Missing hiker’s dog found alive eight days later, renewing hope for desperate family

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BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — A missing hiker’s dog was found alive eight days after his family reported them missing following a hike in Boulder County.

Josh Hall, 27, of Arvada, and the family dog, Happy, went hiking last Wednesday on the Hessie Trailhead to get to Devil’s Thumb Lake. At some point during the hike, a snowstorm came in, and Hall and Happy never returned home.

Dangerous weather conditions made it nearly impossible for search crews to locate Hall and Happy, and the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office suspended the search on Monday, Feb. 8.

“We believe that he was, unfortunately, at the furthest point when the really crazy snowstorm came in,” Hall’s mother, Laura Vukson, said.

On Thursday, however, someone found Happy on Peak to Peak Highway between mile markers 40 and 41, about seven miles northeast of the trailhead. He somehow survived the wilderness for eight days.

Nick Vukson, Hall’s stepfather, said Happy lost about 10-15 pounds, but, miraculously, there were no signs of frostbite.

“How can a domestic dog be up in the Rocky Mountains in some extremely severe conditions and emerge with no frostbite whatsoever,” Nick said. “We don’t know if maybe he had found some shelter and perhaps Josh was with him. We’re not sure.”

Laura is elated someone found Happy alive because it’s renewed hope in the search for her son.

“Based on the information I was given, I did not think that there was any chance that they could have survived. And the fact that Happy is here absolutely gives me renewed hope,” Laura said.

But it’s also reinforced her biggest fear.

“I’m terrified that that means that Happy stayed with Josh until he succumbed to the cold,” she said.

On Friday, she and her family spent the day putting up flyers in the Nederland area with the hope someone may have seen Hall or Happy and can provider law enforcement with more information.

The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office released the following the statement Friday evening about the search for Hall:

We have received a lot of questions and comments about missing hiker Josh Hall’s dog Happy being found yesterday, and what that means for the search efforts. The short answer is, unfortunately, there are no significant changes to the search plans.

Based on the location of Josh’s last cell phone ping, the terrain, and the belief that he was attempting to hike to Devil’s Thumb Lake, search crews have narrowed down the highest probability area where we believe Josh is. A search team was able to access the east end of Devils Thumb Lake last Thursday, but unfortunately, we have not been able to conduct a full search of this high probability area due to the conditions (thigh to chest deep snow, white out visibility, avalanche hazards, and winds gusting 30-40 miles per hour).

We have received questions and comments about utilizing a canine team to follow the dog’s trail back to where it started. After consultation with our canine search experts, search dogs would be unable to use scent to search for another dog. Search dogs are trained to ignore other animals and will not follow another dog’s scent.

We will not be able to conduct large ground searches for Josh due to safety concerns for the volunteer search and rescue teams. We will continue to look for breaks in the weather, which will allow an aerial search to be conducted in the high probability area.

We will do everything in our power to bring Josh back to his family, but we also must keep the safety of our volunteer search and rescue teams top of mind. Additionally, we are asking those accessing the backcountry do so with extreme care and not travel above tree-line unless you have avalanche equipment and training.

If you have any information about Hall’s whereabouts, contact the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office.