ALFALFA, Ore. - You can have a ranch with lots of animals to feed and chores to do -- and still, one faithful, never-wandering dog you?ve loved and enjoyed for a decade can wander off one day and leave you searching for days, in tears and seemingly in vain, for that wagging tail and happy face.
And sometimes, they?ll come wandering home ? and sometimes, they won?t.
But rarely are they found and returned to you after a death-defying adventure such as the one taken in recent days by Leo, a senior Australian Cattle Dog mix, who fell (or dove?) into a 50-yard, trash-filled Dumpster ? and then couldn?t get out.
Barbara Grabell, a ranch owner in Alfalfa, east of Bend, searched everywhere for Leo, after he vanished around feeding time Tuesday evening. Wednesday morning, they looked out and the food as still there ? but no Leo.
?I thought he ? sometimes, they just go off to die privately. I was walking the property, looking under trees, the sagebrush,? she recalled.
?He?s an older dog, 12 to 14 ? a neighbor gave him to us (10) years ago. He was never any trouble ? not the greatest cattle dog, but a great pet.?
Having owned animals for decades, from dogs and cats to horses and cattle, Grabell said shes never had such an incident before, and it serves as a reminder that when dealing with animals, "there's always that one time the unexpected will happen."
Leo, slowing down in advanced years, was ?always reliable, never a wanderer.?
Grabell even took her Blue Heeler dog for a walk over to the Alfalfa trash transfer station, very close to, even within sight of their home.
?I took a flashlight over there, looked in the Dumpster they were using, called ?Leo!? ? but he can?t hear. I thought maybe he could smell us.?
But a 9-foot-tall trash Dumpster, two-thirds full of garbage, is not easy to get out of (even if a ramp that lets residents more easily dump their trash makes it pretty easy to get into).
?I was just heartbroken every single night ? day after day, I?d look out the window, crying to everyone at work, all my friends,? Grabell said.
Four days after Leo disappeared ? stuck in the trailer, within sight of his home -- Leo (having eaten some pretty bad stuff in the trash, to survive) was taken for a ride to the Knott Landfill in southeast Bend.
As it turns out, Grabell was out walking the property, looking for Leo, when she saw the trailer, about two-thirds full, get picked up and rolled away, one or two days earlier than normal, thankfully.
And the community trash dump might well have ended up being his final resting place, if not for a Bend Garbage and Recycling driver, Paul Decker -- the one who hauled the trailer to town and, thankfully, was keeping watch on the flow of trash as it poured out of the trailer.
He spotted something moving ? and soon learned it was a dog, confused and weary, but definitely alive, said Lynne Ouchida, community outreach manager for the Humane Society of Central Oregon.
Brian Stone, operations manager for Bend Garbage, brought the dog to the nearby shelter, where HSCO staff member Heather Stoner checked the log of phone calls about lost dogs ? and indeed, Grabell had called to report Leo missing on Wednesday, the day after he wandered off, Ouchida said.
Within hours, there was a happy, if subdued reunion, and Grabell first brought Leo to the vet, then home.
?He?s home and he?s resting comfortably,? she said Saturday night. ?I?m so thankful and relieved, you have no idea.?
Grabell said, "I am shocked, because hes not a garbage hound. He's never been there before. He doesn't eat trash. I think he got disoriented -- he went east when he should have gone west."
Stone explained Sunday just how fortunate Leo (and his owner) were.
"After three or four days, he was probably incapacitated to the point where if we hadn't picked him up when we did -- that site is only manned on Saturdays -- it would have been a week ... before anybody would be out there again, and I'm afraid he probably wouldn't have made it," Stone said.
When he was found, Leo was so dirty and dehydrated that he wouldn't even drink. He also had a very strong odor and was shaking furiously.
Grabell and Ouchida say they hope rural residents will keep in mind that even the most faithful, stay-at-home companion animals might one day wander off -- and that the transfer stations might prove too tempting a spot for them to stop and, perhaps, get into trouble.
Grabell is very thankful, of course, to those who rescued her dog, and also that the weather had not been bitterly cold, as it can be even in early March, or Leo might have died of exposure.
?All I can say is: Prayers can be answered,? Grabell said.
So while all dogs might indeed go to heaven, whether they have a cat?s nine lives or not, it turns out that it simply wasn?t Leo?s time to go ? at least, not yet -- much to the happiness of one Alfalfa ranching family.