Steamboat residents work together to save injured pet

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Maribeth Len/courtesy

On Tuesday, the Len family's yellow lab/golden retriever mix, Donyek, fell into the Elk River and broke both front wrists.

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Courtesy Photo

Alexis Len, 11, with Donyek, 6, and Kobe, 18 months. The two dogs ran away from home on Tuesday, and ended up stranded in the Elk River. Kobe, who wasn't injured, stayed by Donyek's side until help came from several Routt County residents and Sheriff's deputies. (courtesy/Maribeth Len)

— When Dancy St. John got home from picking up her children at school Tuesday evening, she heard yelping and barking coming from her backyard, where the Elk River runs at the bottom of a 40-foot drop.

Earlier in the day, she had seen two dogs from the neighborhood playing near the house.

One of them - Donyek, a 6-year-old golden retriever/yellow lab mix - was stranded on a small ledge in the river with two broken front wrists. The other - Kobe, an 18-month-old chocolate lab - was barking for help and refused to leave Donyek's side.

"The chocolate lab was just wagging its tail and barking and barking, and the other one wouldn't get up," St. John said.

"It was like something out of 'Lassie.' The dog just would not leave this yellow lab," Johnny St. John said.

With the river at about double its usual volume for this time of year, and Donyek unable to go anywhere, the St. Johns began working on a way to get the dogs off the ledge without being swept away by the Elk River. They called the Routt County Humane Society, which was closed, and then the Routt County Sheriff's Office. When Sheriff's deputies Lt. Dara Frick and Chris Tritz arrived, they thought about calling Routt County Search and Rescue.

Whatever the solution was, Johnny St. John said, it would mean either getting to the dogs through 200 to 300 yards of running water, or lifting their 80 pounds out of the river with a rope. They chose the former.

"I said, 'Let me make a phone call,' - they were looking for any type of solution that was viable at 10 at night," Johnny St. John said. The call was to Eugene Buchanan, a friend with considerable boating experience, including being the publisher of Paddling Life magazine.

"I said, 'Listen, we've got a situation. Do you have an inflatable raft that we could put together quickly and get in the river?'

"He said 'I've got a canoe that'll probably work.' Sure enough, Eugene answered the call and came out to the river," Johnny St. John said. They were worried the two dogs might be aggressive in a stressful situation with strangers; Donyek and Kobe were anything but.

"This dog literally grabbed us and drug us to this dog when we hit the ledge," Johnny St. John said. "I've never seen this with dogs like this. This chocolate lab would not leave this dog's side.

"That dog could have swam the river and gone home, and we would have never known that yellow lab was down there."

By 11:30 p.m., both dogs were recovering at Steamboat Veterinary Hospital.

Maribeth Len, who lives about a mile and a half down the road from the St. Johns, said she was taken aback by the effort her fellow Steamboat residents put into saving her pets.

"For people who didn't know those two dogs, or where they belonged, to spend hours - from probably 7 to 11:30 at night, it's just a story that people care," Len said.

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