At the end of one of the darkest, wettest winters in memory, a bright spot has lit up the San Lorenzo Valley community in the form of an old, blind dog who went missing in the mountains for seven days.
On Feb. 24, the Cole family went to bed for the night in their home outside Boulder Creek, each believing someone else had brought in Sage, their 12-year-old labrador retriever. Alas, left to her own devices, sightless Sage wandered into the forest on that cold night and disappeared.
“Our neighbors and other members of the community helped us search day and night for a week,” said Beth Cole. “We looked everywhere.”
Yet after seven days passed with no sign of Sage, the family began to fear the worst. In addition to cold nights, the Boulder Creek community has reported higher than normal mountain lion activity.
On the eighth day, neighbor Dan Estrada was taking longtime friend Victor Lopez on a hike around the land behind their house.
“At first I thought it was a garbage bag in the water,” said Estrada. “My vision is not very good so it wasn’t until I got closer that I saw it’s actually a white lab laying there lifeless in this stream — her chin just above water level.”
Estrada was convinced they had found Sage’s body and he would now have to bear the bad news to his neighbors. Then Sage lifted her head a little, perking up when she sensed Estrada’s two dogs Coelsch and Barnabas nearby.
“When we saw she was alive, I jumped in the stream and hugged her,” Estrada said. “Man, it was really emotional.”
Sage’s rescue couldn’t have been better timed, according to Estrada.
“It had been dry that week and the new rain was moving in,” said Estrada. “When we found her she didn’t have the energy to lift herself out. That streambed would have been flowing during a rainstorm.”
Estrada, a paramedic and EMT for the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department, put Sage over his shoulders and carried the exhausted dog out of the steep, densely forested canyon.
“My wife and kids were waiting for us at the top,” said Estrada. “Everyone was crying.”
Beth Cole said her family is deeply grateful to Estrada and Lopez, as well as the entire community.
“I can’t emphasize enough the amount of support we’ve received from everyone,” Cole said. “It’s been amazing. Since she’s returned home people have been bring by snacks for her; one neighbor cooked her a steak.”
As for Estrada, it was not his first rescue. He adopted his rednose pitbull, Coelsch, while working for the Oakland Fire Department.
“Someone dropped him off at the station and said they couldn’t take care of him anymore,” said Estrada. “When I brought him into my room in the firehouse, the other guys thought I was crazy.”
Barnabas, Estrada’s dachsund-terrier mix, was rescued from a Modesto trailer park as a puppy.
“I was in this crime-ridden part of Modesto sharing scripture as part of our street ministry. I knew he wouldn’t have a shot at a good life there so I brought him with me,” said Estrada. “He’s very intelligent, very feisty. He’s the alpha dog.”
As a result, when Sage’s family offered Estrada a reward, he declined it. Instead he’s decided to use the opportunity to help more dogs.
Estrada and Lopez, who also founded Wolfpak Leatherworks, created seven custom leather dog leashes — one for each day Sage was lost. Raffle tickets to win the leashes will be available at a March 18 celebration of Sage at Joe’s Bar in Boulder Creek. All proceeds will be donated to the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter.
CELEBRATION FOR SAGE
WHAT: Celebration for the blind Golden Retriever who has inspired the San Lorenzo Valley community and fundraiser for the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter.
WHEN: 4-6 p.m. March 18.
WHERE: Joe’s Bar, 13118, Highway 9, Boulder Creek.