When the Caldor Fire moved through the mountains west of South Lake Tahoe, many people were displaced by the flames. One of the most heartwarming stories of displacement comes from a dog who ran away during the fire in August and was found four months later in snowy Sierra.
In the midst of Northern California’s historic 2021 fire season, pit bull-terrier mix Russ got spooked and ran away from his owner’s car in Tahoe. His owner, who was a traveling nurse from Southern California, filed a report with animal services and posted flyers of his lost dog throughout the area. After months of searching, he believed Russ was gone forever.
The four months since Russ’s departure had been turbulent in the Sierra. The Caldor Fire burned for more than two months west of Tahoe, scorching 222,000 acres and destroying more than 1,000 structures. Then, from October through December, the region saw snowiest fourth quarter on record, including a record breaking 214 inches of snow at U.C. Berkeleyâ€™s Central Sierra Snow Lab on Donner Summit.
From devastating wildfire to historic snowfall in a matter of months, the Sierra had seen extremes from each end of the spectrum to end 2021. eRuss survived through the whole ordeal.
In the midst of Tahoe’s heavy December snowfall, a skier had spotted a dog stuck in the snow just west of Tahoe. After posting photos of the dog on Facebook, a rescue mission was organized by Leona Allen, an experienced animal tracker with TLC 4 Furry Friends, and her volunteer partner Elsa Gaule. With snowshoes on their feet, the two hiked up the steep mountain in five feet of snow to make contact with the dog. Much to their surprise, it was Russ the lost pit bull.
“So I walked up and all of a sudden he opened his eyes and lifted his head, and I screamed,” said Allen. “It was just involuntary.”
They quickly established a rapport with the dog and wrapped him in blankets on a sled for the nearly two-hour trek back to civilization. Russ was brought to animal services where he was evaluated and a microchip was located in him. They immediately alerted his owner that Russ had been found. He was ecstatic.
It’s unknown how Russ survived in the mountains for that long, surely struggling to find water, food and shelter in extreme conditions. It was also likely he came across wildlife who would have been less than accommodating. But against all odds, Russ survived. Now that’s a good boy.