When it comes to nightmare scenarios for dog owners, being separated for months without knowing if you’ll ever see them again is up on the top of the list. Unfortunately, that nightmare came true for Ricardo Rodriguez and his dog, Russ.
In the summer of 2021, Rodriguez went on a camping trip near Lake Tahoe and brought Russ along. All was going well until the moment Russ got spooked by his surroundings and bolted, running away into the wilderness around them. Russ never returned to the spot where Rodriguez was camping, and attempts to find the dog were unsuccessful.
In the months following Rodriguez’ trip, the area around Lake Tahoe faced multiple disasters.
At the end of August, the Caldor Fire spread ferociously throughout Northern California, prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency for the area. The fire burned more than 114,000 acres and destroyed over 500 buildings as fire crews tried to stop the flames from spreading to the Lake Tahoe basin. High winds in the region complicated the situation, eventually forcing around 22,000 South Tahoe residents to evacuate their homes.
Months later, at the end of December, the West Coast was hit with an unlikely snowstorm, which dropped almost two feet of snow in parts of the Lake Tahoe region.
Because of those alarming conditions, Rodriguez was sure that he would never be reunited with Russ.
All hope was not lost, though. Wendy Jones, who operates animal organizations TLC 4 Furry Friends & Tahoe PAWS, said that she was alerted to a dog in need of rescue after the snowstorm.
Jones sent two volunteers, Elsa and Leona, out in the freezing temperatures on snowshoes to look for Russ in the thigh-high snow. The two volunteers spotted Russ in the distance, curled up motionless into a ball until he lifted his head.
Leona described the moment they found Russ as an “absolute joy.”
“I think both of us went up the hill thinking this was going to be a recovery, not a rescue,” she explained. “He had been up there, most of the day, and it was very cold and snowing all day.”
After careful coaxing, Russ came to the pair.
“We were going to get him, no matter what, whether it took us ... all night,” Elsa said.
After the rescue, there was only one task left at hand: finding his owner. Luckily, Russ had a microchip, so animal service officers were able to connect Russ to Rodriguez, who was back in Southern California, hundreds of miles away from Lake Tahoe.
Rodreguiz said he couldn't believe his ears when he got the call.
"I thought it was a work call and I answered it ... like 'How can I help you?' And they were like, 'We found your dog in the middle of the snow,'" Rodreguiz recalled. "I'm like, 'In the snow? What? Where?'"
Rodreguiz said he remained in a state of disbelief until he saw Russ for himself.
“If I tried to put myself in that position I don’t think I would’ve done it,” Rodriguez said of his four-legged companion. “This guy is something else right here. He’s been through it all.”