Whoever popularized the phrase that a dog is “man’s best friend” must have had Bob Gydesen and Ashley in mind.
Ashley is a 12-year-old female border collie. She and Bob, who is a gold miner and longtime member of the Gunnison Volunteer Fire Department, have been inseparable for all of those years.
“She was born on a ranch down in Saguache,” explained Christine Gydesen, Bob’s former wife and a big part of this fairy tale story. “Ashley and Bob connected immediately and she’s been a one-man dog ever since. She won’t even come to me if Bob is around.”
“Everyone has a unique relationship with their pets,” added Jake Wilkinson, who’s worked alongside Bob at the Gold Links Mine near Ohio City for the entirety of Ashley’s life. “But I’d say theirs is even uncommon. Ashley is Bob’s kid. And Bob is Ashley’s dad.”
That’s why when Ashley went missing for three days and nights it was very much like losing a family member. As so often happens, when a crisis hits a member of the Gunnison community, the Gunnison community comes to the rescue.
“Bob was completely shocked to see how many people were concerned about Ashley and willing to help,” Christine said.
Bob was working at the Gold Links Saturday when a severe thunderstorm blew in quickly. Before he could put her in his pickup, Ashley got spooked by lightning and ran off.
Strangely, for a smart dog who was very familiar with the area and utterly devoted to her master, she never came back.
That’s because she’d fallen down a 150-foot mine shaft.
“One-hundred and fifty-three feet, to be precise,” Wilkinson said.
Throughout Sunday and Monday a massive search for Ashley ensued. Bob, Wilkinson and as many as 50 volunteers scoured the rugged countryside near the Gold Links, which happens to be strewn with mining relics from a bygone era.
Christine helped spread the word through social media, the Gunnison Country Times and local radio station KEJJ. She contacted local animal welfare groups and even reached out to shelters throughout the state, in the event that someone had picked up Ashley and taken her out of the area.
Bob left his truck parked at the mine site, day and night, with the door open in case Ashley returned.
“I haven’t slept in a couple of days, I’ve been so sick for Bob,” Wilkinson explained. “He was in rough shape.”
By Tuesday morning, no one was willing to give up the search. They felt confident no one had seen Ashley or picked her up, and that she must be relatively close to where she went missing.
At about 10 a.m. Wilkson spotted an abandoned mine shaft, “in the middle of nowhere,” approximately a mile and a half away from the Gold Links. The opening was small, maybe three feet in diameter, and Wilkinson observed what appeared to be freshly disturbed dirt near its entrance.
He felt it was worth investigating.
He and Gydesen are part of a mine rescue team and trained in exactly this type of scenario. They were joined by others with mine rescue experience and went to work expanding the opening, securing the shaft’s walls, assembling ropes and harnesses, air quality meters and other safety equipment to make an exploratory dive.
“I got down there a little ways and heard a whimper,” Wilkinson explained. “I said to myself, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. I can’t believe she’s down there and I can’t believe she’s alive.’”
Wilkinson resurfaced and broke the news to Gydesen, whose first questions were, “Is it safe? And are you willing to go after her?”
What ensued was an eight hour, professionally conducted mine rescue — the type of which you see on TV or in the movies.
Gydesen was the first to reach Ashley. She was standing on all fours, in tight quarters, but seemingly uninjured.
“She was smiling and whimpering with excitement,” Wilkinson said.
When all three reached the surface and joined those assembled on top, everyone was overjoyed at the miracle they felt they’d just been a part of.
“It was just amazing,” Wilkinson said. “Bob looked at me and said, ‘I’m the happiest man on the planet right now.’”
A trip to the vet, who’d been put on notice earlier that day, confirmed that minus a scrape on the nose, some soreness and dehydration, Ashley was fine.
Wilkinson said the experience serves as a good reminder that Gunnison County is old mining country. Abandoned shafts litter the backcountry. If you encounter one, he said, contact authorities and by all means don’t enter it.
Another lesson is about the power of a caring community and, of course, about the bond between a man and his dog.
(Chris Dickey can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)