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"Loyal dog" lost half her body weight after surviving 10 weeks next to owner who died in Colorado mountains, rescuer says

A tiny Jack Russell terrier that survived in the Colorado mountains for more than 10 weeks after her owner died of hypothermia lost half her body weight, a rescuer said.

Richard Moore of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and his 12-pound dog Finney had set out to climb Blackhead Peak east of the town on Aug. 19, but never returned home, the Archuleta County Sheriff's Office said.

A days-long search of the treacherous and steep western side of the mountain between where Moore's car was parked and the peak was unsuccessful, said Delinda VanneBrightyn with Taos Search and Rescue, whose search dog joined the effort. From the starting point, the hike to Blackhead Peak gains 2,150 feet in elevation.

When a hunter came upon the 71-year-old's body in the San Juan Mountains on Oct. 30, Finney was still there with him, despite being down to just 6 pounds, VanneBrightyn said Tuesday.

A recovery crew was flown in the next day. Finney was taken to a veterinarian for a checkup and treatment and is now with Moore's family, the sheriff's office said.

Finney's "magnificent story of survival" is a testament to her dedication and loyalty to Moore, said VanneBrightyn, who has trained dogs for two decades. "Jack Russells are pretty fierce, I have to say, they're tough little dogs."

The hunter found Moore's body about 1.5 miles east of the peak, further away from his car, VanneBrightyn said.

Moore, who was an experienced hiker, died of hypothermia, Archuleta County Coroner Brad Hunt said. Hypothermia can cause people to become disoriented and confused.

But tiny Finney somehow survived, likely by hunting small animals such as mice while also managing to avoid predators like mountain lions, coyotes and bears, VanneBrightyn said.

"If that dog could talk it would be an amazing story," she said. "We probably could not even believe the story the dog would tell."

"We are very glad ... that Finney was returned to the family because they have lost their loved one, but they still have this wonderful, loyal dog," VanneBrightyn said.

Blackhead Peak, which has an elevation of 12,500 feet, is located in the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado.

The San Juan Mountains are seen in September 2023 in Rio Grande National Forest, Colorado.
The San Juan Mountains are seen in September 2023 in Rio Grande National Forest, Colorado.  BRANDON BELL / Getty Images

Finney's story of survival  marks at least the third time a dog has been found alive next to a hiker's body since last year. In May 2022, a Labrador was found lying next to the body of a 74-year-old Arizona man who had died during a hike.

The month before that, a missing 29-year-old hiker was found dead in Los Angeles' Griffith Park with his dog by his side. Family members said it appeared the dog hadn't left his side for two weeks.

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