Touching tale of resilience as a senior dog defies the odds, surviving 17 days alone in the harsh winter wilderness

For 17 days Old Lady was alone in the wintry Minnesota wilderness.

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Azure Davis, the founder of Ruff Start Rescue, helped rescue the 10-year-old Saint Bernard from a puppy mill, along with around 400 other animals, in early January. At Ruff Start, Old Lady received the care and comfort she so desperately needed. Soon after, she was placed in a temporary home where she would find even more loving humans.

But, Minnesota winters are far less kind.

“The foster picked Old Lady up and brought her to her home,” Davis told The Dodo. “As soon as the foster got her out of the car on her leash, Old Lady got spooked from the crunching ice sound and took off dragging the foster with her partway down the icy driveway.”

Davis knew Old Lady wouldn’t last long in the freezing outdoors. Without a thick double coat of fur to keep her warm, the chances of the senior dog’s survival were slim. She called the team of search and rescue workers at The Retrievers to help find Old Lady, but even trained professionals had their work cut out for them.

Several search parties set off and returned without sight of Old Lady, and hope was wearing thin.

“She has been out enduring this freezing cold weather (and just recently shaved!).,” Davis posted to Facebook. “The foster has been out doing everything she can to help find her. This is one strong and quick dog, especially for her senior age.

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When temperatures began diving into the negative, the team knew it couldn’t keep up the search much longer.

“We only have several sightings in the 2.5 weeks,” Davis wrote. “We remained hopeful. We hadn’t had a sighting since [Jan. 17] and the frigid temps the past few days have had us all distraught and up at night thinking about her.”

And then, a breakthrough.

Old Lady’s leash had gotten stuck on a branch in the forest. Moored and unable to travel far, she was eventually met by a man walking through the woods with his two grandsons.

“Between the leash and branch, she got herself wound up in the trees and stuck,” Davis wrote. “Thank goodness! It’s the only way we would have gotten her.”

The man reached out to Ruff Start, and Davis and partner Julie Lessard headed straight for the woods. Old Lady was shivering and hungry, but still alive.

They cut her free from the tree and carried her to safety.

“As soon as we got her into my car and shut the door, I could breathe,” Davis said. “It was over. She was safe. It was such a sense of relief — we were laughing, crying, high-fiving. It was a miracle.”

“I think her willpower to live stems from living in a barn her entire 10 years of her life and having to be strong,” she continued.

Old Lady won’t be worrying another foster parent any time soon, either. Another one of the senior dog’s wishes came true soon after the rescue.

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“One of the women who helped search for Old Lady…actually fell in love with her while searching for her from her photo,” Davis said. “She has Saint Bernard experience, and she has a lot of shy/timid dog experience so it was a perfect match.”

When Old Lady was placed in her new forever home on Wednesday, Jan. 23, Davis made sure she was accompanied by plenty of leashes and collars.


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