Survival story: Dogs, walker kept each other warm during nights outside
A remarkable story of survival is emerging following the rescue of a Coquitlam, B.C. dog walker who spent two chilly nights in the backcountry.
Annette Poitras, 56, and three dogs she'd been hunkered down with since Monday were hauled to safety Wednesday from a basin in the Coquitlam watershed.
She and the dogs were walking in the area when Annette slipped and hurt her back and side. They got stuck in an area where hikers rarely frequent, and heard a search helicopter pass overhead but Annette was unable to signal to it.
Annette tried to wave her jacket at those inside on Monday night, but with the trees, they were unable to see her below.
"She knew they were out there but she had lost her cellphone when she fell probably about 5 o'clock Monday night," her husband Marcel said.
"Yesterday just before she was found, she didn't know what time it was. Her thoughts were, 'I'm spending another night out here.'"
Finally, thanks to a ping from the phone, a tip from a hiker and a sound sweep that got the dogs barking, the group was found in a slippery, marshy area Wednesday morning. All were alive and responsive, though Annette spent the night in a nearby hospital.
At the hospital Thursday morning, Marcel told CTV News she had a scan that showed she had no broken bones. She was given IV fluids for hours and is sore and weak, but expected to fully recover.
Marcel said she'll be in hospital until at least Friday because she needs the IV fluids and physiotherapy.
Her knees were bruised from crawling through the dirt and she wasn't able to move much on her own Wednesday night, but Marcel expected hospital staff to work on walking with her on Thursday.
"I'm a pretty happy guy today," he said, adding that Annette is also feeling upbeat.
He said she wasn't initially aware of the enormity of the situation, and said to him, "You didn't tell my dad, did you?"
Marcel joked that they'd told a few people with help from the media.
On Wednesday night he said he and his daughter had taken the ambulance ride from the Westwood Plateau area to hospital with her, and that she was doing "amazingly well" even that day.
"She was white as a ghost. They couldn't find any veins to give her any intravenous in the van. They needed to get her warmed up a little bit more. But she's doing great."
The days Annette spent in the basin were damp. Conditions were so poor that they slowed the efforts of expert searchers combing the nearby trail system.
But she survived, even without food and water.
Her husband said the dogs helped her during their days outdoors, keeping her warm and teaching her a trick to avoid lying on the wet forest floor.
"She found a tree-covered area. She saw the dogs digging a hole before they lied down so she did the same thing to get the wet stuff out of the way, to get down into the dirt where it's actually a bit warmer apparently," Marcel said.
"She did the right thing."
He said one of the dogs was cuddled with her, one was on guard and one was looking for food. One wandered off when she first got injured, but her priority was to keep them safe and she found it in the morning.
Marcel also revealed a touching detail about his wife: When she noticed one of the dogs was shivering, she gave it her jacket.
"That's my girl," he said.
He said her biggest concern is she was supposed to be out walking more dogs the day she was rescued.
Annette, her own dog and the dogs of two clients were rescued by longline, and welcomed with cheers, applause and tears.
The owners of the dogs she'd been walking at the time said they're hopeful she'll be back to walking soon.
"All the dogs love her," said Janet Kilberg, the owner of a boxer who spent two nights with Annette. The boxer, Roxy, was the dog Annette warmed with her jacket.
Tina Presley, whose dog Bubba was missing, called Poitras "a dog whisperer," adding that "you see the love in her eyes."
Both the owners and Marcel expressed their gratitude toward the nearly 100 people who braved the weather to search for the missing group.
"You have no idea how much this means to all of us. These people are incredible," Presley said.
Marcel said he couldn't put his thanks into words, but asked the public to support their local search and rescue and added: "Hug your spouse tonight."
He said he'd had days to observe how search and rescue missions are conducted, and was impressed by crews' dedication and the technology they use. He described the crews as heroic, passionate, professional and skilled.
"They would drop anything to give me an update, show me what was going on. Communications were great. The people in the field, it's obvious you love what you do," he said.
"These people are doing this on their own time. They're leaving their job, what they get paid to do to pay their mortgage, to come out and help people who need their help. Support them, they deserve it, and thank you."
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart also had kind words for the group of volunteers that led the search for the woman and dogs.
"Imagine a group of people – men and women – who get up in the middle of the night, don layers of protective clothing, and go out in storms and inclement weather to look for someone they've never met, someone they don't know," he wrote in a statement posted on Facebook.
"Imagine a group of people who spend their weekends training so that they're ready to respond when someone needs help. Imagine a group that DOESN'T GET PAID, yet still responds -- day and night -- when called to assist."
The group, Coquitlam Search and Rescue, spent days in the cold, wet forest, and didn't give up until they knew Annette was safe. Stewart called the team heroes, and said he's seen first-hand how dedicated and skilled the rescuers are.
Coquitlam SAR was aided by several officers with the local RCMP, as well as volunteers from search and rescue crews located across the province.
"Thank you. On behalf of our community, thank you. And on behalf of victims who face long nights outside in the rain, thank you," he wrote.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Nafeesa Karim, Penny Daflos and Ben Miljure
"Hug your spouse tonight. Whoever you're lying in bed with tonight, hold on to them." - husband of dog walker found safe after 3 days outside. Story here: https://t.co/QMxPXhYLxI pic.twitter.com/cUo5RxqR32— Kendra Mangione (@kendramangione) November 22, 2017