Taking a dog on a walk is the best part of many people’s day. And that’s how it was for Annette Poitras. She is well-known in her neighborhood for the day she took three dogs on a walk in the Canadian woods. It was a typical November day, and then the weather turned bad.
Her husband, Marcel, was concerned when she didn’t return home that day, so he called the police, which resulted in a search and rescue attempt to locate the dog walker and the dogs. When they found the group two days later, rescuers were shocked by what they found!
Just Another Day to Take the Dogs Out
Nothing ever stopped 56-year-old Annette Poitras from walking her dogs, and she had gained a reputation in her community for her dog walking. She had even made a career out of it! She knew the nearby hiking trails like the back of her hand.
She was also familiar with the paths around Eagle Mountain near Coquitlam, British Columbia. So often spent her days walking her beautiful dogs there. November 20 was just another regular Monday, and Annette headed to Eagle Mountain with three dogs. But things were about to be anything but normal.
Time to Head Out
She went for a walk with a Collie called Chloe, which was hers, and two of her clients’ dogs, a Puggle named Bubba and a Boxer called Roxy—as she did virtually every other day. Annette said goodbye to her husband, Marcel, before walking out the door for her walk.
The dog walker only intended to be gone for an hour, and she didn’t tell her husband exactly where she was going as she always did. When she didn’t return home after a few hours, her husband became concerned. What is taking her so long?
The Weather Becomes Stormy
Time seemed to be moving slowly for Marcel, and it was almost dark. Annette wasn’t supposed to be gone more than one hour. But she had not returned home, and he was growing increasingly worried. He couldn’t stop wondering where she was and why she was taking so long.
His worries were then heightened when the weather got out of control, and a storm known as the Pineapple Express blew in, dropping tremendous amounts of rain. His wife was still out there, and the weather had turned dark and stormy—no one was safe. What had happened to Annette?
Marcel Knew Something Wasn’t Right
When Annette didn’t come home by evening, Marcel knew something was wrong. So he went to the area where she normally walked and discovered something that temporarily made him calm—her van. The van, however, was empty, and Annette was nowhere to be seen. That increased his concern.
And Marcel did the only right thing in that instance. He notified the authorities after not hearing from his wife and then discovering her empty van. He informed them that Annette had not returned from her walk earlier that day, and he believed she was missing.
A Search and Rescue Mission
The Coquitlam Search and Rescue (SAR) team and the Royal Mounted Police quickly devised a plan. Marcel did his best to assist in the search, telling them about the places she regularly went, but there was only so much he could do. The forest was vast.
And there was no way to narrow the search. They looked for anything, including cell phones, clothing, and dog collars. But they were unsuccessful. Worse yet, the storm intensified, and Annette had yet to reach out. The dog walker as well as the dogs did not seem to be safe.
Getting Ready for Immediate Action
After getting the call from Marcel, SAR established a command center on Westwood Plateau. They were ready to begin the search, and they needed to move fast because the region surrounding the plateau was a dense forest, and it was beginning to get dark. So SAR began their search.
They started with a “sound sweep” where they used whistles to make noise in the hopes of attracting the attention of the dog walker or the dogs. They also used Royal Canadian Mounted Police search dogs. But they did not find Annette and the dogs, and time was running out.
The Search Continues the Following Day
The SAR crew resumed their search at daylight on the second day. However, they required additional manpower because the storm had worsened, making it difficult to hear the whistles. More than 100 rescuers were involved by this point, and it was time to ramp up the search using helicopters.
The search and rescue team were becoming tired, and the harsh weather conditions didn’t help matters. Annette had been missing for 24 hours, and there had been no news from her. But they weren’t going down without a fight. Annette’s life was in their hands.
All Hands-on Deck
SAR combed Eagle Mountain for every known and newly discovered trail. They had more than 100 rescuers and helicopters on the scene. Add that to the number of rescue dogs on the scene. They were now concentrating their efforts in the air and on the ground.
It was clear that they were going all out to find Annette. While search and rescue teams searched the area on foot, an Air One police helicopter used a thermal imaging camera to scan the area from the air, hoping to detect body heat from either Annette or the dogs.
