A dog lost for more than three months had a happy reunion with her family Tuesday after two friends spotted the emaciated canine trapped in a cave off Juan de Fuca Strait.
Zach Regan and Matt Johnson were coming back from a fishing and surfing trip in Regan’s boat on Saturday when Regan spotted “a glimmer of legs” in a cave at Magdalena Point near the Juan de Fuca trail.
When they realized it was a dog, they scoured the shoreline for anyone who could have been the owner but saw no one.
A reef blocked Regan from landing the boat on shore, so Johnson slipped into his wetsuit and paddled to the cave on his surfboard.
Johnson could tell by the dog’s skinny frame that she must have been trapped for a while.
“She was starving. She was so skinny, bones sticking out,” Johnson said. “I don’t know how long she’d been in the cave, but she didn’t have much longer left, that’s for sure.”
The dog was a little standoffish at first — she probably hadn’t seen another person for months — so Johnson coaxed her towards him using some liver pate and buns from the boat. He then tossed his surfboard leash around her head to use as a makeshift leash.
He led her to the shore and helped her onto his surfboard, then headed back to the boat, paddling with one arm and holding the dog with the other.
When Johnson tried to transfer the dog to the boat, she started to sink, too weak to swim.
“I slipped her off the board to get her to Zach. She just went under. It was crazy. She was just sinking. Head underwater, going down,” Johnson said.
Regan grabbed her and hoisted her on to the boat, where they wrapped her in their extra clothes, a life jacket and a surfboard bag to keep her warm during the hour-long boat ride back to Sooke.
Regan took her home to stay with his family while they tried to find the dog’s owners.
He submitted a report to ROAM, a non-profit that helps to connect owners with their missing pets.
On Sunday night the organization’s founder, Lesli Steeve, received a call from a woman in Chemainus who said she was the owner of the dog.
“We were both kind of in disbelief,” Steeves said.
The owner sent photos of her dog Stella, who had gone missing during a hike on the Juan de Fuca trail at the start of May. Steeves passed the photos along to Regan, who confirmed they looked just like the dog he had rescued.
The owner told Steeves that she had been hiking the trail for her honeymoon on May 2 when Stella had vanished.
“They just turned around and she was gone,” Steeves said.
They spent several days searching the area for Stella. Unable to find her, they eventually went home thinking they’d lost her forever, Steeves said.
On Tuesday morning, Stella’s family drove down to Regan’s home in Sooke for a long-awaited reunion.
As soon as Stella saw her family, she “lit right up,” Regan said.
“It was just, like, an instant reunion, and they were lying there rolling in the grass,” he said, adding it was the best outcome he could have hoped for.
This article originally appeared here.