Otis Orth took his dog for a snowmachine ride in Trapper Creek when a shallow patch of ice threw him from his machine
ANCHORAGE – It’s commonly said that a dog is a man’s best friend, but one Alaska man’s dog has proven to be much more after refusing to leave side of its owner after a snowmachine accident.
Otis Orth, 52, is recovering at Providence Alaska Medical Center after spending 28 hours injured and freezing on a rural Alaska trail.
Orth’s face is covered with snow burn, he can’t move his arm or neck and his foot, while no longer blackened by frostbite, is still at risk of amputation. Yet, Orth says he’s thank thankful in his hospital bed.
“I owe that dog my life,” Orth said.
That dog that Orth says saved his life is his golden retriever named Amber.
He took Amber along for a snowmachine ride in Trapper Creek on Sunday afternoon, he says, when a shallow patch of ice threw him from his machine.
“I’m just kind of sliding across this really hard pack snow, starts out 15, 20 feet on my face then the rest of it is like being in a dryer,” Orth recalls.
Orth was left injured and unable to move. Hours passed, night began to fall and Orth’s backcountry know-how kicked in.
“When you get hypothermia you have a tendency to think you’re warm and lay down and go to sleep and once you do that you’re done for,” Orth said. “That night I laid there and watched shooting stars, the big dipper and satellites zooming across. There wasn’t much I could do that night but stay warm.”
Alaska State Troopers Search and Rescue Coordinator Lt. Steven Adams says everyone that ventures into Alaska’s rural areas should always prepare for the worst.
“Everybody venturing out into the woods should be prepared to spend at least one night,” Adams said. “We have a good network of search and rescue in the state … because the state is so immense it takes a lot of time to find people.”
Adams says necessities like, “warm clothing, food, water, some sort of communication device, some sort of signaling device,” can mean the difference between life and death. Orth had none of those things. But he did have Amber who kept Orth warm enough to make it to the next morning, in spite of temperatures reaching 14 below freezing.
“She’s laying right there with me with her head in her paws on my stomach and her belly turned in towards my right arm there,” Orth said. “I could feel her body heat and we were both shivering.”
When Monday afternoon rolled around, the distant sound of snow machines offered Orth a sliver of hope. Still immobile, Orth sent his 2-year-old rescue dog Amber toward the noise to begin his own rescue.
“I got her all hyped up and sent her out there. I said, ‘Go get ‘em, go see what they’re doing,'” Orth said. “I sent the dog back over there and I heard one of the brothers tell the other one, ‘There’s something wrong. That dog’s not following us it’s trying to get us to follow her.'”
Sure enough, two men on snowmachines, guided by Amber, found Orth in the same frozen spot he’d spent the last 26 hours.
“I owe that dog my life,” he said. “If I had to stay there one more night I wouldn’t have made it. At the time, I couldn’t let myself think that. It was there in the back of my mind but you still gotta do what you can.”
Doctors say Orth is expected to make a full recovery, but could still lose a toe or two to frostbite.
The Department of Public Safety is offering free backcountry safety awareness classes from now until June 1.