Every year, Tia Vargas and her dad go hiking; this summer's trip was up Table Rock in the Grand Tetons in early July. Vargas was just below the 11,000-foot peak with her dad waiting about a mile down the trail when she ran into a distraught family of hikers who had found an injured English springer spaniel.
They couldn't find the limping pup's owner and, because the family had kids in tow, Vargas figured it would be easier for her to carry the pup to safety.
"I had to crawl under him to get him up on my shoulders," Vargas, a single mother of three from Idaho Falls, Idaho, tells MNN. "I felt the difficulty of it right away. I never felt 55 pounds like that before."
Vargas soon ran into her dad, Ted Kasper, who snapped some photos when he saw his daughter coming down the trail with a dog on her shoulders.
"Dad laughed and said, 'Isn’t this hike hard enough? You have to carry a dog too?'" Vargas recalls. "My dad makes me laugh. He is such a great man."
That sense of humor helped Vargas get through the ordeal of carrying the heavy dog down the steep trail, she says. The trek was hard and nearly unbearable at times.
"Every time I put him down so I could rest it was difficult. And every time I got down on my knees to put my head under his belly and try to use neck and body strength to lift him it was painful and difficult. I thought we would see people on the trail on the way down to help. But that wasn’t the case," she says.
The trio got lost twice because of snow and fallen trees that made the trail disappear. "I even lost my dad once and that made me feel very alone in this," Vargas says. "He was a big comfort to me."
At one point, Kasper offered to run down the trail and try to find help, but Vargas didn't want to be left alone. About halfway down the trail, Vargas thought she might not be able to continue. At the time, they were lost and it had started to rain.
"The thought of stopping crossed my mind once. My legs hurt and were shaking," she says. "When I wanted to quit is when I prayed. Prayer gave me the strength. That and my dad's jokes. He made me laugh and it gave me energy. And feeling the angels lift the dog off of my neck was what I needed to continue on."
Lost dog named Boomer
Finally hiking six miles and reaching the bottom of the trail, Vargas found a very small note that said, "Lost dog named Boomer, call this number."
She called the owners, who thought for sure Boomer was dead. They had gone hiking together the day before and Boomer had fallen off a 100-foot cliff and rolled 200 feet. When the family rushed down to find him, he was gone. They looked for him until dark, so Boomer had spent one night out there, alone and injured.
"I was so excited to tell them their dog was very much alive," Vargas says. "Dad and I couldn't wait to hear their reaction."
It turns out that the family loved Boomer very much, but they were moving to Arizona and couldn't take him with them. They already had a family lined up to adopt him, but when they heard Vargas's incredible story, the new adopters reluctantly let her adopt him instead.
'One of my kids now'
A trip to the vet found that Boomer was very fortunate: he had mostly bumps, bruises and scratches from his big fall, as well as a dislocated joint with torn ligaments in his leg. Boomer is in a cast now while his new family waits to see whether the joint will hopefully heal on its own without surgery.
Vargas says the 4-year-old pup loves to do tricks and have his belly rubbed. He loves to explore and smell everything and always wants to put his head in her lap. Vargas, who is a substitute teacher, Zumba instructor and sells jewelry, has started a Facebook page for Boomer because so many people are now following his story.
"He is 100 percent part of the family. His personality is perfect with mine and the kids. We all love him so much," Vargas says. "They begged me for a dog and I was worried because it’s a lot of time and work. I told them no for so long. And I told them if we get a dog it would have to be dropped in my lap and already trained. And he is both of those and so much more. He feels like one of my kids now."