Dog survives Montana avalanche, returns after four days

A Welsh Corgi, named Ole, was lost in a Montana avalanche Saturday. Four days later, the loyal dog arrived back at the motel where his owners had stayed.

(AP Photo/Natasha Baydakova)
A Welsh corgi dog named Ole showed up at a Cooke City motel four days after the dog and its owner were swept up in an avalanche.

A dog that was feared dead after he was swept away in a weekend avalanche that killed his owner showed up four days later at the Montana motel where his owners had stayed the night before going backcountry skiing.

Search and rescue team member Bill Whittle said he was "positive" that the Welsh corgi — named Ole — had been buried in Saturday's avalanche. Dave Gaillard died in the avalanche and the team thought that Ole had died too.

"The avalanche guys were up there on Monday investigating and they were looking for the dog too and never saw any signs," he said.

But on Wednesday, loyal Ole showed up exhausted and hungry back at the motel, four miles from where the slide occurred, the Billings Gazette reported.

In Pictures: Daring Dogs

"When I first saw the dog, it was sitting in front of their room staring at the door," Cooke City Alpine Motel owner Robert Weinstein said in an email to The Associated Press on Thursday.

Dave Gaillard of Bozeman was skiing with his wife when the avalanche struck near Cooke City, an old mining town just outside Yellowstone National Park. Kerry Corcoran Gaillar told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that her husband’s last thoughts were for her safety.

“His last words to me were, ‘Retreat to the trees.’ I think he saw what was coming from above, that I did not see. That reflects Dave’s amazing quality — thinking of others,” she said.

Search and rescue personnel saw no sign of Ole at the site, and it was thought he had been buried in the slide. But if Ole was buried, he managed to dig his way out and then walk four miles on stubby legs back to Cooke City in temperatures that dipped into the teens at night.

Gaillard's daughter, 11-year-old Marguerite, was putting photos of Ole on poster board as a memorial Wednesday afternoon.

"She found out when she was halfway done with that that Ole was still alive," said Gaillard's step-daughter, Silver Brelsford.

Whittle drove the dog back to the family in Bozeman.

"He was tired," Brelsford told the AP. "He's doing really well now."

Kerry Gaillard, who has had Oly about five years, told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that she wanted a Corgi because of their “gusto” and happy personality.

“He’s a very loyal, faithful dog,” Kerry said. The Cooke City search and rescue members, she said, “were so kind to come all that way, make the long drive.”

Sidney resident Jody Ray Verhasselt, 46, also died Saturday in another avalanche while snowmobiling north of Cooke City. The two New Year's Eve avalanche deaths have taken a toll on the small mountain community.

"We needed this," Whittle said of Ole's survival. "It kind of cheered everyone up."

Searchers recovered Gaillard's body earlier this week.

Gallatin National Forest avalanche investigators say Gaillard been warned to turn around by other skiers who triggered a snow slide, while a snowmobiler who died had triggered an avalanche while high-marking.

The forest's avalanche center released its report on the Cooke City-area fatalities on Thursday.

The Billings Gazette reports Dave Gaillard and his wife, Kerry, had avalanche transceivers, Kerry's unit was not working well.

Gaillard was buried 2:20 p.m. Saturday and his wife worked until 5 p.m. to try to locate him before returning to Cooke City to report the slide to search and rescue.

Earlier Saturday, 46-year-old Jody Ray Verhasselt of Sidney triggered an avalanche while riding up the side of a mountain. A witness said Verhasselt was unable to outrun the sliding snow.

Gaillard's memorial service is today,  Friday. His brother, Jeff Gaillard, told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that a memorial fund in David’s name has been set up to benefit local wildlife programs at Defenders of Wildlife.

In Pictures: Daring Dogs

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