Finding Einstein: Our 14 Year Old Dog Went Missing for 16 Days
While I more or less try to post content that is less about me and my life and more about helping others, I can’t help but share this story.
Einstein, our almost 14 year old shepherd/cattle dog mix walked out of our front door when it blew open around 9-10pm on 1/16. Within an hour or less we were driving around looking, but it was raining and I'm sure is part of the reason he got disoriented and didn't come back. We were out there until 2am the first night and then back out there at 6am the next day. On and off we searched throughout the day until 2am again on night two. By then I wasn't even sure what to do anymore.
For the next two weeks we put up over 100 signs, posted in facebook groups, the Ring app, the Nextdoor app, used paid facebook ads, put signs on our cars, checked the shelter websites daily and went to the shelters to check in person along with check the deceased pet list almost daily (one of the worst parts of our day, I would just hold my breath as I scanned that list).
We even hired a search and rescue dog to help us track his scent which led us to different neighborhoods he had visited, but eventually lost his scent so we thought that maybe he had been picked up and transported.
Over this time we had a few false leads. One led me on a 2 hour drive to Downey to check on a dog that we were pretty sure wasn't him, but looked so similar I needed to see with my own eyes. Another lead took us across town 20 minutes to someone walking a similar dog.
Not one actual sighting of our dog in two weeks. Our big(ish) white and black 60lb dog. He's hard to miss so how his this possible?
I had honestly lost all hope, but I couldn't stop looking and honestly staying busy helped me get through each day. Was he suffering out there starving to death? Injured? Had he been hurt or killed by coyotes? Did someone pick him up and decide to keep him? Did someone bad pick him up? All day these thoughts ran through my head. It was torture, but I'm sure nothing compared to how Einstein was feeling.
So we kept the signs up, kept checking the shelters and posting online. Just in case. And maybe a little bit because I couldn't handle accepting he might be gone and that I'd never know what happened.
Then the day after the 2 week mark (day 15 of him being gone) we got a call at 8:30 in the morning. The guy said he was walking out by the aqueduct near our house the day before and thought he saw a coyote. But then he saw our sign and realized it was probably our dog. He said he would send pictures soon.
I had honestly had so many calls that weren't him or were just people asking questions that I of course wanted it to be him, but I wasn't getting my hopes up. But it was a lead. We didn't have pictures yet, but Blaine and I immediately got up, got the kids dressed, picked up my sister and went out there.
On my way to my sisters house I got a text. I pulled over to look at it and there it was. Einstein. I hadn't seen him in two weeks. And it was really him. I can't even explain the feeling knowing that he was actually alive.
Then it was panic. He didn't look good and now I knew that he wasn't curled up warm in someone else's house. He had been out there in the rain and below freezing temps for two weeks.
So we rushed over and the guy who saw him met us there. He showed us the area along the path that he had seen Einstein. It was about half a mile down the path and ultimately less than two miles from our house. He had been so close this whole time (we assume).
That day it rained. Thunder and lightening. I took the kids to my sisters so they didn't have to get soaked and so we could search. We walked the trails. We left scent articles, food and water where he was seen. We were soaked and the worry wart in me kept reminding Blaine about the flash flood warnings I was getting on my phone.
Later that day we had an amazing couple, Susan and Mike, come out with a drone to help us search the area once the rain died down. They were out there with us for probably 2 hours until it got dark and cold.
Blaine was there until 7pm that night, about an hour after the sun went down. We didn't see him or any trace of him.
The next morning, February 1st, Blaine was up before the sun and back out at that spot where he was seen about 48 hours before by 6am. He walked the trail quietly and just did surveillance hoping to see him moving in the distance somewhere.
A long time friend from elementary school, Danielle, sent a game cam and a large trap with my mother in law who was on her way to watch the kids while we did more searching. Today was the last day of decent weather before it was going to rain for 4 days in a row. I was not hopeful, but we still couldn't give up.
After my MIL arrived to watch the kids I joined Blaine who was already with Mike, who had helped us the day before with his drone. It was too foggy to fly, but he brought a game cam as well for us to set up facing the food station. I walked the path, they walked around and we saw nothing.
Around 11:40am I got a call from Mike who was down the path walking to his car saying that he heard howling. Blaine and I quickly ran over. It sounded like it was coming from the mountains in the distance. We stood there and looked, me through binoculars, while Blaine searched on foot. After maybe 10 minutes the howling stopped. Blaine and Mike did some searching anyway.
At this point a coyote ran out of the brush and into the mountains. Was it a coyote that was howling? I'd like to think I know the difference, but at this point I knew I was desperate and could totally be reaching. But Blaine and Mike agreed that it didn't sound like a coyote.
So we left some chicken in the area we heard the howling and I sat there. Mike took off and said he'd be back if he could get his drone back in the sky for us later. Blaine went back to our food station. I sat in front of that area far enough from the chicken that he wouldn't be threatened by someone standing there, but close enough so I could see him.
Eventually Blaine went back to the parking lot to meet my sister and mom who were bringing us some lunch. They were going to carry the trap back so we could set it up because Lorena, a local dog search and rescue pro, was going to help us get it set up.
Around 1:15pm the howling started again. But I was alone. And nowhere near as athletic or adventurous as Blaine and Mike so I waited for Blaine to get back. Almost 10 minutes pass and I still hear the howling. I couldn't wait anymore. Slid my butt down the ravine next to the path, somehow managed to hop a barbed wire fence and took off running into the mountains.
