Nikki Bigger will leave Cowichan Valley heartbroken and without her beloved Australian Shepherd toy.
But she will also leave with the memory of how a brave group of volunteers and two young women came to her aid in tragic circumstances.
The drama unfolded Wednesday afternoon at the top of Stoney Hill Regional Park as Bigger and another woman were enjoying a hike and taking in the scenery.
“One minute we were taking pictures of our dogs and then she threw a stick over the cliff,” Bigger explained as her tears flowed.
Instinctively, the one-year-old Australian Shepherd named Frankie chased the stick and fell overboard.
“It’s so messed up. My best friend’s life was taken by someone who did something stupid, ”Bigger said.
Bigger called 911 and within minutes, volunteers from the Maple Bay Fire Department arrived on the scene. They quickly realized there was nothing they could do, given the steep cliff that overlooks Sansum Narrows, and called Cowichan Search and Rescue.
As she sat in the van that was home for herself, her boyfriend and Frankie, Bigger watched SAR personnel and equipment gather on Stoney Hill Road to prepare to head to the site of research. More than 20 SAR members have joined the recovery effort.
“Do they always do this?” Bigger asked. “It’s incredible.”
Assured that this was a typical response from Cowichan SAR, a highly skilled and highly motivated non-profit organization, Bigger joined the team as they made their way to Stoney Hill.
By 4 p.m., two members of the rope rescue team had reached the base of the cliff and began to search for the dog.
“Cliff rescues are not uncommon,” said SAR Team Leader Jamie Tudway-Cains. “But dog rescues are.”
Tudway-Cains says that in situations like the Stoney Mountain intervention, it’s important to be proactive.
“We don’t want to have to rescue the owner trying to reach the dog,” he said.
As she watched the recovery effort, Bigger was joined by two women who had walked the 3.2 mile loop trail and were surprised to see the SAR team and the dog’s owner distraught.
Marigold Arbic and Tash Pegg sat with Bigger for over an hour, consoling her and offering to help her through the sad experience.
“We’re here for you, whatever we can do,” Arbic assured him, as news broke that the dog had been found and would be brought to the top of the mountain.
Tudway-Cains broke the news to Bigger who already knew the dog was unlikely to survive the fall.
“We have 300 feet of rope and we used everything but 10 feet of it,” Tudway-Cains said, noting that the drop was almost 290 feet.
Cowichan SAR often trains at the site due to its challenges and the dangers that exist there and others on Stoney Hill.
Frankie had become something of a celebrity in his short life. With the help of his owners, Frankie had attracted 24,500 followers on Instagram via @letsgo_frankie.
He regularly reported on his travels with Bigger and her boyfriend as they made their way westward from Ontario to Canmore, Alta. And then to Vancouver Island in their custom van.
On August 28, Frankie posted a photo and this message: “So many more adventures to come live in this van and roar in North America.”
The plan was to continue to California and overwinter in Arizona once Bigger’s boyfriend returned to British Columbia after a photo assignment in eastern Canada.
Bigger, also a photographer, posted a heart-wrenching Instagram post on Thursday morning.
“It’s really difficult for me. But I know you are all wondering what happened yesterday and a lot of people care about him.
“My hairy boyfriend is no longer with us. Thanks for all your support. We will keep it in our hearts.
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