JACKSON — Jonathan Lounds had just proposed to his girlfriend in the Tetons when the couple heard their dog was missing.
P.J., a blue heeler, was an Arizona “desert dog,” Lounds said.
But when he and fiance Calen Harding dropped P.J. off with a Jackson pet-sitter through Rover.com, the dog went on an unexpected adventure.
By his own account the sitter’s roommate Simon Garcia decided to take P.J. and his own dog backcountry skiing on Teton Pass. Near Highway 22 on their way back to the lot, the skier said, P.J. pulled the leash from his hand and disappeared.
What Lounds thought would be a dream start to 2022 quickly turned into a nightmare.
The couple extended their trip three days to search for their pup, putting up posters and sharing the story with anyone who would listen. Teton Pass Ambassador Jay Pistono rallied the backcountry community and searched through his own turns with his rescue-pup-in-training.
On Thursday, defeated, Lounds and Harding decided to make the 15-hour drive back to Scottsdale.
“It was tortured,” she said.
P.J., short for Patch Junior, was Harding’s graduation present for her boyfriend when he finished law school.
As they drove south, imagining their trusty heeler caught in the blizzard, hopelessly trapped or already dead, she and her fiance felt like they had been grieving for months.
But here in Jackson, searchers hadn’t given up hope. They continued to call P.J.’s name in the backcountry and share his photo across Facebook. Pistono relentlessly spread the word.
Meanwhile, Teton Village resident Melissa Mawyer pushed Garcia for more information, wanting to make sure searchers weren’t wasting their time. Mawyer still thinks the skier shouldn’t have taken P.J. out in the first place: “He really blew it,” she said.
Garcia told the News&Guide he didn’t know his roommate was boarding for Rover; he thought P.J. was just a friend’s dog.
“That morning I asked if he’d want me to take the dog out with my dog,” Garcia said. “I was just trying to do a nice thing.”
As soon as P.J. peeled off, Garcia spent hours searching, on foot and later by drone. He posted a screenshot from a video he took while skiing with P.J. so others could assist.
Parker Hewes, the Rover worker, told the News&Guide he helped search by holding a “half-cooked hamburger” late into the night.
As for why he left P.J. with his roommate, Hewes said he was “going out for the day” and thought the dog could use some exercise.
Ultimately, after six days and heavy snowfall, it was two backcountry skiers, Mike Menolascino and Callum Mackay, who found P.J. on Saturday near Trail Creek Ranch. They recognized him from the fliers.
Mawyer, still in her pajamas, donned snow boots and a jacket and set out to meet them. She collected P.J. and brought him to her home.
“He was hungry and timid and scared,” she said. “But he warmed up and was awesome.”
Harding and Lounds hopped back in the car as soon as they heard the news, arriving in Jackson at 3:30 a.m. Sunday. Mawyer spent the night at her mom’s house so the couple could crash at her cabin.
“I have a dog and he’s my whole world,” she said. “I would hope that somebody would do the same for me if I needed it.”
The Arizona couple were immensely grateful to Mawyer, Pistono and everyone who helped with the search effort.
“You would have thought a human child was missing with all the rescue efforts,” Harding said.
As they drove back home for the second time in two weeks, finally at peace, the couple reflected on the emotional roller coaster.
“It was a really good way of seeing how we handle tragedy and loss and excitement and joy,” Lounds said.
“We’re just testing our marriage before our marriage,” his fiance added.
Because Menolascino and Mackay declined the monetary reward, Lounds and Harding are hoping — with Garcia’s help — to donate those funds to Pistono’s team of pass ambassadors.
Garcia was still working through those details on Tuesday. He, like the owners, was thankful a “whole week nightmare” found a happy ending.
As for his roommate, Hewes was out of town the day P.J. was found.
He was in Colorado and still unaware of the successful recovery Sunday evening, as the family headed back to Arizona.
“He’s alive?” Hewes asked, overcome by emotion. “Oh my gosh, that makes me so happy.”