Scouring the Skies and the Land
However, the Air One police chopper returned empty-handed. The tree cover was too dense, and the storm wasn’t going to let up anytime soon, so the helicopters couldn’t pick up anything. They didn’t find any heat sources for Annette or the pets. The odds were stacked against them.
And the situation was only getting worse, especially with the storm and time passing. While the storm was a significant setback, the search and rescue crew was not about to give up. They were determined not to stop looking until they found the dog walker and the three dogs—dead or alive.
Day Two Comes to a Futile End
When the sky darkened and day two ended, rescuers had no choice but to halt the search until the next morning. The weather became more dangerous, and the terrain was steep, putting the search and rescue crew in danger. It was tough not to give up hope.
The conditions were too bad to continue the search. What condition would Annette be in if she was discovered? It was bitterly cold, and the rain showed no signs of ebbing. However, the teams were about to receive information that would drastically alter the rescue mission.
The Tip That Changed Everything
Annette had been gone for two days, and the dog walker’s situation was grim. It was unlikely that all was well with her, especially considering the terrible weather. But then the search team got some advice that helped them narrow down their search. It brought renewed hope!
While driving through the mountains on Monday afternoon, the day Annette left on her walk, a man named Marc Herr had pulled over for a cigarette and happened to see Annette. He didn’t think much of it at that time. After all, she was only a dog walker walking her dogs, and nothing looked unusual. So what happened?
Herr Saw It on the News
Sometimes, it can be grim watching the news. But other times, it can be a good idea to tune in occasionally. Herr learned of Annette’s disappearance while watching the news on Tuesday, and he remembered her. She wasn’t just a woman out walking her dogs.
She had gone missing and was in danger. Herr told CTV Vancouver, “I saw it on the news and [thought] oh my god, I’d seen her and the dogs.” So Herr contacted authorities immediately. The tip helped them narrow the search area, but it was still a big space with dangerous conditions.
Using Herr’s Tip to Narrow the Search
That wasn’t the only piece of information the rescuers had. Annette’s husband informed authorities that his wife always carried a cell phone with her when she walked. The Royal Mounted Police traced her cell phone and discovered that it was connecting to a mobile tower on Burke Mountain.
That helped investigators narrow down their search. There was still a lot of ground to cover, but thanks to these tips, they had a clearer notion of where Annette and the dogs might be. Things were finally beginning to improve.
300 Search and Rescuers
Annette had been lost for two days at this point, and now on Wednesday, the third day, they added another helicopter and two more SAR dogs to the search. More than 300 search and rescue personnel were involved in the operation to find Annette and her dogs.
Around 100 people were participating in the mission on Wednesday, and they were about to get a significant break. They decided to venture out a few more miles during one of the sound sweeps, and that’s when they got a response. Could it be her or the dogs?
A Cry for Help
During a sound sweep at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, the SAR crew heard something. They heard calls for help and loud barking in the distance. Volunteer Aidon Pyne told CTV Vancouver, “Immediately we heard a loud yell; it went from just nose down, working hard….”
“…to cheering and getting over there to help out.” They were unaware of what shape Annette might be in and had no idea what to anticipate now that they had made contact with the dog walker. Nothing could have braced them for what would unfold in front of them.
The Day Annette Went Missing
Now that we’ve looked at Marcel and the SAR team and their efforts to find Annette, let’s return to Monday when the dog walker went out for her regular dog walk. What could have gone wrong? The storm started while Annette was walking Chloe, Roxy, and Bubba.
And she ended up tripping on a log. But it wasn’t any ordinary slip. She couldn’t get up. The dog walker had fallen and hit her head so hard that she was knocked out. We can’t imagine how terrifying that must have been for her!
No Idea How Long She Was Out
When she woke up, she didn’t know how long she had been out, and she couldn’t find her phone or gloves. She had slept all night, and it was no longer dark outside. It was already dawn. Annette was disoriented and had trouble moving. It had been a dangerous fall.
The first thing she did when she awoke was check on all her dogs. That’s when she realized that one dog and her phone were missing. She didn’t know what time it was or how long she’d been out. But she knew she couldn’t leave until she found the dog.
