Jeannine Robbins bought a dog harness two years ago, knowing that she would need it someday for Appa, her golden retriever.
The harness played an important part in a six-person civilian rescue recently this month. A man and his injured dog were trapped 3 miles up on the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, on Mount Washington.
The dog’s paws had been cut by the dry, rough rock resulting in him being immobile. The rocks were slick and treacherous, and the incline was steep, for a rottweiler named Odin, who weighed at least 90 pounds to walk down.
The distressed pooch had to be carried down and that’s when having a strong dog harness comes in handy. “I hadn’t even taken the harness out of the package,” Robbins said this week. “I bought it, God forbid, to have in case we needed one.”
The ordeal finished and everyone returned to the parking lot safely at last. The hiker and his dog had spent 24 hours in a grassy, wooded area, and Robbins and her five teammates, all recent strangers to one another, spent about 12 hours together in the rescue.
Robbins was the first to arrive on the scene, and Christina Cozzens of Jackson was No. 3. Both women are experienced hikers, Cozzens has hiked all 48 of the state’s 4,000-foot mountains.
She hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The man’s name was Winston, from western Massachusetts. He was young and slender and didn’t have overnight gear, or extra food and water. Odin was big and mad, and his paws were badly cut and bleeding. Robbins is also a group leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club.
Both are well acquainted with tough hikes but said this one was tough, featuring wet, jagged rocks and slabs. Especially above treeline — and a nasty incline. “Not an easy trail,” Robbins said. It was not clear why a person who wasn’t prepared well would bring a dog in a place so difficult and dangerous.
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department does not rescue dogs injured during a hike, said Lt. Robert Mancini of Fish and Game. “We do not have the resources to climb a mountain to rescue a dog,” Mancini said. “We have to direct search and rescue to people.”
Fish and Game and other agencies warn hikers and campers to be careful but some are not. “It’s important to know your limitations and the limitations of who you are hiking with, the person as well as animal,” Mancini said. “If the dog is used to walking around in the backyard, it’s not a good idea to take the dog up a mountain with rugged terrain.”
“It’s a nice story that someone came and helped,” he said. There were six volunteers with a common goal. They climbed there to help. Robbins and Cozzens saw the alert on Facebook from hikers who had passed Winston and Odin and it was urgent and mentioned if anyone had a dog harness.
The hike was almost 3 miles, and the two women were at separate places on the trail. They gathered information from hikers on their way down, the dog wasn’t able to move. They’d been given food and water. And a sleeping bag.
“My mind started to think, ‘How are we going to get the dog out,’ ” Cozzens said. “This was super-technical. Very wet rocks. Very slippery.” They finally found Odin and bandaged its paws with gauze and planned what to do next. There wasn’t time to hike up to the Cog Railway for its final ride.
So they took out the dog harness and secured the dog in it and began to climb down. Two men shared the burden, passing the harness back and forth after 15-minute shifts, relying on Cozzens to find the flattest, driest spots on the trail. “We talked the whole way down,” Cozzens said. “We had nine hours together, and we had to put a lot of trust in each other.”
Hikers met them with food and water, around every turn. People joined the caravan down until two or three dozen were walking with the original six. In the parking lot, there was watermelon and cold drinks on a picnic table provided by the New Hampshire Animal Rescue Team and Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue, both nonprofits.
“Exhausted, hungry but elated,” was how Robbins described it. She drove home to Thornton, to meet Appa, her golden retriever. “I looked at my dog,” Robbins said, holding her dog harness. “I told him, ‘Appa, you’re lucky you’ve never had to use one of these.’ ”