Dog reunited with Ashland family after dramatic rescue

Titan the Great Dane is soaking up all the love Merri Walters-Woo has to offer while he recovers from a real-life cliffhanger.

Walters-Woo, 44, of Ashland, had nearly lost faith that the 4-year-old dog would be found alive after he ran away from her brother's Portland area home on Dec. 29.

While outside on a potty break, Titan suddenly bolted into the night, chasing after a passing car he likely mistook for Walters-Woo's vehicle, she said.

"He was doing really great," she said. "Then a car drove by that looked exactly like mine and he just took off. My brother felt so terrible."

A flurry of "Lost Dog" fliers, Craigslist postings and offers of a $1,000 reward had alerted the dog-friendly Vancouver Lake neighborhood to keep a sharp eye out for Titan. The next night there was a reported sighting in a nearby park. But Titan was not to be found.

"How can you miss a Great Dane?" Walters-Woo said.

As the days turned into weeks, Walters-Woo and her husband continued to drive to Portland to join Andy Walters and his fiancée, Amanda Giese, as they searched ravines, parks and along railroad tracks. But there were no further sightings.

Meanwhile, Portland was experiencing the worst weather possible, she said.

"It snowed, it rained, it was freezing," Walters-Woo said. "He's not an independent type of dog. He's super clingy. He wants to be in the house 24/7."

By Jan. 14, the harlequin Dane had been missing for 16 days.

"I thought for sure Titan was dead," she said. "I sat and prayed. He may not come back."

Then the phone rang. Titan was alive. But just barely.

"He was in really, really bad shape," Walters-Woo said. "My brother warned me he might not make it."

Rachel Gissel and her young children were spending Friday afternoon looking for frogs at a nearby pond when they spotted a dog stranded on a ledge 50 feet down a muddy ravine. Gissel immediately recognized Titan from the fliers. She called Walters. He and Giese raced to the rescue, Walters-Woo said.

It was Giese, 28, who scrambled down the vertical face of the washed-out ravine.

Sliding down blackberry bushes, grasping for handholds, Giese traversed the landslides and crawled over muddy debris to reach Titan.

"He was really excited to see me," Giese said. "I said, 'Are you ready to go home? Let's go!' "

But getting Titan out of the ravine was not going to be easy. Starvation and dehydration had taken their toll. Titan had lost 50 pounds off his normally 150-pound frame. The dog also had seriously injured his front leg.

"I thought the infection had gone to the bone. I thought for sure, if we could even get him out of there, if he survived, he'd lose the leg," she said.

Giese barely weighs 100 pounds herself. But she was the only one the frightened dog would allow near him.

"He likes two people, Merri and me. I told (everyone else) to stand back," Giese said, adding Titan was biting and snapping at others' rescue attempts.

Standing precariously on a rotten stump, Giese quickly realized an outcropping over the area where Titan was trapped meant she had to persuade the dog to take a literal and lateral leap of faith.

"One leap was what I really needed," Giese said, as she continued to coax the dog.

"I finally said 'Titan! You need to jump to me now!' "

Titan jumped, and landed on Giese's legs, then crawled up onto her body. From that point on, the pair endured a gut-busting scramble to the top of the embankment. Giese would push the dog ahead of her, drag him behind her, whatever it took to gain ground, she said.

"Every step I took, I'd step and slide backwards," Giese said.

When they finally popped over the edge, Giese's adrenaline was so kicked in she simply picked Titan up and carried him to the car. The dog's feet were almost dragging on the ground, she said.

"He's so big. And I'm not. I don't know how I did it, really. I just knew that when he took that leap there was no way I was going to leave him behind in that ravine," Giese said.

Portland veterinarians examined Titan and determined that while he was emaciated and suffering from a serious leg infection and other lesser injuries, the dog had no broken bones, Walters-Woo said.

"When I first saw my brother, I just cried," she said. "But I felt such relief knowing Titan wasn't going to die out there by himself."

Life has never been easy for Titan. He was the last of his litter to be adopted, his four-legged mother rejected him after biting a hole in his ear, and he was isolated in a pen until he was adopted by Walters-Woo at 5 months old. At the time he had a cut on his eye, staples in his ears and his tail had been docked, she said.

"He was always an accident-proned little guy," Walters-Woo said.

Walters-Woo was able to bring Titan home Monday from DoveLewis, a nonprofit emergency veterinary clinic in Portland. There may be surgeries in his future, depending on how well his leg heals. But for now their days will revolve around wound care, doses of medicine — and lots and lots of snuggling.

"His recovery is going to be long," Walters-Woo said. "His wound is seven inches long and three inches wide."

Gissel, the frog-hunting woman who found Titan, refused to accept the $1,000 reward, Walters-Woo said.

"She said to put it toward Titan's medical bills," Walters-Woo said. "I am so grateful to her, and to Amanda, and to everyone. It's really a miracle. I am so blessed."

Sanne Specht is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at 541-776-4497 or e-mail

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