She Went on a Rescue Mission of Her Own
Annette looked for the dog, but since she was injured after falling, she had difficulty moving. She finally found the dog, but the weather had become dreadful, and she couldn’t continue. Annette was hungry and exhausted, and she didn’t have the stamina to walk. Worse, she hadn’t brought any supplies along.
She had assumed it would be just another dog walk. She didn’t expect to be gone for more than an hour. While the dog walker was cold and wet from the downpour of rain, the dogs were also in distress, and the four of them needed to look after each other if they were to survive.
A Frantic Call for Help
We wonder if Annette heard the search and rescue team calling her name or saw the helicopters in the sky throughout her days in Eagle Mountain. On Monday night, her first night in the woods and when the search began, she saw the helicopters.
She saw them hovering above her and waved her jacket in the air, hoping to draw their attention. The rescuers were unable to spot her due to thick bushes and trees. Since the vegetation was so dense, the helicopters also could not detect any body heat.
A Day Away from Giving Up
Annette didn’t hear anyone calling her name in the distance—well, at least not until the third day when Roxy began barking and notifying the searchers of their location. It couldn’t have come at a better moment for the dog walker who didn’t think she’d be able to make it another night in the Canadian wilderness.
Annette was exhausted. “If I had to spend one more night, I didn’t think I was going to make it. I really didn’t,” she told Tri-City News. Who wouldn’t be? She was so strong. And the dogs were just amazing!
Ears on the Target
Now, back to the rescue, the search team, and the shocking discovery they made while trying to find the dog walker and the dogs. The search and rescue crew was finally able to narrow down the search once Annette responded and the dogs began barking.
They discovered her in a swampy basin far north of where she had been declared missing Monday afternoon and off-limits to hikers and dog walkers. When the rescuers finally located her, they couldn’t believe their eyes when they spotted the dog walker and her dogs sprawled in a ditch.
Survival Tips from the Dog
One of the dogs had given Annette a survival tip. Marcel told Global News, “She happened to notice one of the dogs was digging a hole to sleep in… [The undergrowth], it’s very spongy, it soaks up a lot of water. So she started sweeping away all the brush….”
“…and everything to get down into the dirt and kind of made herself a little well to sleep in. She learned from the dogs.” How clever! It’s most likely how she managed to stay alive in the extreme cold and rain for two nights.
Working Together as a Team
Annette and the three dogs did everything they could to keep each other safe during their ordeal in Eagle Mountain. They worked together as a team and looked after each other. Annette even offered Roxie the Boxer her coat to keep warm.
“[At] one point, the last night—when there was torrential rain—the short-haired boxer [Roxy] was cold, so [Annette] took off one of her rain jackets to put over the boxer. To keep it warm,” Marcel shared with Global News. What an amazing show of affection from Annette!
The Dogs Looked After Her
While Annette took care of the dogs, they returned the favor by keeping her safe. They stayed by her side and made sure she was safe. Marcel told Global News, “One of them was cuddling…and one of them was on guard, and the other one was looking for food.”
It was like everyone had a role to play, and they worked together. While Annette and the three dogs had managed to survive so far, it was time for the rescuers to step in and get Annette and the dogs out of the woods.
Found Alive, Time for First Aid
Annette was alive and talking when the rescuers found her, but her fall and the minor injuries she sustained had hindered her from continuing her walk with the dogs. It would take a while to get her out of there safely. The team couldn’t do much.
They had to wait for helicopters to arrive and rescue her. Meanwhile, the SAR team provided her with dry clothing and administered first aid. Her horror was finally coming to an end. And it seemed likely that she and the dogs would make it out of this alive.
Will the Wind Delay the Helicopter?
Teams waited for the helicopter long line rescue to extract her and take her to safety. It was about midday on Wednesday when the helicopter started its mission. Well-wishers and the media gathered to see the rescue. Annette’s husband, Marcel, arrived to witness the life-saving operation.
