- Associated Press - Thursday, April 28, 2016

BEND, Ore. (AP) - A routine jog Saturday by the Deschutes River nearly turned tragic for Garrett Bergby when his 10-year-old Llewellin setter suddenly bolted for a flock of ducks.

Kaya managed to get out of her leash and collar and went into the river, Bergby, 34, said, where she soon struggled to stay above water in the fast-moving current and eventually became marooned on an island.

Steve and Kari Strang happened to be nearby with their sons Jack, 12 and Ben, 10. The family was holding a solemn ceremony to remember two of their dogs who had recently died.

Bergby and the Strang family managed to rescue Kaya and are still amazed by the circumstances that brought them together.

“It’s a terrible feeling to look at somebody you love and feel helpless,” Bergby said Tuesday. “The fact that Kari and Steve and their kids came to the rescue without a doubt, that’s just really cool community.”

Bergby, originally from Eugene, moved to Bend 10 years ago at about the same time he got Kaya as a puppy. About twice a week he runs with her on the Central Oregon Canal Trail in southwest Bend.

Kaya went into the river Saturday in an area south of the South Canyon Trail Bridge, he said, which is about 1½ miles upriver from the Bill Healy Memorial Bridge.

“It was an area where there wasn’t a ton of rapids, but the current was enough to where she got caught into the bad rapids,” said Bergby.

He said he couldn’t get to her because it was too dangerous to wade out into the water. She got caught on a log in the river and started to struggle.

“If she would have gone under she wouldn’t have come back up,” he said. “The way the water was, she would have drowned. I felt completely helpless because I couldn’t get to her.”

Although it was a weekend afternoon, it was a cool day, in the high 50s, and Bergby hadn’t seen many people on the trail.

He said he didn’t want to lose sight of Kaya, so he did his best to watch her from the shore and ran back across the trail bridge to the other side of the river. Kaya made it onto an island, but “she was dead tired from trying to deal with the water,” he said.

As Kaya ran around the island, desperate to jump off and swim to safety, she got caught in some branches in the middle of the island over a pool of water, Bergby said.

“It was just holding her down and she was struggling up and down and bobbing in the water,” he said. “I thought she was going to die right then and there.”

She barely got back onto the island and out of the branches, he said, when his cellphone died and he decided to run downstream and try to contact somebody.

It was then that he ran into the Strang family of Bend, who had gathered near the river to mourn the loss of their two chocolate Labs.

The Strang’s 14-year-old dog, Sierra, had died two months ago. Their other dog, McKenzie, would have turned 3 on Saturday , but was struck and killed by a car two weeks prior.

“After losing Sierra and then to lose McKenzie that closely together, when she was so young, and in a traumatic way, for our family, was really sad,” said Kari Strang, on Wednesday.

Kari Strang, 43, was running with McKenzie in the Good Dog! Trail off-leash area in the Deschutes National Forest southwest of Bend. The young dog ran after something suddenly toward Century Drive. McKenzie tried to dart across the road but was run over, Kari Strang said.

“We were there as a family to grieve,” she said about being near the river Saturday. “We picked that day and planned on doing a birthday celebration for McKenzie.”

Bergby and the Strangs knew each other from serving together on the board of Healthy Beginnings, a local nonprofit that provides healthcare to young children and their parents.

Kari Strang said she saw the panic in Bergby’s eyes and the leash without a dog attached.

“I tell them what’s going on and they immediately spring into action,” Bergby said. “There’s no question.”

“All of us were like, ‘Of course, what do you need?’ It was never a thought when something like happens and somebody needs your help,” said Kari Strang. “You just go.”

After considering different options, Bergby and Steve Strang, 44, decided to use a log and place it across rocks and logjams to wade out to the island where Kaya was stranded. The cold water was chest deep in some areas, Bergby said.

Steve Strang and Bergby managed to take Kaya across from the island and reach the shore.

Bergby described the ordeal and the Strang’s help in a Facebook post the next day. As of Thursday morning, the post had dozens of comments and more than 250 “likes.”

“This town is full of so many good people,” said Bergby. “The fact that they’re mourning the loss of their dogs and then they’re able to be in a position to help save another dog, that’s just so cool.”

Bergby said Kaya is a little sore, but for the most part has acted like nothing happened.

Kari Strang said the opportunity to take part in the rescue of Kaya has helped her family heal. The loss of McKenzie was personally devastating, she said.

“That accident is going to haunt me the rest of my life, but I think somehow this has somehow calmed a little bit of that pain,” said Kari Strang.

She said she doesn’t feel any less guilty about losing McKenzie, but the rescue of Kaya has brought a sense of peace and comfort.

“I come away with it seeing it as a sign of faith and hope and finding some light out of a pretty dark time for our family,” Kari Strang said. “Regardless of your faith and belief there are some things that happen that don’t just happen. I think it was something that we have had a hard time even explaining.”


Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com

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