The annual father-daughter hiking trip that Tia Vargas and her father, Ted Kasper, took this year was especially difficult. Part of the challenge was the11,000-foot peak they had decided to tackle in the Grand Tetons, but probably the bigger difficulty was the 55-pound English springer spaniel that Tia carried over her shoulders on the way down.
The dog hadn’t been part of the plan. Tia’s 76-year-old father had stopped to rest while she went on ahead to reach the summit, and on her way back she came across the injured pup. He was limping along next to some hikers who were wondering who the dog’s owner was. Tia saw the dog’s collar had a tag that said “Boomer,” and he wasn’t in good shape.
“His eyes were super puffy and bloodshot. His body was swollen, even his bum was very, very swollen,” she said. “And you could tell he was very dehydrated. He had cuts and scratches on his belly and on his head. He was in bad condition.” Tia thought that if Boomer didn’t get off the mountain, he would die. But the other hikers were going on ahead to summit the mountain. There was no one to help Boomer but Tia. She told PEOPLE that it was then she decided, “OK, Boomer, I’ll help you.”
It was soon clear that Boomer wouldn’t be able to make it down the mountain on his own—Tia would need to carry him. She had to crawl under Boomer to be able to hoist him up on her shoulders. “I felt the difficulty of it right away. I never felt 55 pounds like that before,” she said.
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Step by step she headed down the mountain. When she met up with her dad, he took photos and made jokes, “Isn’t this hike hard enough? You have to carry a dog too?”
The six miles were tough, and each time Tia put Boomer down to rest it was painful, and it was difficult to pick him back up again. She hoped that they would meet people on the trail to help, but no such luck. Tia and her dad lost the trail a couple of times because of snow and fallen trees. Tia’s dad offered to go ahead and try to find help, but Tia didn’t want to be left alone.
“The thought of stopping crossed my mind once,” she said. “My legs hurt and were shaking. When I wanted to quit is when I prayed. Prayer gave me the strength. That and my dad’s jokes.”
When the three of them finally made it to the bottom on the trail, Tia found a note that had been left by the family that had lost Boomer with their contact information.
When Tia called them, they were overjoyed. They told Tia that Boomer had fallen down a 100-foot cliff and rolled 200 feet. They had rushed after him and searched until dark, but he was gone. They thought that he had crawled off to die alone. Tia said the family’s first question was if Boomer was still alive, and she heard their little boy crying in the background when he heard that his dog was OK.
While the family was relieved to hear that Boomer was alive, they were moving to Arizona and couldn’t take Boomer with them. They had arranged for another family to adopt the dog, but after hearing Tia’s story, they knew that Tia was the right choice.
Tia’s daughters had been asking for a dog, but she’d told them no. “They begged me for a dog and I was worried because it’s a lot of time and work. I told them no for so long. And I told them if we get a dog it would have to be dropped in my lap and already trained. And he is both of those and so much more. He feels like one of my kids now,” she said.
Of course Boomer had to make a trip to the vet after being carried down the mountain. He had a dislocated joint with torn ligaments in his leg. He may need surgery, but his new family and the vet are hopeful the joint will heal on its own.
We hope Boomer’s luck holds and he doesn’t end up needing surgery. But if he does, Tia and her three kids will surely carry him through that too. Rest well, Boomer!
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.
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