It had been eight long days since Sage the Labrador went missing, and her close-knit community were losing hope. So when Dan Estrada found a discarded garbage bag in a stream, the discovery seemed to confirm their worst fears.
The Cole family doted on their beloved 12-year-old Labrador, Sage. As a result, she was often by their side. So when the Coles were enjoying time in their garden one February afternoon, their dog was there too.
Unfortunately, on that particular winter day Sage was to be the victim of a mix-up. Because at the end of that day, her family returned to the shelter of their home, and each family member believed that the other had brought the dog in. But no one had.
An hour passed before the Coles realized their mistake. But when they did, they immediately rushed outside to bring the elderly dog into the warmth. Unfortunately, the dog had disappeared. The animal had wandered off into the forest surrounding her home in Boulder Creek, California. And to make matters worse, Sage was blind.
It was a chilly evening, so the Coles wasted no time in looking for their pet. First, they searched the immediate area around their home, but Sage wasn’t there. Increasingly worried for their cherished dog’s welfare, the family decided to recruit their friends into the search effort.
“Ten of our neighbors joined our family in the search that lasted until late that night,” Beth Cole, one of Sage’s owners, told The Dodo in March 2017. However, their efforts proved to be fruitless. But Cole’s neighbors agreed to do all they could for Sage. “Then they came back to help for several days after that,” Cole continued.
Day after day, the search party came back empty handed. And soon Sage had been missing for an entire week, meaning her family’s optimism began to wane. The Boulder Creek area is home to many mountain lions, and the blind Labrador was a particularly vulnerable target.
“We have predators in the area, so we thought there was a chance she’d died,” Cole told The Dodo. Still, undeterred, the family continued to probe the woodland. They gave out fliers and used social media to spread the word of Sage’s disappearance too.
Eight days after Sage went missing, Dan Estrada – a neighbor of the Coles – was walking in the forest. He was enjoying a trek with his friend Vincent when something unusual caught his eye. There, in a stream at the foot of a hill, was a full garbage bag.
“At first I thought it was a trash bag, so I was actually frustrated,” Estrada told The Dodo. “Nobody wants people dumping trash in the forest. Then I looked closer, and I saw that it was Sage.”
Estrada had found Sage, but it wasn’t the celebratory moment that everyone had expected. The California resident was convinced he’d stumbled upon the dog’s dead body, lying lifeless in the water. And all he could think of now was how he was going to tell the Coles.
“I just said to myself, ‘Oh no,’ because now we’d have to do body recovery,” Estrada told The Dodo. “On top of that, I’d have to tell her family, and be the bearer of bad news.” But just at that moment, he noticed a twitch out of the corner of his eye.
Incredibly, Sage was moving. “Vincent noticed that Sage picked up her head,” Estrada continued. “He yelled, ‘Dude, she’s alive.’” In that moment, he couldn’t get to the dog quick enough. So he rushed down to the stream where he could check on her properly.
Recalling the jubilant scenes to The Dodo, Estrada said, “I put my arms around her and kissed her and started to pet her. And she was able to hold her head up and wag her tail.” Now he couldn’t wait to share his discovery with the Coles.
Estrada helped the dog to her feet. But Sage was so drained from her eight days in the wilderness that she didn’t have the strength to walk. As a result, Estrada had little choice but to carry Sage back up the hill.
Before Estrada made it back home, someone had alerted the Coles of their impending arrival. And when the family saw their dog coming through the trees, they were overcome with emotion. In fact, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
“They were crying, they were happy,” Estrada told The Dodo. “We were about halfway up the mountain, and I could see that they were all teary-eyed.” The scene was so emotional that even his family shed a tear or two.
The Cole family had promised a $1,000 reward to the person who brought Sage home safely. However, modest Estrada refused to accept a dime. Instead, he asked that the sum be given to an animal rescue charity instead.
As for the Coles, they were touched by the response to Sage’s disappearance. “I can’t emphasize enough the amount of support we’ve received from everyone,” Cole told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “It’s been amazing. Since she’s returned home people have been bringing by snacks for her; one neighbor cooked her a steak.”
Of course, Sage’s safety is now paramount to the Coles. In fact, the family are now looking into fitting their dog with a GPS collar. But for now, Sage has plenty of friends and neighbors willing to keep a helpful eye out for her.