- Associated Press - Thursday, August 20, 2015

SHEFFIELD, Ala. (AP) - Charlton and Denise James had given up hope their golden retriever was alive. It had been a month since the dog disappeared after falling from an 80-foot cliff.

Then last week, three fishermen spotted a scared-looking, thin, but obviously well-bred dog hobbling along the bank of the Tennessee River. It was Buddy, the golden retriever.

Buddy’s ordeal began on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in July when the Jameses decided to take their beloved pet to his favorite nearby field overlooking the river to romp and play.

“It got time to go and we called him back to the Jeep,” Denise said. “He took a couple steps and stopped. Suddenly, he darted into the woods, something he’s never done. I guess he was chasing something.”

The couple rushed after the dog, calling and calling him. As they ran toward the woods, they heard the snap of tree branches breaking.

“We knew he’d gone off the cliff,” said Denise. “We were hysterical.”

Charlton marked the spot with his GPS locator so he could find the spot from the water below the bluff. Then the couple frantically made their way to the bottom of the cliff, where they found some young men in a boat, who drove them to the site.

The couple failed to find Buddy that day, or in the days and weeks that followed.

Charlton, an associate professor of theater at the University of North Alabama, said he missed Buddy the most in the early mornings and late evenings before bed, when he’d play his guitar.

“He’d always come to where I was when I started playing, and would sit right there with me, my constant audience whether anyone else listened or not,” he said.

“I got to where I couldn’t bear to play because he wasn’t there. It was amazing how grief-stricken we all were. We couldn’t bear to talk about it to our 10-year-daughter, Olivia, either.”

Finally, early last week, they resigned themselves to the fact that Buddy could be dead. They even tried to bring in another pet, but had to take the dog back.

Then last Thursday, Larry Hester, his son Ethan and his son’s friend Chase Murphy were fishing in that area when the boys spotted a scared-looking, thin, but obviously well-bred dog along the river bank.

Hester said they could tell the dog was injured, and tried to coax the dog into their boat. But Buddy wouldn’t come. They fed the dog some crackers, and one of the boys took a picture with his cellphone that they later posted on Facebook.

That photo was the key to reuniting Buddy with his family.

“My Facebook started lighting up with people sending me messages that it was Buddy,” said Denise.

When Hester returned home that evening, he got in touch with the couple and told them exactly where he had seen the dog. He then offered to take the Jameses to the location. As the boat pulled near the shore, they could see a dog.

“I knew right away it was Buddy,” Denise said. “And he was right below where we knew he’d fallen.”

Charlton said Buddy couldn’t move well, but he made his way toward him slowly. The retriever had suffered a hip injury in the fall, and had lost about 30 pounds.

“He was painfully thin, but I took him in my arms and he stayed there all the way back, with his mouth open and panting with that smile on his face,” he said. “I can’t describe how my heart felt right then.”

Dr. Adam Thompson, of North Alabama Animal Hospital in Sheffield, said Buddy’s biggest health issue was his rapid and extreme weight loss.

“He went from 85 to 55 pounds in a month, so getting his weight back and getting him out of shock were the pressing issues,” he said.

“His bone came out of the socket of his right rear leg, likely from his fall. We’ll do surgery when he’s a healthier weight. It’s basically a salvage procedure where we’ll cut out the ball (of the ball and socket) and that will take away his pain.

“He’ll need physical therapy, but hopefully can regain use of that leg,” he said.

The veterinarian said having water access was likely a major reason for Buddy’s survival.

“He had to have some nutrients of some sort besides the river water,” Thompson said. “He might have had fish that washed up on the bank, or maybe other boaters threw food out to him. You just can’t know. I do know that it’s a miracle he lived. God’s hands were on him the whole time. There’s just no other explanation.”

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Information from: TimesDaily, https://www.timesdaily.com/


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