It had been a month since Niko, David Alt’s shiba inu, was struck by a car and ran off into the wilderness of Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Since Niko went missing, Alt, of Vancouver, had gone above and beyond to find his beloved dog with little return on leads or a possible reunion. Still, he said he hadn’t given up hope, and this weekend, his faith was rewarded.
“I didn’t think he was gone for good … I knew he was out there somewhere, if not in a farmer’s backyard,” Alt said.
On Sunday, two park visitors had just unloaded their motorcycles when they spotted Niko about 100 yards from the trail where he’d originally disappeared. Niko was “skin and bones,” but he’d survived, Alt recounted in a lengthy Facebook post.
The whole ordeal began on the night of July 26. Alt had set up camp at the Elk Pass trailhead, along Forest Road 25 on the east side of Mount St. Helens. He was relaxing with others before a planned motorcycle ride the next day. That’s when Niko went into the road and was hit by a car, he said.
Alt heard the impact but didn’t see it. He ran down the road and saw Niko bolting full sprint west into the forest along Boundary Trail No. 1. A woman had jumped out of her car and was crying, saying she didn’t know how the dog could have survived. Alt continued into the woods and didn’t see the woman again, he said.
Alt searched for hours. He said he woke up in the middle of the night to search some more.
“There were no signs of blood, so I held out hope for no concussion or internal injuries, though there was no way to know if he was 500 yards away hiding under a log, 5 miles down the trail, or had veered off one of the many gravel forest roads nearby,” Alt wrote in his account.
For the next two days, Alt and friends searched all nearby bushes, adjacent roads and miles of trail, stopping every 100 yards to examine the terrain, he said. Alt returned home to Vancouver, feeling defeated. He said he was an emotional wreck and could only focus on heading back out into the forest and continuing his efforts.
Setting up ‘base camp’
On the advice of a growing pool of concerned dog lovers, Alt set up a “base camp” on July 30 for Niko — a tarp tent containing Niko’s dog bed, water, the family’s clothing for scent and signage, so people would know why it was there.
“I had heard many stories about dogs eventually returning to the last point of contact to look for their owners, and I wanted all odds in my favor,” Alt wrote.
Alt spent the next week camping at the spot, hiking and searching in the morning and returning to Vancouver for work during the day. On the weekend, he camped from Friday night through Monday morning, he said.
The next weekend, Alt enlisted the help of family and friends who cast about the forest in cars and on foot, bicycles and motorcycles in the continued search for Niko. The search area encompassed numerous miles and landmarks in the park, including both sides of waterways. They handed out flyers with photos and contact information to campers and road workers, all of whom seemed genuinely concerned and willing to help, according to Alt.
Those people, and specifically the community Alt found on Facebook, proved to be his savior. Family, friends and complete strangers shared the lost dog post for Niko all over the internet.
“Though I was feeling defeated, random acts of kindness abounded,” Alt wrote.
People in Morton, Randle, Yakima, Trout Lake, Carson, Stevenson and other communities all reached out.
A few weeks had gone by when Alt conducted another search of the surrounding area and trail system where Niko went missing, “smelling as best as I could,” he wrote. He thought he may pick up a scent of decay if Niko had died, but he didn’t come upon any such smell. Back at home, it became routine to check a long list of websites, Facebook pages and Craigslist ads for a sliver of hope.
On Sunday, Alt and his son were repairing a fence, trying to keep their mind off Niko. The two motorcyclists who found Niko called and delivered the good news, and then they delivered the dog.
Overall, Niko is doing well. Alt said Niko lost 30 percent of his body weight in the 31 days spent wandering the wilderness. A veterinarian told Alt that as long as Niko is eating, drinking and having normal urinations and bowel movements, he should be fine. The only word of caution was that Niko may not gain all of his muscles back due to age.
“Even so, this doesn’t stop Niko from jumping into the car and onto my bed at night!” Alt said.