At first glance, 14-year old Labrador retriever Jake shows the signs of his age.

His black fur is graying around his muzzle, and arthritis in his hips limits him to a slow, cautious gait. He spends most of his time lounging outside in the shade, though he's always willing to amble into the garage when he hears the treat bag open.

But his owners, Travis and Ashley Bryant of Castle Rock, say their aging canine is rather miraculous. He recently survived 17 days on his own, trapped in a 20-foot ravine without food or water.

The rusted, worn collar Jake was wearing when he got stuck hangs in the Bryants' garage as a reminder of "the strength he had," Ashley Bryant said. Now he's back home making a full recovery.

"The vets keep saying he's a miracle," she added.

Jake vanished the evening of July 3. Ashley Bryant took her took her two kids into town to celebrate the holiday, and she left Jake and Diesel, the family's other dog, outside, knowing Travis would soon be home from work.

"He was only home alone that evening for four hours, tops," she said.

The Bryants used to give Jake a sedative over Independence Day to help him stay calm though the loud fireworks, but Jake can't have sedatives in his old age. He was likely spooked off the property by fireworks shot off by new neighbors, Ashley Bryant said.

At first, the Bryants weren't worried about Jake's absence. It's not unusual for the dog to spend time at other houses in the neighborhood, they said. Part of his daily routine includes a visit to a neighbor for chicken nuggets around 6 p.m., Travis Bryant added.

But when Jake didn't show up the next morning, "we were frantic searching for him," Ashley Bryant said.

They spread the news any way they could: Fliers nailed to fence posts, "missing dog signs" hung at local stores and messages posted to Facebook.

Hundreds of people reached out to help with the search -- some as far away as Toutle and Rainier, Ashley said.

"Every single black dog someone found, no matter what breed it was, people would ask, 'Is this Jake?' " Ashley said.

The search spanned more than two weeks, and Travis Bryant admits he doubted they'd actually find Jake.

"For me, it was about two days before we actually found him that I gave up hope," Travis Bryant said.

Jake shares a special bond with Travis Bryant, who raised the dog after he and his mother, Teri, saved Jake at 7 weeks old from going to the pound. Travis Bryant celebrated his 36th birthday on July 19, marking his first birthday in 14 years without Jake.

The next day, as the family solemnly prepared for their 8-year-old son's birthday party, a woman came walking up the Bryant's driveway.

"She said, 'I have your dog. I have Jake,' " Ashley Bryant said.

After all of the previous calls from people who thought they had found Jake had turned out wrong, the Bryants weren't holding their breath. But then the woman told them that she'd noticed he had hip problems.

"The second she said the dog's hips were bad, I knew it was Jake," Ashley Bryant said.

They followed the woman to the house "three driveways down," and found Jake at the bottom of a a 20-foot ravine. It is too steep and deep to have seen Jake on a casual glance, but the neighbors saw him while disposing of grass clippings.

Their dog "looked like death," Ashley Bryant said. Parts of his head were sucked into his skull due to dehydration. His eyes were filled with mucus, and he couldn't walk because of the pain from his arthritis, she said.

But he was alive.

"He perked up his ears as soon as he heard Travis' voice coming over the hill," she said. "We kind of slid-walked down the slope. ... There was no way with his hip problems Jake was going to get back out (otherwise)."

The Bryants immediately took Jake to the Valley Veterinary Clinic in Rainier. The vet recognized Jake -- the missing black dog --from all of the Facebook posts, Travis Bryant said, and he started treating the dog right away.

Everyone assumed Jake would be held at the vet to recover from his fight for survival, Ashley Bryant said, but the dog's homecoming happened the very same day he was found.

"It was my birthday present, a day late," her husband said.

The soft bed the family prepared for Jake was left empty that day as he hobbled over to each birthday party attendant to say hi.

"He wanted to be in the party. He didn't way to stay in bed," Ashley Bryant said.

Jake continues to spend his recovery near his family. Since his two weeks in the ravine, the Bryants have noticed their dog likes to "keep his eyes" on Travis Bryant at all times. If his "dad" wanders out of his line of sight, Jake moves so he can see him.

Jake also sleeps curled up next to Diesel in the same dog bed, even though he has his own.

"It's almost like he has a little bit of anxiety about being alone," Ashley Byrant said.

Travis Bryant said his dog has showed him that even canines can teach humans life lessons.

"I know he's just a dog ... but (humans) can learn after something like this, too: Don't give up."

Ashley Bryant added that Jake's will to live shows how "he wanted nothing more than to be in the family. ... It's a real testament that dogs love you as much as you love them."


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