry is a saint for doing what he did and looking for them as long as he did, Busic said.
Berg said he is happy the story had a happy ending but the story is not over yet.
Busic likely wont be able to take the dogs. He lives in a home that wont allow them on the other side of the country. Berg said he already has three dogs and two cats and that he hopes the dogs will find a forever home.
As to the very sweet and loving Juniper and Cedars forever home, one thing is for certain, Berg said. They need to stay together, especially after what they have gone through. I would be honored if Busic let me adopt them, but we already have three dogs and two cats. They really like hugs and not surprisingly show lots of appreciation every time you feed them.
Red coonhounds are bred to hunt and are very loyal. They are the dogs featured in the book Where the Red Fern Grows.
Berg isnt sure what happened to them, why they took off and why they didnt come to hunters when they saw them in the forest. He does wish they could tell their story.
Something must have happened, he said.
After having the dogs inspected by a veterinarian, he was shocked that they had no frostbite. They were a bit skinny and had cuts on the pads of their feet, which are healing. They also had fleas, and Juniper had a slight eye infection, Berg said.
They were exhausted.
They would fall asleep sitting up, he said.
Berg said he is grateful to everyone who helped locate the dogs, those that searched for them and to local businesses that not only had the poster hanging Doran saw the poster at Dolores Liquors but also to local businesses that donated items to Berg.
Doran said he was glad to see the hounds caught after checking the trap twice a day.
Its a happy ending, Doran said.
Busic said the dogs, who are sisters, turned 3 in November. He hopes to find a home for them.
I will probably try to adopt them out, and I want to make sure they go together, Busic said. Its a miracle they survived.