The Canadian Press
A text message the morning of June 16 brought joy, relief, and release to Janna Cornish, her husband Taylor Faris, son Liam, their family, friends and numerous supporters.
Zoe, their mini Australian shepherd and a Great Pyrenees mix, was on her way home.
It had been nine days since the three on their way to B.C. to visit family, were in a rollover near Yellowhead Lake, just west of the border B.C. border.
Ending up at the bottom of a 12-foot bank, Janna helped Liam and Taylor out of the vehicle to safety.
“It’s a miracle that we all got out alive – no broken bones, not one stitch,” Janna said.
The family was accounted for, but Zoe was gone.
Taylor ran up the bank calling for the lost dog and in ten minutes’ time several people had stopped to assist the family.
“One of them said they saw Zoe headed west along the highway; she was about a kilometre away,” Janna said.
The family waited for Jasper EMS in a vehicle offered by someone who stopped to help. As they waited, passers-by stopped to help search for Zoe but to no avail.
Soon after, the family was transported to the Jasper Healthcare Centre to be checked. Janna and three-year-old Liam were cleared for release at the hospital.
“The nurses were so great there,” Janna said.
“Liam, he was back to himself. He just wanted to run around and play.”
Taylor, however, needed to be examined further and was airlifted to the University of Alberta Hospital. Janna’s father-in-law, Kelly Faris, had arrived in Jasper before they were released.
“It took three, four hours for Taylor to get to the U of A to be checked,” Janna said. “I couldn’t leave without trying to find Zoe.”
Zoe, who will be three years old in December, had been part of the family since she was seven weeks old.
“We looked and looked and looked, and I yelled for her. I assumed she was hiding somewhere,” Janna said.
Dealing with the trauma from the rollover and then not knowing where Zoe could be, was overwhelming.
“When you lose your dog in the middle of nowhere, you feel helpless,” Janna said. “You know the country, you know the predators.”
Janna’s brother, Brian Cornish, left for Jasper when he heard what happened and arrived at the site to search for Zoe as they were leaving for Spruce Grove. It was late in the evening by that time.
On the way home, Janna put a post on Facebook that Zoe was missing – and word spread quickly, with some Jasperites taking the initiative to go and search for the missing pup.
“I guess they were sharing and people were tagging me,” said Janna. “I was aware people were looking for her.”
Janna contacted K9 Recovery Service in Calgary to help find Zoe. A team member, who asked not to be named, arrived in Jasper on June 9 and positioned herself at the site of the rollover.
Janna said, “She gave me a lot of education about the proper way to search for dogs. You’re not supposed to approach them because they’re in flight mode – by calling them you could possibly scare them farther away.
“We also set up all kinds of scent markers, such as articles of our clothing, her kennel, around the accident site, in the hopes Zoe would smell them and stay there.”
The K9 Recovery Service member stayed onsite most of the time Zoe was missing, aside from getting gas and driving to cell service zones to make calls to Janna and her family to update them. She put up posters about Zoe being missing from the B.C. border west to Moose Lake.
Brian, Janna and Taylor, returned on June 11 to continue searching for Zoe and stayed at Tekarra Lodge for the next three days.
During their search, a couple of fellows stopped at the site.
“They told us that they had seen Zoe on the Jasper side of the gate – seven, eight kilometres from the site,” Janna said. “They saw Zoe being chased by a younger black bear – they said she was running so fast.”
The men stopped and so did the bear – it sat and stared at them in their vehicle.
The distraction gave Zoe a chance to escape and she darted back into the woods. It was the first sighting of her, around 10 a.m.
Janna figured it wasn’t just that bear Zoe had to outrun out there.
The three returned to their homes the evening of June 14 and the next day, Janna and Taylor got a call from a fellow who had seen Zoe close to the site of the rollover.
The man said he was driving past the crash site and saw Zoe sitting on a trail here. He pulled over, called her and tried to approach her and she ran a couple hundred yards down from where she was sitting. Then she stopped, looked at the man and started barking and whining.
“He called as soon as he reached cell service and let me know,” said Janna.
“I was just so happy. Your heart goes into your throat – she’s still alive and can still run.”
Even with the sightings though, how was Zoe surviving in the wilderness?
“Your worst fears happen at night. You don’t know what you’re going to wake up to,” Janna said.
On the evening of June 15, the K9 Rescue Service team member contacted Janna and Taylor to say she had seen a grizzly bear a couple of kilometres from the site.
“My heart went in my throat,” Janna said.
It was a difficult evening for them and a text the next morning from the K9 staff member elicited mixed feelings.
“She heard Zoe barking for about 20, 25 minutes that evening,” Janna recalled. “Also, that morning, the grizzly who was a couple of kilometres east was now only half a kilometre east.
“I didn’t think Zoe would be in the area after that.”
But the next morning, Janna received another message.
The K9 team member watching the accident site had seen an animal that looked like Zoe on a hill where scent markers – Taylor’s pants – had been placed.
The woman went over the hill with some food… and there was Zoe.
“She startled Zoe,” said Janna, “her hackles went up and Zoe ran at her… until she realized she was there to help.
“(Then) Zoe went into her typical ‘happy-to-see-you’ mode.”
It was the news Janna and Taylor had been waiting for and wondering if they’d ever get.
Not only had Zoe been secured but she was being brought home, after a stop at the vet clinic to pick up some food and to have Zoe checked for injuries.
At the same time Zoe was happy to be in safety, she had also been surviving against the odds in the wilderness for nine days.
“Zoe was full of anxiety, she was obviously traumatized,” said Janna.
There were a few stops on the ride home just to help her calm down, but Zoe arrived in Spruce Grove around five o’clock with her rescuer.
Janna and Taylor were advised to stay in the house because Zoe was a flight risk because at that point, there was no telling how Zoe would react when she saw her family.
Would she associate them with the trauma of the rollover?
If she did, Zoe hid it well.
“She ran right up to us. I was just shocked and so happy she was home,” Janna said.
She and Taylor watched Liam give Zoe a hug and a kiss.
And Zoe got some feline attention too: the family has two cats, and put them in the basement in anticipation of Zoe’s arrival. One got out of the basement and walked right past Zoe. All was good.
Home less than 24 hours on the 17th, Janna said, Zoe “has just been herself other than being really sleepy. I’m sure it’ll take time to decompress”.
On the 22nd, Zoe was in good spirits – although Janna noted they still hadn’t attempted to put Zoe in a vehicle. That’ll come when they take her to a vet to be checked.
Janna said she, Taylor and Brian “couldn’t have done it without the help of people in Jasper, the Canine Recovery Service, everyone from Hinton to Valemount, CN Rail, the RCMP, the vet clinic – everyone.”
By Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Jasper Fitzhugh
Like and follow us on Facebook
Follow us on TwitterFollow @AlbertaPress
Do you have a story idea?
Contact Sarah Murphy/Alberta Press Leader at firstname.lastname@example.org