Valkyrie a Wonder Dog
Many of you may know Valkyrie. She has been a wonderful part of our lives for so many years. I want to share her story with you as she reaches a landmark of survival for a large dog. Tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, is her 17th birthday. She is moving slower than her puppy days but still filled with life and is loved dearly.
April 2019 marked the 16th anniversary of Valkyrie surviving a plane crash in the mountains of Idaho and being found after disappearing in snowy mountain lion country for ten days. On an outing with friends in two other light planes, carburetor icing stopped the fuel flow in our composite home built Prospector resulting in engine failure near the summit of Lost Trail Pass on the Montana-Idaho border. With nowhere to go but down, Tom turned away from the mountain. As past search and rescue volunteers with the Alaska Civil Air Patrol, we knew survival was unlikely.
Within seconds, we struck tall pines at 100 mph ripping off both wings, spinning the plane like a violent crashing carnival ride from hell, impacting nearly inverted on a snowy slope. To our surprise, we were alive, but for how long. Tom was trapped in the wreckage with his upper body resting on the snow. I was awake, talking, moving everything, but a lower leg bone stabbed through my favorite jeans. Not good. As an ER doctor, I knew what to do, but that’s another story.
This is Valkyrie’s story.
Valkyrie, an experienced flying 1-year-old German Shepherd mix puppy survived impact uninjured and hopped out via the broken canopy. She appeared confused and sat a few feet away up on the mountainside looking down at the crashed plane. Val remained close as I used the pant leg as a sling to lift my dangling leg and slide out onto the snow through the broken plexiglass.
First thoughts were thankfulness we had survived but concern about rescue grew. We knew our friends would report us missing and mount a search. Tom tested our ELT; the electronic locator transmitter was working so it could help searchers find us. Using my cellphone that often didn’t work well even in the city, on one bar, after many tries dialing 9-1-1, a voice answered. I didn’t know if my rapid-fire description of our crash with two human survivors and a dog reached the operator before I lost contact and was unable to connect again. It was noon and hours to go before darkness. Valkyrie disappeared at times circling the crash site from a distance, between resting within view above us as if on guard.
To cheer me, Tom chose Valkyrie at a few weeks of age, from a litter of pups born to a German Shepherd mama left at the Humane Society. I was in mourning after the recent death of Valentine, our beloved German Shepherd. Valkyrie was our sixth dog and one that proved to be the biggest challenge to train. The super-alpha female ran like the wind, lept from couches to tall bookcases in a flash to check out interesting books or toys on high shelves.
Offering her a treat for good behavior or performing tricks interested her little. She tested our wits and patience. With help from professional trainer Kristen who suggested little stinky Vienna sausages as treats, Valkyrie improved. But, at the time of the crash, she was still excitable, not food driven and wouldn’t come when called. I worried about her getting lost.
Lying on the windy snowy mountainside trying to shield ourselves took a toll as we waited, hoping for rescue before dark or hypothermia set in. Six hours after the crash, we heard snow machine engines above us and soon, voices called out. Rescuers stomped down the slope in deep snow following our little dog. The skilled rescuers told us they’d tracked the impact radio transmitter with difficulty to find the crash site, but when they saw Valkyrie had hope they were closing in. (This photo was taken two months before the crash.)
Rescuers chain-sawed Tom out of the wreckage, stabilized him on a board and hoisted him up in a wire basket with the help of a motorized assist to snow machines on a trail. We both received stellar care and stabilization. Valkyrie was frightened and came to me shivering as I lay on a sled behind a snow machine. I tied the string from my jacket hood to her collar and told the rescuers I wouldn’t leave without her.
They said I wasn’t thinking straight due to hypothermia and would care for her. The noise of a nearby snow machine starting frightened her and she jerked from my grasp, disappearing in the forest. They assured me they’d find her. I had to leave and was soon airlifted by helicopter to St. Pat’s hospital in Missoula.
The next few days were a blur of decisions and activities. Tom in ICU, both of us with numerous surgeries under the care of a skilled trauma team, but heart broken. Valkyrie was missing.
Barb, a close friend and a friend of dog trainer Kristen mounted a search for Valkyrie, notified the newspaper and set out to search for her. The front page news article drew volunteer dog searchers from miles around, many of them carrying cans of Vienna sausages after hearing it was one of few foods that enticed Valkyrie. Barb arranged to have someone come to the hospital and do audio tapes of our voices calling. “Here, Val. Come. Let’s go for a ride. Here, Val. Here little girl.” You get the idea. They played the tape in their cars driving in the vicinity of the crash.
No dog. A few hopeful sightings. Days went by. After a week, Barb and Kristen had to return home and gave the tape to searchers from the local Humane Society, Vara McGarrell and friends took up the search. On the tenth day after Valkyrie’s disappearance, they spotted her about a mile from the crash site near a highway rest stop. Vara’s “bait dog” Chigger was playing with a tennis ball in the parking lot. Valkyrie’s love for balls and other dogs drew her from hiding. Thin and weak, she made her way to visit Chigger.
Vara rushed to her car and turned the tape on high volume, attracting Valkyrie to our voices. She came to the car but was too weak to get in. Vara picked her up, placed her inside and closed the door. Safe. Trapped and very skinny, Valkyrie crept to the front seat and looked under the dash, listening to our voices.
Happy crying rescuers popped open a can of Vienna sausages offering the starving dog some food. A trip to the veterinarian found no unexpected problems, but when Valkyrie’s close friend Barbara arrived, the dog went into such a wail of relief and excitement, the vet techs moved them into a private room until Barb could calm her down.
By that time, I was out of the hospital and on crutches, but Tom remained in ICU. Friends carried the weak dog to visit Tom for a joyful reunion. Vara has become a close friend and parties with us each year at our Crash Survival Celebration.
What do I attest Valkyrie’s long life to? Choosing the right dog and human parents, a strong will, a cheerful attitude, lots of exercise, good food but not too much, and many friends. Just like people, dogs thrive with social involvement and love.
Happy 17th Birthday to Valkyrie.
Thank you to the search and rescue team members from Salmon and Gibbonsville, ID, and to everyone from the Humane Society and surrounding area who helped look for Val, especially her friends Vara, Barb and Kristen.