The 'stars aligned' to help these hikers find a dog who was missing for 11 days

Posted at 3:20 PM, Jul 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-26 15:20:50-04

Kelly McDuffie and Danny Hartung set out for a hike on July 15 in Shenandoah National Park, and wound up rescuing a missing dog.

That wasn’t part of the plan, but it's how their day unfolded, thanks to a few decisions that led them down the right path.

McDuffie and Hartung took the Little Stony Man Loop, even through McDuffie would rather have taken a waterfall hike since it was such a hot day.

Halfway through, McDuffie was starting to regret their decision.


"I had said, 'Oh, I wish we had some water to wet our bandanas to cool off,' kind of being sarcastic because I had wanted the waterfall hike," McDuffie told "GMA."

But a minute later, the two heard babbling water just a few feet from the trail.

“It was surprising because there had been no water on the two miles of the hike so far,” McDuffie recalled. They walked about 15 feet off the trail to get to the small spring when they saw a blackberry bush behind them.

“Danny always loves to pick fresh berries, so we went a little further to pick the berries. And after taking a photo, and taking some berries and eating them, Danny says, 'There’s a dog back here!'”


The two knew exactly who it was: Max, the dog whose flyers were hung up all over nearby Skyland Resort. At this point, Max had been missing for 11 days.

“I was thrilled to have found him!” Hartung recalled.

But their mission wasn’t over yet.


“[Max] growled as we both tried to talk to him and get close,” said Hartung.

McDuffie -- who says she’s actually afraid of dogs -- said a maternal instinct kicked in. “I was shaking, I was so excited and nervous,” McDuffie recalled.

They crept towards Max and eventually got close enough to give him some food, but noticed he wasn’t moving from his spot.

“When he finally warmed up and let us pet him, we unraveled our emergency bracelet to make a leash and put it on his collar," McDuffie said. "His collar was coming off his head because he had lost so much weight … and when we got him to his feet, he couldn’t walk.”

They searched around until they got cellphone service and were able to get in touch with nearby park rangers.

The rangers arrived with a stretcher, and carried Max out of the woods and back to safety. He was reunited with his family shortly after and taken to the vet, who said he was suffering from exhaustion but had no major injuries. His family was ecstatic.


“It feels great to think that we saved him from another night out there and possibly a worse outcome,” said Hartung.

“Everything just fell into place that day...the stars aligned,” McDuffie said.