Dog Survives Five Weeks in Desert Hole

Associated Press

TEMECULA, Calif. - A family who left their dog for dead after a desert hiking accident five weeks ago has been reunited with the pooch after a Riverside County hiker and his brother heard it barking and pulled it from a 30-foot-deep pit.

Stephen Schwartz, 17, was hiking with his brother, father and two cousins on April 18 near the ghost town of Panamint City on the western edge of Death Valley National Park when their dog, Shadow, fell into the pit.

The Schwartzs heard 10-year-old Shadow whimpering and tried to use an aluminum ladder from a nearby ranger station to reach the dog. But the ladder fell out of reach and eventually, Shadow stopped responding to their calls.

Thinking the dog was dead, the Schwartzs placed an improvised wooden cross over the pit, said a prayer and returned home to Trona, a tiny town in far northern San Bernardino County.

But Shadow was very much alive, surviving on water at the bottom of the hole.

On Sunday, Temecula resident Scott Mertz and his brother, Darren Mertz, of Ridgecrest, were searching for the source of a spring near Panamint City.

They stumbled on a deep, 4-foot-wide pit with a ladder inside and a strange cross-like design over it. Stopping to rest, the brothers tossed rocks into the pit and dared each other to climb inside. Then they heard barking.

"We looked at each other and my brother said, 'Is that coming from the hole?'" Scott Mertz, 36, said. "We were just horrified that there was a dog down there."

His brother, Darren, said: "We weren't going to leave without the dog."

Using an old hose from a nearby water storage tank, Darren, 34, lowered his brother into the hole until he could reach the ladder and climb down to the dog. Scott managed to grab a frightened and skinny Shadow and his brother hauled them back up.

The Mertz brothers called the number on Shadow's tags and told the Schwartzs their beloved pet had been found 35 days after they left it for dead.

"This tops the list - I never felt so happy before," Stephen Schwartz said Tuesday. "I prayed that I would see her again and it happened."

The cocker spaniel-beagle mix appears to be in good health despite losing 5 pounds, he said.

"Last night, she came up to me and started begging for food like she always did," Schwartz said.

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