On the occasion of his birthday on Feb. 16, Mark Smith took the afternoon off from work and took a long walk through the Santa Cruz mountains with his German shepherd, Copper.
They were walking along a creek, which ran through rugged terrain, when Smith heard a faint howling sound in the distance. Five-year-old Copper caught a scent and tugged Smith toward the creek, where they found an emaciated dog on the other side.
"I saw his backbone, his spine and his hips — he was completely emaciated," Smith tells PEOPLEPets.com. "It overwhelmed me at the moment to see this dog in the condition he was in. How did he get here?"
Because the dog could barely walk, Smith carried him through the creek and up the steep hill, with Copper keeping watch and directing him to the shallowest path.
When Smith made it back to civilization, he found a lost dog poster about 300 yards away. He called the number and said, "I think I found your dog."
It was Smith's neighbor Terina Held's 13-year-old black Labrador, Buck. Buck had gone missing 40 days earlier on Jan. 6, and after searches on foot and by car with no dog in sight, the Held family assumed their "Eeyore" was gone for good.
The Helds saw it as just another one of life's blows. Due to financial difficulties, the family was being forced to move out of their home, and had had to say goodbye to some of their other animals.
Buck had lost 50 lbs. during his time trapped in the creek bank, and his face had been chewed up by crawfish in the river. Thanks to Smith and Copper, their new hero and angel, Buck was back.
"I don't think a human could have lived in our woods for that period of time, especially given the storms we had," Held says. "But he's back to his old self. I don't want to let him out of my sight."