A story destined to end in heartbreak took a euphoric twist.
A blind Labrador retriever named Sage meandered away from her home in Boulder Creek on Feb. 24 and walked into the dense wilderness of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
For the next eight days, a search and rescue effort took off as the desperate owners, who went as far as hiring a search and rescue dog team from Southern California, tried everything in their power to locate the lost pup.
The owners' exuberant break came on the eighth day, thanks to Daniel Estrada, their next door neighbor. Estrada was out on a hike with his friend Vincent Lopez, and, admittedly, they were not actively searching for Sage. They were simply enjoying a day amongst towering redwoods and trickling creeks.
However, within minutes of trekking into the dense forest, Estrada spotted a white object in a nearby stream.
"At first, I thought it was a trash bag," Estrada said. "As I looked closer, it's Sage."
Sadness immediately flooded Estrada's heart. The firefighter-paramedic for the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department believed he was about to conduct a gut-wrenching recovery operation.
"My heart was in my stomach," he said. "I'm just thinking, 'Oh, no.'"
Estrada's friend crept closer and, much to his surprise, spotted Sage lift her head.
"Dude, she's alive," Lopez yelled.
"At that moment, sadness was gone," Estrada said. "I ran over to her. I was hugging her and giving her kisses."
Sage was too exhausted to walk, so Estrada tapped into his firefighter background. He hoisted her on his shoulders and lugged her roughly 100 yards through the stream and then another 100 yards up a heavily-wooded hill.
A joyous reunion full of hugs ensued between Sage and her owners.
"It was so much joy," Estrada said. "There was no words to explain it. Everyone in the community was overwhelmed with joy."
Estrada was offered a $1,000 reward, but he declined the offer. He insisted that the money be donated to an animal welfare group.
"I thought the money would be better for a charitable cause," Estrada said.
Amid a rough winter packed with damaging storms that caused tragic deaths and costly property damage throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains, Sage's rescue brought much-needed happiness to a pain-stricken community.
"This story has brought everyone together," Estrada said.
Sage's determination to survive also inspired the Boulder Creek and surrounding neighborhoods to live by three important lessons, according to Estrada.
"Don't give up," he said. "Help is on the way. Love never fails."