ASPEN - Judy Dunn, of Aspen, couldn't quite believe the call she got Monday morning - and not because it was April Fools' Day.
Her dog, Sophie, had been missing for nine days, presumably on Independence Pass, where she had disappeared. The message on Dunn's phone Monday morning indicated the dog had been found. So did a subsequent text message.
"I thought, 'This is not an April Fools' joke - nobody could be that mean,'" Dunn said. "I just can't believe it."
Aspenite Andre Mpitsos was walking a half-dozen dogs on the pass Monday morning when he spied Sophie. He knew she was missing - her face has appeared in advertisements and on fliers posted at the pass and around Aspen. Virtually everyone who spends time walking on the closed road beyond the gate, southeast of town, had heard about Sophie's disappearance, he said.
"About 200 or 300 yards past the gate, I see this little face peering from behind a tree. I said, 'You want a treat?' and she came barreling out," Mpitsos said.
Sophie, a 4-year-old Shar-Pei, suffered frostbite, particularly on her nose and paws, and dropped some weight but came away from her extended stay outdoors otherwise unscathed, according to Dunn, a ski ambassador for Aspen Skiing Co.
The dog disappeared March 23 while Dunn was walking her two dogs on the pass. They were heading down, about a half-mile from the gate, when Sophie disappeared around a bend late in the afternoon and wasn't seen again.
"I was up there until midnight looking for her," said Dunn, who returned at 7:30 the next morning to resume the search. Temperatures that night dipped to zero in town, she said.
Others helped search and yell for Sophie in the days that followed, and Dunn even arranged for a helicopter ride to search from the air. She checked with all the homeowners near the pass gate, but there was no sign of Sophie.
"There were no paw prints that went anywhere - nothing," she said.
Once in Mpitsos' possession, Sophie chowed down two bowls of food and drank a bowl of water, he reported.
"I was there at the right time, I guess. It was exciting," he said.