Everything looks so much smaller until you get up close. Once I got to the entrance to the valley where the howling was coming from I realized how big of an area it was to search. My first thought was to follow this ravine that looked almost like a dried up riverbed. I ran and then realized the howling was coming from higher up. I ran to the end and was blocked. Climbed up some rocks taller than me and froze. Ahead of me was what my nightmares are made of. A path going under a canopy of trees, damp and covered with leaves and a ladder at the end. It was exactly the scene in a scary movie where you mentally tell the person about to enter that they're a moron and it's their own fault they're about to get murdered.
But he was howling. So I took a photo, I texted it to Blaine in case I disappeared (yes really) and I went. Ducked under the dead branches, up the wooden ladder. More creepy trees reaching overhead making a canopy, more damp ground, more ducking and crawling to get through and at the end I found myself facing the side of a rock wall. No way up. So back I went. I can't tell you how fast I scrambled away from there.
As soon as I was out I crossed the ravine and started making my way up the mountain. It was steep. Steeper than even I expected standing at the base of it. I climbed for a bit, looked down (bad idea for someone afraid of heights) and could not believe that he would have made it up here. I thought to myself that I had to be chasing a coyote. It was impossible that my almost 14 year old dog with bad back legs would climb this mountain.
But the howling kept going. And it sounded so much like him. So I recorded it and sent to to my friend Danielle for confirmation that it was a dog and not a coyote. She said it sounded like a dog and not to underestimate him getting up a hill where he might be more comfortable. "I would keep getting closer" So up I went.
At this time I had called Blaine who had come back from the car and was already on the way up the mountain behind me. I yelled at him to try and find a way around because it was impossible for him to climb this.
I was on my hands and knees climbing. That's how steep it was. Crawling. Jumping from tree to tree so that you had something behind you to catch your fall in cased you slipped. Rocks and dirt and dead tree branches avalanching behind you every few steps. Thinking about it now puts me in a slight panic knowing what could have happened. Part way up I thought about going back down but I turned around, looked down and knew that wasn't happening so I might as well keep going up. Maybe that's how Einstein ended up so high too.
Eventually Blaine got closer to me. The howling was getting closer. But it was still so much higher. How would any animal get this high? Eventually I got stuck. I couldn't find a safe way to crawl up without the dirt beneath me giving way. So Blaine kept going and I clung to a tree.
Every time I heard rocks and dirt tumble down I screamed out asking Blaine if he was ok. I'm a worrier if you couldn't tell. My sister tells me that even though we were at least a quarter mile away from where the path was, they could hear me screaming because of the way the mountains were carrying sound.
And then a few minutes later I hear Blaine yell "I SEE HIM!" My heart dropped and all I could think to yell back was "REALLY?!" as if he would lie to me. But he saw him. I couldn't.
I would later find out that Einstein was stuck under the roots of a tree. Blaine said it looked like he was climbing, slipped down and got his back half wedged under some roots that were sticking up out of the ground. He would have died there if we didn't come for him.
Blaine broke through the dead roots and pulled Einstein out onto his lap. He sat there and comforted him for a second and then it was time to figure out how to get him down. Blaine made his way over to me by scooting with Einstein on his lap. I cleared some other branches to make way for him. But once again I got stuck and couldn't move for fear of falling.
So I told Blaine to just get him down safely and I'd figure it out. Blaine scooted all the way down that mountain with Einstein on his lap doing his best to maneuver around rocks and trees and safely make his way down. Meanwhile I called my sister to run over and grab Einstein because I was sure Blaine was going to have to come for me.
By this time Mike had come back and was on his way up the mountain too. I'll save you the details, but let's just say Mike and Blaine had to come back up and talk me out of my panic and Blaine had to sit in front of me to lead me down the mountain. This dog is lucky we love him because never in a million years would I expect that I would have done that. If you ask Blaine it wasn't that bad, but he also thinks he's invincible so you can't trust his judgement.
We all finally get back down and I finally get to say hi to Einstein. He looks tired and skinny, but doesn't seem to be injured. After getting back to the path we gave him a little chicken a little water said our goodbyes to everyone and rushed him to the vet to make sure he was ok.
Einstein was out on his own for 16 days and had lost around 20 lbs. The vet did bloodwork just to be safe and gave him a totally clean bill of health, other than one tick that he removed.
It's been four days since he's been home and he's definitely more quiet, more reserved, but once in a while you'll get a slight tail wag and just seeing him sleeping on a warm bed in our house is the most amazing thing after knowing what he had been through. I don't know how long he would have made it out there and I know for sure he wouldn't have survived if no one had found him stuck on that mountain.
We are so thankful to have him back. It would have been nice to just have found him trotting along instead of having to scale a mountain to get him back, but I'll take what I can get.
And we are also so thankful for everyone who helped. Everyone who shared the posts. Everyone who called with sightings even if they weren't him. Everyone who helped us think through the situation, came to help us look or let us borrow gear.
The day we found him was physically exhausting, but it was nothing compared to the mental exhaustion of the two weeks when we had no idea where he was.
Update: Sadly exactly two months after finding Einstein we had to put him to sleep after finding out he had cancer and he started declining quickly. We’re devastated, but also happy we got those extra two months with him and that he passed away with us by his side instead of alone in the mountains. We miss you, sweet boy.