He was with his brothers Gerry and Andre. As the chopper lifted off to go to the site, heavy winds and rain blew in, but 20 minutes later, Annette appeared, dangling from the rope below the helicopter. An ambulance would take her to the hospital. But wait! Aren’t they forgetting something? THE DOGS!
Roxy, Bubba, and Chloe – The Three Musketeers
After Annette was rescued, there was only one thing left to do—rescue the three dogs who had assisted in her survival. Two more helicopter trips were required to remove the dogs from the basin. Bubba the Puggle was the first to be saved.
Then Chloe the Border Collie and Roxy the Boxer were rescued. Annette and the dogs escaped with only minor injuries. It was nothing short of a miracle that they were all alive after being lost in the woods for more than two days. It was even more remarkable given the storm.
Happy to See Her Again
The dogs were reunited with their terrified owners who were grateful beyond words for Annette’s efforts to keep them alive. “I so appreciate everything that’s been done and all the efforts,” Janet Kilberg, one of the dog owners, told CTV Vancouver. “Annette is a good friend of mine…”
“…and I wish her well, and I hope that she can get back out walking real soon because all the dogs love her.” Tina Presley, Bubba’s dog owner, told the news organization that Annette is “a dog whisperer” and that “you see the love in her eyes.”
Marcel Kept the Hope Alive
After more than two days and a harsh storm, it must have been tough not to lose hope. Did Marcel ever lose hope that his wife would return home? Well, he never gave up. He told the Vancouver Sun, “She’s a tough cookie…I knew. There was no question in my mind.”
While circumstances were difficult, Marcel had a feeling Annette would be returning home the day she was rescued. “I’ve had some dark days here. [But] I woke up this morning, and I just knew it, I knew she was coming home today,” the husband shared with CBC News.
Grateful to the Rescue Team
This was unbelievable, and Annette wanted to say thanks. Without the 300 search and rescue personnel who spent so much time hunting for Annette, this joyful ending would not have been possible. Right after she was released from the hospital, Annette thanked them for their hard work and devotion.
Speaking to CBC News after she left the hospital, Annette tearfully said, “First response team, I want to thank. Search and rescue, everybody in the community, just strangers. I’m just so glad to be alive. I’m just so happy.” These guys are undoubtedly the real heroes!
A Traumatic Experience for Annette
Annette is still haunted by the events of November that year, and she has nightmares about them. She goes to the mountains every day, but she avoids the spot where she fell. “I am not ready. It gives me shivers. I don’t want to relive it,” she told Tri-City News.
Although she isn’t ready to go back to that spot, Annette, with the support of her husband and an author named Anne Bruinn, wrote a 130-page account of that day’s events called Three Dog Nights: The Search and Rescue of Annette Poitras. Some of the book’s profits were donated to Coquitlam Search and Rescue.
She Became a Local Celebrity
Annette isn’t ready to revisit the frightening events of that night, but her story made the news and went viral. Annette has subsequently become a local celebrity in her hometown. She is now known as the “The dog walker.” And not only that, but everybody continues to support her.
The dog walker can no longer take her dogs for walks on the trails or run errands without being stopped by someone. Annette told Tri-City News, “People come up to me and want to hug me.” Isn’t that amazing? She absolutely deserves all the love and support.
A Lesson for All
Although Annette has become a popular woman in the community, she hopes that her experience will serve as an example to others and teach them the value of being prepared when exploring the outdoors. The weather can change in a second, as she knows all too well.
And it’s important to be prepared for anything while hiking. “This could happen to anyone. Many people can learn from my experience, and they can be better prepared in the back country,” she told Tri-City News. This is a lesson for all, and we’re happy it isn’t a bitter one.
Annette’s Story Has a Happy Ending, but There’s a Bigger Lesson
Annette left home like any other day. We’re sure she never thought she’d be gone for two nights, fighting for her life. The Coquitlam Search and Rescue team put in numerous hours and effort to bring this terrible, grim scenario to a happy ending.
Given the circumstances surrounding this rescue mission, especially the weather, this is nothing short of a miracle, and it could happen to anyone at any time. If you take anything away from this, it’s to always tell someone where you’re going and to always be prepared when hiking.