Duchess, a six-year-old Anatolian Shepherd-Great Pyrenees mix, traveled nearly 20 miles when the Monument fire blew up in early August. Nearly three weeks later, she was reunited with her family. (Debi Reynolds)

Homeward Bound

Sheepdog gets miracle rescue from Monument Fire

MADISON VALLEY—The 2018 fire season led to an eight-family evacuation in the Haypress Lakes subdivision while the Monument and Wigwam fires consumed tinder-dry brush in the Gravelly Range. 

Even now, nearly eight weeks after the fires first began, the Monument fire remains 56 percent contained and has burned over 6,500 acres. It saw one of its most rapid expansions the weekend of August 13.

That was when Duchess, a six-year-old sheepdog, became a voluntary evacuee.

Duchess is owned by Cathy Konen and her family, who live in Dillon. She’s an Anatolian Shepherd-Great Pyrenees mix who works as one of three herding dogs on the Konens’ band of sheep that grazes on an allotment in the Gravelly Range. 

The Konens run their sheep on that allotment for 60 days every year. Cathy says it’s a “nomadic kind of thing,” tending the sheep camps every few days and winding their way from the Blacktail area, south of Dillon, down to the Gravellys. 

Duchess had only been part of the Konens’ herd-tending crew for about four months when the Monument and Wigwam fires first started in early August.

When the Monument fire exploded, Duchess spooked and made a run for it. Her owners never even saw her run off.

“Somebody said they saw her, but we couldn’t find her anywhere,” remembers Konen. “I think she got scared with all the activity.”

Konen says they’ve lost sheepdogs before, and she wasn’t optimistic about seeing Duchess again. They called and searched for her to no avail. 

But that was because Duchess had run nearly 20 miles, turning up near the Madison River Lodge in Cameron. 

She wound down the east face of the Gravelly Range, which tops out near 9000 feet above sea level, crossed the Madison Valley from Virginia City to the west toward Cameron to the east, finally getting spotted near the banks of the Madison River, having traversed the entire valley.

Anatolian Shepherds are a distinctly herding breed, genetically geared toward long-distance travel when herding animals like sheep and cattle. 

Even so, Duchess was dehydrated, dirty and exhausted when she was found by Debi Randolph, who quickly made a Facebook post trying to discover who owned the dog.

“This sweet dog showed up at the lodge today,” she wrote. “Does anyone know where she belongs?”

Within days, the post had been shared more than 90 times. The network widened so much that after a couple days, Konen’s nephew saw it and recognized Duchess. 

On September 3, nearly three weeks after she’d initially been spooked by the Monument Fire, she was picked up by her very relieved family.

“I’m just glad to get her back,” said Konen after the ordeal. “We would have never found her otherwise.”

Randolph then posted an update to her original Facebook post to let the community know that Duchess’s story had a happy ending. A trip to the vet found no injuries from her long trip, just a need for some food and water and a good, long nap.

“The vet said she is tired but healthy and just needs to rest, and she will be back with the sheep soon,” she wrote. “I’m am happy to be part of the dog lovers who helped get her home. Duchess, be safe and happy!”

And with a few good meals, some rest and a reprieve from fire season for another year, Duchess should be just that.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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