Dog Survives 53 Days in Nevada Desert; Owner Kept Praying

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

Reno, NV – Dooley, a 4-year-old Shetland sheepdog, was found in the Nevada desert, about 225 miles east of Reno, 53 days after one of his owners was killed in an automobile accident.

The terrified dog ran from the scene of the crash and vanished. He managed to survive on road kill and scattered ranch-water sources, according to the Associated Press. Meanwhile, Barbara Bagley of Salt Lake City, Utah, says she never gave up hope that her dog would be found alive after the accident, which killed her husband.

“I would think about Dooley constantly,” Bagley said. “There were TV commercials with dogs that made me think about him and cry. He’s just the sweetest dog.”

The single-vehicle accident on December 27 occurred on Interstate 80 near Battle Mountain and sent both Bagley, 48, and her 55-year-old husband, Brad Vom Baur, to the hospital in critical condition. Barbara suffered a concussion, broken ribs, a shattered wrist and punctured lungs.

Their other sheltie, Delaney, was killed and Dooley bolted in fear. Barbara began to search for Dooley in the plains and hills outside of Reno as soon as she had enough strength. A desperate Facebook plea for help brought dozens of Nevada volunteers to assist, but the search was canceled on January 6, when the remains of a dog thought to be Dooley were found on the Interstate. That same day, Barbara’s husband died. 

“It was a horrible day for me,” Bagley recalled. “But something inside me told me Dooley was still alive out there. I wasn’t 100 percent sure, but I didn’t grieve for Dooley like I did for my husband and our other dog,” she told the Salt Lake Tribune. Over three weeks later, a woman reported spotting “a Lassie-type” dog near the accident scene, and another futile search was conducted.

In mid-February a railroad crew spotted a dog matching the same description about 15 miles east of Battle Mountain. Bagley and other searchers were then able to locate him and make a positive identification of Dooley, but he kept fleeing when they tried to approach the area. Finally, Shannon Sustacha, of Lamoille, spotted Dooley only 5 miles from the crash scene while she was on horseback; and Barbara’s friend, who was driving a Jeep, cornered Dooley and managed to grab him and put him in the vehicle. Barbara soon arrived and was described as “tearful and ecstatic.”

“Barbara…said three times, ‘You think he’ll remember me?’ ” Sustacha said. “When Barbara opened the door and looked at him, she said, ‘My beautiful boy, my beautiful boy, you’re home.’

Oh, boy, all of us cried. I knew his adventure in Nevada was over. I also knew he and Barbara could start healing together.” The exhausted Dooley, who had dropped in weight from 44 to 20 pounds, curled into his owner’s lap in the Jeep and fell asleep. “I was overjoyed that I was going to have him back in my life. I think he felt the same about me,” she said, as Dooley began to follow her everywhere as if not wanting to risk another separation.

During his ordeal, the Sheltie was once spotted devouring a dead coyote along the roadway. A long bird bone was pulled from his throat by a veterinarian. Now home, Dooley has began to gain weight and enjoy his daily walks with his owner.

Bagley is still grieving over her husband’s death and the loss of Delaney, but she is recovering from her own injuries and gains strength from Dooley’s love and devotion. “He’s the physical and mental affection that I need to recover,” she said. “I owe him so much for the hope I have now and the renewed faith I have in prayer.”