Dogs are an integral part of many people’s lives in Alaska, and one Trapper Creek man has even more reason to be grateful to his four-legged companion after she kept him warm during a night injured and stranded in the cold, then found the help that resulted in his rescue.
While it was neighbors, State Troopers, local EMS, and a LifeMed helicopter that made sure Otis Orth got safely to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, the hero of the day is his two-year-old Golden Retriever, Amber. Without her, Orth, a resident of Trapper Creek, says he probably would not have survived his ordeal.
Orth was driving his snowmachine from his homestead near mile 17 of the Petersville Road on Sunday when he hit a hollow snow drift. His machine bucked, throwing him nearly 50 feet away. The snowmachine then kept going for about forty yards, stopping in a thicket. At first, Otis Orth says he could not move at all.
“I was laying on my left side with my left arm sticking out behind me, my right arm sticking out in front of me, and I couldn’t move,” he said.
Eventually, Orth was able to roll onto his back. After awhile, he heard snowmachines. Because he had sunken into the snow, however, Orth couldn’t be seen from the trail. He says at that time he was nearly unable to speak to send his dog to try to find them. Since it was Sunday afternoon, Orth says that most of the trail users over the weekend had left, meaning he was going to have to spend the night, unable to move, in the freezing conditions.
“My dog kinda just lay across my belly on my right side. I just kept my mind occupied watching the stars and stuff,” Orth said.
On Monday morning, Otis Orth says he would occasionally hear snowmachines, and would try to send Amber to find them, but she refused to go more than about 40 yards from him. In the early afternoon, Orth says he knew he was running out of chances, when he heard engines one more time.
“I heard a couple snowmachines coming. They weren’t very far away, so I psyched Amber up ‘Go get ‘em, girl! Go see who’s out there!’” Orth said.
This time, Amber ran all the way into the trail, and was noticed by Tom Taylor and his brother, who were out riding. Taylor says that the dog approached and followed multiple times. He says he didn’t want the dog to follow in case she lived in one of the nearby cabins. Eventually, he says his brother prevailed on him to stop and check out what was going on, since Amber was obviously agitated. They dismounted, but Amber was no longer coming toward them. Instead, she was just sitting. Tom and Maynard Taylor decided to take a closer look.
“Maybe half-way over there I started to see a black object on the snow. There’s no trees over there, this is open swamp,” Orth said. “It turns out it was [Orth’s] knee. He had it pulled up toward his body…When I got closer, we saw it was a person.”
The Taylor brothers spoke to Orth, who said he was unable to move. Maynard got back on his snowmachine and drove to the trailhead, where he called 911. The Alaska State Troopers and Trapper Creek EMS responded. In addition, Orth’s neighbors were notified and began bringing anything that might help him warm up, from heat pads to hair dryers. The group stayed with him until a LifeMed helicopter arrived at about 4:00 pm. He is being treated at Providence for his injuries as well as frostbite to his left foot.
Otis Orth says that he doesn’t think he could have made it another night. During the phone interview in his hospital room, he thanked the pilot, Troopers, EMTs, neighbors, and snowmachiners that decided to stop. Tom Taylor told Orth who he thinks is really responsible for his surviving the incident.
“I told him–I said, ‘I think your dog saved your life.’”