Rescuers Find Dog Missing Since August Buried Beneath Five Feet of Snow: 'Very Cold and Scared'

Four months before the snowy rescue, the 3-year-old pit bull mix named Russ went missing just as the Caldor Fire swept through California's Lake Tahoe area, forcing his owner to evacuate

Russ the dog rescued
Photo: Courtesy Tahoe PAWS

You lucky dog!

A dog buried beneath five feet of snow — and missing since August — has been reunited with his owner.

Four months before the snowy rescue, the 3-year-old pit bull mix named Russ went missing just as the Caldor Fire swept through California's Lake Tahoe area. His owner — a traveling nurse — was forced to evacuate during the fire leaving him unable to search for his missing canine.

"He was very cold and scared and tired, and it was a trying trek coming down the hillside with five feet of snow," Wendy Jones, the executive director of Tahoe PAWS and TLC 4 Furry Friends, told PEOPLE of the daring rescue. "It was freezing temperatures, and it was getting dark. I'm sure this dog has an adventure to tell."

Russ the dog rescued
Courtesy Tahoe PAWS

In December, a skier reported spotting Russ in the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains.

According to The Washington Post, after Russ growled at the skier, the man snapped some photos and posted them on Facebook, describing his encounter with the trapped dog.

That post caught the attention of Jones, who is based in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Although she was in the middle of another rescue, she reached out to fellow rescuers Leona Allen and Elsa Gaule to help save Russ amid subzero temperatures.

"We knew time was [of] the essence because the dog had been out in the snow all day. And we knew how cold it was. So it was pretty intense, pretty emotional, a lot of adrenaline," Jones recalled to The Post.

Armed with snowshoes, a sled, and dog rescue equipment, the two-woman team trekked up the mountain to rescue the pup they had never met.

"I followed the tracks and all of a sudden saw this dark shape under the tree and thought this isn't good he's not moving and thought to get really nervous and really upset," Allen told KOVR. "And then he opened his eyes, and I'm pretty sure I screamed. I'm pretty sure Elsa heard me down the mountain."

"The sweetest thing on the planet. Just the most amazing dog," added Allen.

"I kind of petted him under the chin a little bit, and he did that thing where a dog rests his head in your hand," recalled Gaule. "We're just like, he's here. Okay, what's next? We didn't really think about that. And then I look over at Leona, and I said, 'How do you feel about riding down on a sled with him on your lap?'"

Once the pair earned the dog's trust, they were able to transport him down the mountain in a two-hour-long return trek.

Russ the dog rescued
Courtesy Tahoe PAWS

"They put him on one of the volunteer's laps to keep him warm and to keep him from trying to take off," Jones said to PEOPLE.

Russ, who "was in pretty good health," was turned over to El Dorado County Animal Services and checked out by a veterinarian once he reached the bottom of the mountain.

The combination of a missing dog report filed in August and a microchip made it possible for animal services to track down Russ's owner in Riverside County, Calif. The dog dad "assumed that Russ had been lost for good," according to a Tahoe PAWS Facebook post.

"He [the owner] was ecstatic," Jones told PEOPLE of the happy reunion that took place the day after Christmas.

She urges pet owners to microchip their animals and keep those microchips updated with current contact information. Jones also recommends equipping pets with collars that include name tags with contact info.

Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, Allen admitted, "I've worked some pretty gnarly rescues, this probably being the top. I keep reliving the moment when he opened his eyes and lifted his head, and just the joy and elation inside of me was overwhelming. It's one more life that gets to live happy and warm and safe."

Those interested in making donations to the Tahoe PAWS and TLC 4 Furry Friends nonprofit can do so by visiting their website.

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