As the tidewaters rose, rescuers knew they didn’t have long to save an elderly golden retriever named Sage, who was lying on a rock with ocean water rapidly approaching his chin.
“[Jim Parker] tried to reach Sage himself but wasn’t able to get to him, so Jim went to find [Sage’s owner] Jane,” Stephanie Vallejo wrote in a recollection of the rescue. “They could see Sage but couldn’t get down to him. The searchers needed a boat.”
Fourteen-year-old Sage is the beloved pet of Lopez islander Jane Albrecht, who is president of the Lopez Animal Protection Society. Sage had wandered away from home on Jan. 24, prompting Albrecht to make a Facebook post asking for the community’s help in finding him.
“Jane guessed that Sage left her house through a dog door that he had never used before after being confused by a seizure, then wandered off into the evening,” said Vallejo, who is a friend. “Sage … has an enlarged heart, arthritis, is deaf and had recently started having seizures.”
Vallejo explained how many people on the island came together to save the lost dog.
“The community rallied,” Vallejo said. “People were using aerial maps on their phones to highlight areas to be searched. Folks were driving, hiking and handing out flyers to every person they passed.”
Some islanders used drones to fly over and look for Sage, Vallejo continued, and several others came to help, including Araminta Midkiff and her 6-year-old son Leif.
“No square foot went unsearched over five days,” Vallejo said.
After hearing about the hunt for Sage, Leif volunteered to help to seek the missing dog in tight places adults were unable to fit into.
“Grab a tissue and dab your eyes. Lopezians love their dog friends,” Vallejo said. “That kid crawled through scratchy brush, searched under every dank deck plus he and his mama searched the Davis Head area.”
According to Vallejo, Leif and his mother had even searched the area where Sage was ultimately found, but he wasn’t there at the time. Over the course of five days, Lopezian volunteers had exhausted themselves looking for Sage, Vallejo explained.
“We worry about what we know is possible, that this may become a recovery instead of a rescue, but we were all holding onto hope and were determined to bring him home no matter what,” Vallejo said.
Then the call came in on Jan. 28 that Parker had found Sage near Mya Cove on an inaccessible rocky outcrop.
“The final stretch of the rescue was going to require a landslide of miracles, and we got them all,” Vallejo said. “Jim ‘Eagle Eye’ Parker is just about the only person on this part of Lopez this time of the year.”
Parker, who was familiar with Sage, spotted the dog across Davis Bay, a feat which, as Vallejo explained, made Parker a hero. Sage was laying on a rock in the water, unable to stand, Vallejo added.
“A little red dot at the base of a rock wall in the cove,” Vallejo said.
To rescue the canine, the team needed a boat, so Vallejo called upon islander Aaryn Knox to help.
“I called the first person I trusted most to keep me safe on the chilly water and rocks,” Vallejo said.
As the tide returned, and the water began to rise, time was of the essence. By the time Knox and Vallejo reached him, the water was nearly up to Sage’s chin. Vallejo hauled the 120-pound dog out of the water and onto the rocks to safety.
She believes Sage slipped down the path to the water and his paws were injured as though he tried to escape the area in which he found himself trapped. Rescuers had to “borrow” a kayak from the beach to transport Sage to safety.
“I mentally thanked the owner, whoever it was,” Vallejo said. “It was an uncountable number of minor miracles that cleared the path for Sage’s rescue.”
He ultimately needed wound care, oxygen and IV fluids, but had no broken bones.
“It was touch and go but he pulled through,” Vallejo said. “The following morning Sage came home from the vet and as I sit here typing, he is resting easy with his pack of dog pals. He is still an old guy with a lot of health issues but he is home, he is loved and he is safe.”
Vallejo acknowledges that there are some questions about Sage’s walkabout that will never be answered. But what she does know, she said, is the Lopez community can come together and rescue a missing dog.
“There needs to be a new word to describe the look on Sage’s face when he realized we were there for him. The feeling it invoked in me, priceless,” Vallejo said. “ This old boy knew he was getting out of the water and going home.”