Dog with life jacket prevails over Rogue River peril

AGNESS — Pete Pollard walked up the remote trail through the Lower Rogue River Canyon with the melancholy of a man who knows his one missed oar-stroke killed his daughter's dog.

The day before, the 57-year-old Talent man miss-rowed while rafting the wild Rogue's Blossom Bar, pitching himself, two others and two canines into the river for a perilous bounce downstream.

All were rescued within minutes of the accident except for Ali, a 15-pound Boston terrier. Now, a full day later, it was time to recover the last victim.

“I was looking in the eddies for his body,” Pollard says.

Then a twig snapped just off the trail. And another. “Oh, geez,” Pollard thought. “Now I gotta deal with a bear.”

But out of the bushes popped Ali, still sporting his blue life vest.

“That little tyke came walking down the hill like it was no big deal,” Pollard says of the dog's June 28 rescue upstream of Blossom Bar. “He swam two rapids, got out of the canyon on the correct side of the river, walked upstream, survived the night, and walked out like it was nothing.”

“Wow,” he says. “That was a great feeling.”

By living up to his namesake as a fighter and survivor, little Ali now has earned a few minutes of fame as the new poster-puppy for canine life jackets.

The neoprene life jackets, which cost from as little as $20 to more than $100, fit snugly to the torso. Most sport a back strap made for hoisting an overboard dog back into a boat. While not required anywhere in the United States, they have become commonplace on waters throughout the country.

“They're hugely popular,” says Chris Edmondston, director of safety programs for the Maryland-based Boat Owners Association of the United States.

A page about dog vests on the BOAT-US Web site is one of the association's most-viewed pages, Edmondston says.

Casual boaters tend not to buy them, but whitewater boaters and others sometimes are more inclined to jacket-up their pet than themselves, he says.

“You'll see the kids wearing them and the pets wearing them, but the adults not wearing them,” Edmondston says. “You can save your pet, but who's going to take care of him when you drown?”

All three people and two dogs in Pollard's raft wore life jackets when Pollard oared his raft into the first maneuver June 27 through Blossom Bar.

The first move is to pull left-to-right across the upstream side of a string of partially submerged boulders dubbed the “Picket Fence.”

Pollard missed a left oar stroke. The raft hit the Picket Fence and flipped, sending everyone and everything overboard.

“I've done the lower Rogue 60 times, and it's the first time I've flipped,” Pollard says.

His wife, Deb Pollard, and fellow passenger Bonnie Dial of Medford floated through Blossom Bar and were pulled to safety by others in their party.

Duke, the family's 80-pound, pitbull-labrador mix that also was wearing a life jacket, swam through Blossom Bar and the next rapid, called Devil's Staircase, before reaching shore.

For two and a half hours, the group struggled to free the raft, finally righting the craft and negotiating the rapid.

Only then did Pollard realize Ali wasn't accounted for.

They searched the waters, asked other boaters for help. Nothing. Even excursion jetboaters began looking for Ali throughout the day. Still nothing.

“There were hundreds of eyes looking for that dog,” Pollard says.
As the party set up camp downstream, Pollard hiked upstream looking and calling for Ali.

He hiked back to camp that night deflated.

The 5-year-old dog belongs to his daughter, who is living in Houston — entrusted to Pollard only for the summer.

“It was not a great feeling,” he says. “I didn't want to make that phone call.”
Pollard hiked back up the next morning, doing his eddy-to-eddy search when Ali created his own happy ending to the tale.

“That dog swam Blossom Bar, then spent the night in the wilderness under a bush, hiding from bears and cougars,” says Tom Shafer, a Medford rafter who was part of Pollard's party. “That had to be quite an ordeal.”

When the entire party reached the take-out at Foster Bar later that day, Ali received a standing ovation.

It's probably the last time Ali will wear the life jacket that saved his life. For future excursions, there will be no need for neoprene.

“It's a good vest, obviously,” Pollard says. “But he's not going down any big rivers anymore.”

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