After 10 days in the woods, Aspen dog found healthy and happy
They enlisted the help of two pet psychics and a drone, reached out for help on Facebook and spent a week and a half combing the area for an adopted dog that was on the lam. But in the end, a missing-dog poster spotted by a kayaker led to Wednesday’s finding of an Alaskan husky breed that had been missing for 10 days.
Cleo is her name. She’s roughly 13 years old and walks with a limp, having spent the better part of her life as a sled dog at Krabloonik in Snowmass Village.
The Aspen Animal Shelter claimed her from Krabloonik about 41/2 years ago, when the kennel/restaurant’s then-owner was under public fire for his treatment of sled dogs, leading to a misdemeanor animal-cruelty conviction.
“Over time she developed arthritis in her left leg and now she walks with a limp,” shelter director Seth Sachson said. “She has a strong following of people who love her and walk her, and she was always comfortable living with other sled dogs (at the shelter). When you combine that with the fact she’s an Alaskan husky who grew up as a sled dog, as well as her age, she’s not the most social dog. She enjoys the company of people, but isn’t needy of them.”
But a little more than two weeks ago, Cleo’s days as an orphan ended when she was adopted.
“She was a really nice lady and had proven herself with other dogs she adopted,” Sachson said of Cleo’s new owner.
Liba Icahn, who lives between Aspen and Woody Creek, had Cleo for five days before the dog broke free on the night of May 22, a Sunday. A distraught Icahn called the shelter the next morning, Sachson said.
Sachson and other shelter employees set up a search base camp at Icahn’s home off McClain Flats Road. Sachson rode his horse along the Rio Grande Trail searching for Cleo, while shelter employees Chad Clark and Bryna Patterson sleuthed their way through the brushy area surrounding Ichan’s residence.
Days passed with no signs of Cleo.
Sachson took to Facebook seeking leads. Sarah Ogrin and her boyfriend, Jason Frydl, also joined the hunt.
“It was so heartbreaking to think what could have happened,” said Ogrin, who had grown fond of Cleo after years of taking her on daily walks. “People were saying she was probably caught up in the rapids and floated down the river, or was eaten by a pack of coyotes. She was from Krabloonik, and I felt she had been through enough. I was just heartbroken.”
Sachson also had a dim take on Cleo’s fate.
“We thought she was dead,” he said. “But we still had hope, so we kept going out every day.”
Sachson said he doesn’t subscribe to the school of pet psychics, but he figured there was no harm in trying. He contacted two, both of whose leads didn’t work.
He also hired a drone operator. Nothing.
Icahn, who couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday, paid for their services and also offered a reward of $1,500 for Cleo’s recovery. Ogrin and Frydl also added $500 each to the pot.
Signs were posted along the Rio Grande Trail and at Stein Park, a popular drop-in area on the Roaring Fork River off Cemetery Lane, for kayakers and rafters.
Kayaker Denise Handrich took note. While she and two friends headed east down the river, they spotted a gimpy Alaskan husky on the riverside.
Handrich paddled over to the dog. She knew it was Cleo.
“We had a nice little chat and I gave her part of my peanut-butter Power Bar,” she said.
The kayakers thought about bringing Cleo along with them, but space was tight and major rapids awaited. The risk was too dangerous, they determined.
They didn’t have cellphones with them, either, so Handrich said she “hustled on down” to Jaffe Park, where they had left their devices in their vehicles. She called the shelter to report the news.
Handrich couldn’t have given a better marker for Cleo’s whereabouts, Sachson said.
Cleo actually wasn’t far from the shelter, he said. Sachson, along with a pet dog, went to a residence close to Cleo’s location, where a friendly man led him down a trail to the river.
Soon enough, he found Cleo.
“I pretty much ran up to her and said ‘hi’ to her,” he said.
She was healthy, intact and slightly underweight, all of her parts working, Sachson said.
They weren’t completely finished, though, having to head back up the steep incline.
“I definitely had to pull her up there,” Sachson said. “But she was such a trooper.”
Clark also came out to help.
“Even though I physically brought her back, it was the kayaker who brought it to our attention,” Sachson said.
The status of the reward money hadn’t been figured out as of Wednesday. Handrich said Icahn called her up to have a meal together, but the reward wasn’t her motivation.
“I have three dogs,” Handrich said. “I know what it’s like.”
The ordeal was stressful, Sachson said. “An insane amount of hours” was spent every day searching for Cleo, even though it was widely feared she was dead.
“I was ecstatic,” Ogrin said. “It was such a relief. When we were sitting watching TV, we thought we should be looking for her.”
Cleo has returned to the animal shelter, Sachson said. She enjoys the company of another Krabloonik canine, and at this stage of her life, the shelter is the best place for her to wind down, he said.
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Multiple efforts have popped up to keep the region’s Latino population informed about the coronavirus crisis and economic aid available for unemployed workers. A special Facebook public group called Coronavirus Aspen 2 Parachute Community Help provides answers to frequently asked questions and directs people to aid.