Four days after an avalanche killed his master and buried him alive, a little Welsh Corgi dog named Oly walked out of the wilderness and into the arms of Cooke City rescuers, who brought him home to his grieving family in Bozeman.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Kerry Corcoran Gaillard, whose husband, David Gaillard, was killed by an avalanche Saturday when the couple was cross-country skiing.
“I was excited” to get Oly back, she said, “but it amplified the loss of Dave a little bit. You automatically wish it could be Dave.”
David Gaillard, 44, was the Defenders of Wildlife Northern Rockies representative, a wildlife advocate, a dad and stepdad, and co-president of the Irving parents council. He and Kerry, who teaches art at Bozeman High School and the Bridger alternative program, had been married just over one year.
How a little dog could survive four days in the wild, when temperatures dipped into the teens, is “beyond belief,” said William Gaillard, David’s father from Connecticut. “It truly is a miracle.”
Kerry and David had been cross-country skiing southeast of Cooke City, with Oly trotting in their tracks, when the avalanche hit about 2 p.m.
Silver Brelsford, 15, a sophomore at Bozeman High, said her mother remembered seeing Oly taken down by the first slide.
“He was swimming” in the snow, Silver said. “He got covered by the second slide.”
David’s last act was to try to save Kerry, telling her, “Retreat to the trees.” She grabbed a tree, as the avalanche tumbled by. When the slide stopped, she started digging in the snow, trying in vain to find David.
“The rescue team said considering that only one person was up there, they couldn’t believe how much digging she did,” said her sister, Kathleen Corcoran.
Kerry never saw or heard her dog. Neither did the three-man search and rescue team from Cooke City that went back in the dark Saturday night to find and retrieve David’s body. Bill Whittle, owner of Antlers Lodge and a rescue team member, said they found him with avalanche beacons.
Even the Gallatin National Forest avalanche experts who went up Monday to investigate saw no dog.
Yet four days after the accident, Cooke City retiree Dale Dempsey was walking his dog and noticed a little Corgi standing outside the Alpine Motel, where the Gaillards had stayed, Whittle said. “He put two and two together.”
The Corgi was waiting in front of Room 17, whining a little, and then walking across the street to stare into the restaurant where the Gaillards had eaten breakfast, said Robert Weinstein, Alpine Motel manager.
People in tiny Cooke City know every dog in town, and Weinstein remembered how obedient the Gaillard’s Corgi had been.
“People started gathering, talking,” Weinstein said. “Nobody could believe this is that dog. We were all doubting. How on earth is it possible?”
Whittle phoned the family in Bozeman, got a description of the dog and his name. Sure enough, it was Oly. He had walked four miles out of the wilderness.
“He was definitely hungry,” Weinstein said. “But he wasn’t injured.”
Silver said when the family got the call from Cooke City saying, “We found your dog,” they assumed that meant the dog’s body.
“We were taken aback,” Silver said, when they said, “’He’s alive.’ We were so amazed.”
“We’re thinking he dug himself out because of his short legs, and he followed the trail back to the point they parked to go ski,” Silver said. From there, Oly somehow made the right turn to reach Cooke City.
Whittle said he and Dempsey drove the dog back to Bozeman. “I was glad to take a trip to town and bring little Oly home.”
On Thursday, Whittle said, a skier followed Oly’s trail back to the avalanche to try to figure out how the dog survived.
“He was buried about 50 feet below David, about 3 feet deep,” Whittle said. He added he thinks that “Oly was buried for four days and he dug himself out. … They’re incredible animals.”
Back home, Oly seems pretty sound. The first day he was “very tired and a little depressed,” Silver said, scared by loud noises and hiding under the table at times. But he’s better now.
Kerry, who has had Oly about five years, said she wanted a Corgi because of their “gusto” and happy personality.
“He’s a very loyal, faithful dog,” Kerry said. The Cooke City search and rescue members, she said, “were so kind to come all that way, make the long drive.”
David’s 11-year-old daughter, Marguerite, “is very happy to have Oly back,” Silver said. “Oly was one of her very good friends. It didn’t completely ease the pain, but it helped a tiny bit.”
The family is holding a memorial service for David Gaillard at Springhill Pavilion today. His brother, Jeff Gaillard, said a memorial fund in David’s name has been set up to benefit local wildlife programs at http://www.defenders.org/dgmemorial">Defenders of Wildlife.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2633.