David Kareken and his family didn't have much of a reason to be wary of water — even when huge rapids were involved. After all, he and his wife met as raft guides and kayak instructors in North Carolina, and they take their son, Zachary, on regular back-country camping trips.
But on their most recent trip, as they watched their 7-year-old dog get swallowed up by the extreme rapids at Rebecca Falls in the Boundary Waters area of Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park, they were sure they'd never look at that juncture the same way again.
Though they're experienced rafters, the family of three was simply walking around the water and observing the falls from afar when their precious pup, a golden-retriever-border-collie mix named Kali, tried to jump across the way to another rock landing.
What Kali seemed not to have compensated for, though, was the fact that she was wearing a leash ... and wouldn't be able to end up anywhere near her intended destination.
"My son was holding the leash, and as she went to make her jump, it pulled out of his hands and her back feet didn’t make it," Kereken continued. "I was close by, but I didn’t see her actually fall. As soon as I saw his face, though, I knew immediately what happened. He was horrified."
Kareken tried to climb in after Kali, but realized immediately that the rapids were too powerful. He watched her swim into the rapid right above a hydraulic whirlpool. "My awareness of that kind of power in the water ... I mean, it was bigger and more powerful than anything I'd take even my boat into, and you just had to figure she'd drowned."
At that point, filled with grief, though they were days away from any sight of civilization, the family made the difficult decision to leave the woods and be around people who could console them.
"She's our den mother, you know? We'd wake up in the middle of the night and she'd be there, we'd wake up in the morning and she'd lick our faces. I'm tearing up just thinking about her."
A few weeks later, after dropping Zachary off at camp, the Karekens arrived home ... to some amazing news.
"Joy came into the room that I was working in and said, 'They found the dog," Kereken laughed. "The disbelief. Wow. [The rangers] described her as a collie golden retriever mix."
After 15 minutes of frantic text messages, with family pictures of the dog and photos from the rangers flying back and forth, they were sure it was her. "That 15 minutes was about as traumatic as the incident," Kereken commented. The park told the family that a dog matching Kali’s description had been found and flown out of the woods in a float plane. She was alive and healthy, though she'd had to survive for 10 days alone.
Within two hours, he was back in the car, driving about 20 hours north to meet up with the dog, who can be seen leaping with joy into her owner's arms in the video that's been making rounds on the internet.
"When I finally drove all the way home, it was raining, and Joy was standing in the driveway. And as I pulled in, she dropped her umbrella and jumped in the car and Kali was just licking her, like, oh my goodness the rest of my pack."
As for Zachary, Kareken's high-school-age son, he would learn at camp that she was alive.
"When he flew home, they had a reunion there in the Charlotte airport," said Kereken. "Kali's demeanor was happy to begin with, but oh, it changed into pure, absolute joy when her whole pack was back together."