The Dog Stories of Sierra Madre Search and Rescue

Sierra Madre Search and Rescue’s (SMSR) motto is “anywhere in the wilderness that someone needs help.” And by anyone we mean human, dog, donkey, mule, horse or bear. Yes, we’ve rescued them all, but the dogs we have rescued have a special place in our hearts.

Since the team started keeping records, in 2003, there have been 41 dog rescues. The Team has helped dogs that have been out with their lost owners, stranded in steep terrain, dangerously overheated, or simply exhausted.

Overheated Dogs

In the last couple of years SMSR has seen multiple overheated dogs on the Mount Wilson Trail. This trail has very little access to water or shade and is a dangerous place for a dog on a warm day. In these cases, rescuers responded with extra water, frozen water bottles and ice packs to begin cooling the dogs immediately and then transported the dogs off the mountain. 

When considering taking your dog for a hike, remember that short snout breeds like pugs and Boston terriers are not great hikers. They are especially prone to exhaustion and overheating. If temperatures will be reaching 75℉ carefully consider how dark your dog’s coat is and how much shade is on the trail. If temperatures will reach 80℉ it is best for your dog to stay home. When your dog does join you for a hike be sure you carry plenty of water for both of you. 

Lost Dogs

Two dogs SMSR helped this summer spent an unexpected night out with their owner and a friend when the group got lost on a hike to Cooper Canyon Falls. A SMSR team was thrilled to find the group alive and well the next day, and hiked the women back to the trailhead giving the exhausted pups a ride for most of the hike out.

In 2019 one dog helped lead rescuers to their missing owner. On July 12 Sheryl Powell and her dog went missing from the Grandview Campground near the Bristlecone Pine Forest. Teams from across California joined in the search and on day 4 of the search the dog was found, alive and well. This find caused search assignments to be shifted to the area, and later in the day Mrs. Powell was located alive and well by a SMSR crew. 

Stranded Dogs

Another dog helped lead SMSR to a new team member. In 2014 Bandit was out hiking with his owner, Michael Owens, when Bandit got stranded on a narrow ledge off trail. Our friends with the Montrose Search and Rescue Team, sent rescuers down on ropes to retrieve Bandit and hoist him back up to the trail. This was Owens’ introduction to what mountain rescuers do, and shortly after Owens joined SMSR.  

Behind every search, and each rescue that SMSR responds to there is a story to be told. But the ones that involve dogs are especially memorable to our teammates. Although we are always ready to help any dog that needs it, we’d rather you be prepared when you are hiking with your dog so that we don’t have to. 

Know that dogs build physical fitness just like you. If your dog only takes walks around the block, they’re not ready for a 14 mile trip to Mt. Wilson. Be cautious about putting them in a situation where they will overheat. Know that your dog will be safest on a leash.

Since 1951, the all-volunteer Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team has responded to calls for help in the local mountains and beyond.  SMSR also provides a range of wilderness safety programs. The Team never charges for any of these services, and is funded entirely by charitable donations. For more information, to donate, or to arrange a wilderness safety demonstration for your school or group, visit

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