Dog returned to Woody Creek owners after spending 38 days in the elements |

Dog returned to Woody Creek owners after spending 38 days in the elements

Bill and Nancy MacKenzie now walk their dog, Angel, on a leash after the dog ran away and disappeared for 38 days. The couple had given up hope that she'd be found alive and could hardly believe it was their dog when they got a phone call saying she had been found.
Lauren Glendenning / The Aspen Times |

Bill and Nancy MacKenzie had given up hope that they’d ever see their black lab, Angel, again.

Nancy walked her three dogs up a remote trail in Woody Creek on Dec. 19 and decided to take a relatively unfamiliar route where the trail intersects a jeep road. The dogs were excited and ran ahead, but when Nancy called for them, only two dogs returned.

Nancy walked the other two dogs back to her car and grabbed her whistle. She called for Angel and blew her whistle incessantly, but Angel was gone.

Angel didn’t have a collar on because she had a neck problem, Nancy said. It was discouraging, but the MacKenzies remained hopeful they’d get her back.

The days passed, and two snowstorms came through the area with significant accumulations. When the MacKenzies returned to the trail where Angel had gone missing, they never saw any tracks in the new snow.

A cold front at the end of the year sent temperatures plummeting into single digits, often falling below zero. They weren’t confident Angel would survive such weather.

“I’m an elk hunter and I’ve hunted that country. It’s tough,” Bill MacKenzie said.

In mid-January, they decided to take down the fliers they had posted throughout Woody Creek. They also stopped running newspaper ads for Angel in Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Rifle.

But a week later, on Jan. 26, a foreman on a nearby residential construction project saw Angel walking down a trail inside Aspen Valley Ranch. She had walked over the mountain and down Red Canyon Trail on the back of the mountain, then onto a trail in Aspen Valley Ranch.

“We had posted signs everywhere, so he knew there was a missing dog,” Bill said. “He whistled to her and she came right over — she’s a very friendly dog. … The guy opened his truck door and she jumped in and went to sleep.”

The foreman, who Bill only knows as Scott, called the Sheriff’s Office and Angel eventually made her way to the Aspen Animal Shelter. The MacKenzies then got the call that Angel had been found.

“I said, ‘It can’t be her, it’s been too long,’” Nancy said.

But thanks to a microchip, the people at the shelter knew it was Angel. “She looked good, but she was really skinny,” Bill said. “She lost 15 percent of her body weight.”

That was just about the only difference in their beloved dog.

“She just came right over, leaned against Bill, like ‘OK, let’s go,’” Nancy said. “She wasn’t skittish or anything. She was just her sweet self.”

The MacKenzies figure Angel kept wandering around until she finally hit the right trail. They believe her survival instincts kicked in much like a coyote’s instincts in order to survive 38 days out in the cold. Bill said she likely remained far from potential predators, though, due to her location about 2,000 feet above the valley floor.

Bill wanted to know what Angel ate to survive, so he dissected one of her stools after she returned and found mostly sagebrush and grasses — but that only explains what she ate in the day or two before she was found. He saw evidence that she had found the carcass of a deer, too.

“She was just filling her stomach,” he said.

Of the MacKenzies’ three dogs, Angel is the one who always needed the most love and attention.

“She demands it,” Bill said. “That’s what I missed. Every morning, she flips my hand off the table to get her ears rubbed and she’ll lean against you. We thought she was gone.”

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