It's tough to beat a story about a missing dog being reunited with its owner. The details of this particular reunion, however, are extraordinary. The tale of Russ began in August when the pit bull-terrier mix got separated from his owner, a traveling nurse, in the South Lake Tahoe area of California, reports CBS13. Russ seemed lost for good when the Caldor Fire swept through the area, forcing the nurse to leave town. In mid-December, however, a backcountry skier spotted a dog that seemed to be in rough shape in deep snow and posted images that caught the attention of the Tahoe PAWS and TLC 4 Furry Friends rescue group, per the San Francisco Chronicle.
Tracker Leona Allen and volunteer Elsa Gaule searched the mountainous area, where 5 feet of fresh snow was on the ground and the temperature was expected to fall to minus 2 degrees by evening. "I looked up in my headlamp and saw this dark blob in the snow under the tree well, and I thought, 'Oh my gosh, it's the dog and he's not alive anymore," Allen tells the Chronicle. "So I walked up, and all of a sudden he opened his eyes and lifted his head, and I screamed. It was just involuntary."
The pair covered Russ in a blanket, got him on a sled, and brought him down the mountain by moonlight (see images here). He recovered fully, and a microchip allowed the rescue group to reunite Russ with his "ecstatic" owner. "We knew time was [of] the essence, because the dog had been out in the snow all day," the group's executive director, Wendy Jones, tells the Washington Post. "And we knew how cold it was. So it was pretty intense, pretty emotional, a lot of adrenaline." As for how Russ survived four months in the wild: Dogs are "smarter than we give them credit for," says Jones. (Read more dogs stories.)