Now that I’ve been working as editor of the Sky-Hi for several months, I sometimes question my effectiveness, as I split my time between Grand and Boulder counties out of necessity. When I accepted the job, I thought my family would be able to move from our current home in Nederland to a new one somewhere in Grand. But the current economy has made that impractical. I do spend a few days each week on the wilder, prettier side of the Continental Divide, though. And each time I do, I re-realize how much I love the scenery, the ridiculously easy access to my favorite sports — mountain biking, fly fishing and hiking — and, most importantly, the Grand County community.
But over the last 10 days, I have also seen that perhaps there is a reason I still have one foot in Boulder County and one in Grand. It came in the form of good friends losing their gentle, fuzzy 10-year-old wirehaired pointing griffon, Pippi, a good pup if there ever was one. Pippi looks a bit like a Muppet, but no Muppet can hunt like her — pointing the grouse, quail, pheasants and ptarmigan her owner Eric Tolland, a firefighter in the Denver metro area and the snow safety director for Jones Pass Guides, chases. Nor could a Muppet bring so much joy to a family that includes Eric’s wife Katie, an elementary school teacher, and their children, Arnie, 10, and Annika, 7.
On July 3, the Tollunds’ friends, Brian King and Stacy Woolford, were dog-sitting Pippi when a firework scared her and she took off running from their house in the Winter Park Highlands neighborhood of Tabernash. Beside herself, Stacy drove all night, searching for Pippi. She made fliers and posted them throughout the neighborhood. Others started searching. But by the time the Tollunds flew home from their vacation, and drove directly back to Grand County, no leads had materialized. No one had any idea where Pippi was.
On July 5, a local said he’d seen her running west down U.S. Highway 40. Eric sped that way, and searched for her — no luck. For the next several days, people kept searching.
“Brian and Stacy were, I had friends come up and help, buddies from the firehouse did — and all of the people in Winter Park Highlands were looking for her,” said Eric.
“Also everybody knew what she looked like. Granby Ranch’s bike patrol was calling her in on their radios — and one of the themes that really helped me was that everyone up here is a dog lover — and so many knew of dogs who’d run off and come back,” Eric continued. “It’s like everyone had a relationship with a dog that had run away, gone five, eight, 10 days or two weeks. That helped immensely. We got all of this positive and optimistic feedback.”
Another person said he’d seen her in Winter Park Highlands on July 5, muddy, chasing a deer and running around. So Eric and company focused their attention there, again without success.
And then, on July 9, someone reported having seen her on Rollins Pass, on the Continental Divide between Grand and Boulder counties. July 9 was also Eric’s birthday.
“It was bittersweet,” he said. “I just wanted Pippi.”
Again, he drew on the support from so many people who kept saying he’d get her back. They included a woman from the Grand County animal shelter who told him, “It’s been raining, so she has water. It hasn’t been too cold or too hot. She’s probably out there and doing fine.”
Still, all of the Tollunds wanted her back.
What happened next some might call a miracle. On Saturday, July 10, both Eric and Katie received phone calls from the other side of the Divide.
They were from a young man named Joey Najjar, who was mountain biking in the West Magnolia trails near Nederland. As the crow flies, the trail network is about 19 miles from Tabernash, but who knows how many dozens of miles Pippi had run on her journey over the pass (her vet later said she likely had a 100-mile journey). Fortunately, she’d stayed strong, and Joey and his friend Flinders Hoff were kind enough when they saw her bedraggled fur and limping body to take pity and get close enough to inspect her collar, where they found her tag with both Katie and Eric’s numbers, which they called, initiating what would come next.
That weekend, my husband Shawn and I were going to go backpacking in the Indian Peaks Wilderness to celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary. All kinds of things prevented us from going, including a work emergency for him on Sunday morning. With the heat of the day coming, I took off from my house to mountain bike by myself. But soon, I got a call from Shawn, who’d talked to Eric.
It turned out Joey, Flinders and Pippi were about 4 miles from where I was riding. I raced home (avoiding two bull moose and crashing once), hopped in a truck and met Shawn at Magnolia. Then he, our daughter and I sped to Pippi. The humans had saved her. She was in the arms of people who knew her. She was about to fall into the hugs of the family that adored her.
When I talked to Eric on the phone this past Monday, he said, “It’s amazing. She’s limping and couple of her footpads are rubbed raw and I think her joints are pretty sore. But this morning, she had one of her favorite toys in her mouth and was walking around doing whole-butt wiggles.”
The Tollunds want to thank everyone in Grand County who helped search for their beloved pup, and Joey and Flinders who found her and hung with her until her rescue. I just feel honored that I got to be a part of reuniting a sweet dog with her sweet family.
As for Eric, whose career revolves around helping and taking care of people — be it by rescuing them from a fire or leading them safely down backcountry chutes — he says this:
“What happened to us was amazing. It makes you realize when people are having a hard time what kindness can do. How that can change a situation. It brings people together. I mean we’ve been getting calls from so many people since we found Pippi.”
Even after disaster was averted.