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Firefighter rescues blind dog lost in woods for 8 days, then turns down reward

Firefighter Dan Estrada hadn't gone out expecting to rescue a dog when he went for a walk in the redwood forest behind his home last month.
/ Source: TODAY

Firefighter Dan Estrada hadn't gone out looking to rescue a dog.

An old friend, Vincent Lopez, came by for a visit, and Estrada just wanted to spend some time together in the beautiful redwood forest behind his home in California's San Lorenzo Valley.

Lopez, Estrada and Estrada's two dogs walked down a path down to a pretty stream. That's where they saw the dog, who was not moving.

Sage, a 12-year-old Labrador who is blind, had gone missing eight days earlier — wandering off from her house one night in late February. Sage's family had searched, put up signs, even called in a professional dog tracker, all without luck.

“Our neighbors and other members of the community helped us search day and night for a week,” Sage's owner Beth Cole told The Mercury News. “We looked everywhere.”

Dan Estrada carries Sage to safety.Courtesy of Vincent Lopez

There was good reason to be pessimistic — mountain lions are known to be in the area

But there was Sage, right by the stream. And then she lifted her head.

"It really was a miracle," Estrada told TODAY.

Sage with Estrada's pit bull, KoelschCourtesy of Vincent Lopez

Estrada ran to Sage and kissed her. He knew the dog well; her owners lived nearby and Sage often played with his two dogs.

Sage looked exhausted and weak from being alone in the woods for a week, Estrada said. So he hoisted her onto his shoulders and carried her up the hill.

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His wife contacted Sage's owners, who whisked their dog right to the vet. Miraculously again, Sage seemed to be alright.

The community rallied to celebrate Sage's return. One neighbor cooked her a steak. A welcome home party and fundraiser for the Santa Cruz County animal shelter is scheduled to take place soon at a local bar.

Dan Estrada's rescue pit bull Koelsch (above) was with him when he spotted Sage in the woods. Courtesy of Dan Estrada

Meanwhile, Sage is back to hanging out with her best buds — Estrada's two rescue dogs, Koelsch the pit bull and a dachshund named Barnabus.

Estrada and Lopez even said no when Sage's family offered them a $1,000 reward. They suggested the money be donated to an animal charity instead.

"I'm happy we found the dog," said Lopez.

The news of this rescue has traveled far and wide. Estrada has been receiving phone calls and messages from people all over the world who are moved by his story.

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Estrada's kids, however, are a little baffled, he said. The 42-year-old dad has been involved with the fire department for about two decades — he's currently a firefighter and paramedic with the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department — and has rescued a lot of people during that time.

About six years ago, he saved a dog who was trapped in a closet in a smoke-filled house.

Dan Estrada and Sage are reunited after the rescue.Courtesy of Dan Estrada

"He was conscious and terrified and couldn't find his way out," said Estrada.

If he and his family are slightly confused by the attention, Estrada is also pleased that Sage's rescue provides comfort and joy. He'd like it to inspire more good acts, not just newsworthy ones.

"It's too easy to be caught up in daily life," he said. "Too easy to miss the opportunity to be a blessing in your community."

Sage (with a neighbor who takes her for walks) not long after her rescue.Courtesy of Dan Estrada

Along those lines: This past weekend, Estrada and Lopez got together again for a friend's bachelor party. While they were out, they encountered two guys stranded by a flat tire they couldn't fix.

Of course, they stopped to help.