Thanks to the efforts of a persistent father, a stranger turned friend, a biology professor and her athletic husband, a mushroom hunter from the Czech Republic and two dirt bikers, after 12 nights and 13 days Mango, a 10-year-old Boston Terrier, was recovered from the Sierra National Forest.
On April 3, Simi Valley’s Mahoney family, Mike, Mariam and their kids Mason, 6, and Malia, 4, were visiting their grandfather in Oakhurst when they decided to take a hike in Nelder Grove.
As the children were crossing a creek via a log, Mahoney caught his last glance of Mango — she was happy and playing in a snow patch. He turned back to assist the kids as they wobbled across the tree and when he turned around, Mango was gone.
The Mahoneys began their search becoming more stressed as time went on. “Mango is not the type of dog that wanders beyond 30 feet from us. It’s our other dog, Beemer, we have to worry about,” said Mahoney.
The family approached a man, Matt Felix, a physician assistant from Oakhurst who was reading a medical textbook at a picnic table. Felix immediately joined the search party.
As night took hold, Felix promised Mahoney his help in a daunting search that no one knew would last for the next 12 days.
They said goodnight and left behind Mango’s favorite toy (a squeaky football), her bed, her leash, her kennel, food and water-filled bowls. The Mahoneys posted a sign explaining why and their phone number. They were destroyed.
“Mango is our first dog. My wife and I got her before the kids were born, she is family, a lil’ terror, and my son Mason’s buddy, they are always side by side,” said Mahoney.
After searching Nelder for two more days the inevitable moment came: Mariam had to return for a work conference in San Diego. Mahoney packed up the family and they headed home without Mango, brokenhearted.
A Mango sighting
As soon as the Mahoneys pulled into their driveway they got their first call. It was a hiker reporting a Mango sighting.
Mahoney unloaded his family and turned around for his second five-hour drive of the day.
Meanwhile, on Sierra Foothills social media sites word had been spreading about Mango’s disappearance.
Ahwahnee’s Amie Frazer first learned about Mango from a posting on the app NextDoor and she was determined to help. The biology professor currently working on a tree mortality project in the Nelder Grove area spent her downtime looking for the pup.
Hikers had been leaving dated coordinates and locations of Mango sightings on the sign the Mahoneys left and Frazer used these to estimate Mango’s whereabouts.
"As I was working, I was constantly reminded that Mango was out there, facing cold temperatures, dehydration and predators like coyotes and mountain lions — it was awful," said Frazer. “It appeared that Mango was making her way towards the damage of the Railroad Fire, which seemed hopeful because there were fewer predators in that area.”
When Mahoney returned to the forest, Felix did not hesitate to help. They were an unlikely pair on the same mission. Felix, a former army medic who joined at 40, is a self-identified liberal.
According to Felix, “Mahoney’s politics are as far to the other side of the political spectrum as mine are left.”
The two searched for Mango together for the next four days finding middle ground on hot-button issues like gun control and Medicare.
Another trip home
Seven days into the search efforts, April 9, Mahoney had to head south for work, empty-handed, but he had made a new friend. He told the kids Mango wasn't ready to come home.
“If it wasn’t for Matt, I don’t know if I would have been able to continue the search, he relentlessly encouraged me and helped me hold on to hope,” said Mahoney.
Mahoney returned to find his dog Beemer refusing to eat and his son Mason equally depressed.
While Mahoney was away, Felix would drive from Fresno, after work, to continue the search. He purchased traps per the recommendation of a veterinarian friend who told him after eight days in the woods a dog goes into "wild mode."
“As a child I lost so many pets and the loss was difficult for me. I think in hindsight, I was determined to find Mango for the sake of Mike’s kids and a happy ending — and to heal my own pain,” said Felix.
Three days later, Mahoney was back and the two continued their search. By the end of the day Saturday, April 14, they sat down in the forest, debriefed over a map and discussed the shifting weather that would bring snow the following evening. Even if Mango was still alive (it had been three days since a sighting report), all signs pointed to a grim end. Mahoney was prepared to return home the next day and explain to his children that Mango had died.
They agreed the evening should end with a wake for Mango and their journey. The pair headed to Oakhurst’s South Gate Brewing Company.
As Mahoney and Felix entered the brewery, the bartender called out over the crowd, “have you found the dog yet?”
The mushroom hunter
The question piqued the interest of a man from Prague who had been mushroom hunting in the forest, just above the Sugar Pine area. The traveler approached the two men with a photo of Mango on his cellphone and asked if it was the dog they were looking for.
According to the mushroom hunter, Mango had moved from the Nelder Grove area to the forest behind the Sugar Pine Christian Camp, two miles as the crow flies and eight miles by car.
Mahoney and Felix immediately left the brewery and wearing headlamps they reignited the search. The night brought no luck.
The following morning they returned. The pair decided to split up to cover more territory. As Mahoney rounded a corner, and was nearing 80 miles total hiked in his search, his eyes landed on Mango, 100 yards away. He called out. Mango was 13 days lost in the woods, terrified, living on adrenaline, and unresponsive to his call. She took off.
Mahoney ran to his car as Felix was approaching from downstream at Lewis Creek. The friends left to retrieve the traps that were set two miles away. What the pair didn’t know, help had just arrived. Frazer and her husband, James, were arriving on the other side of the mountain — the direction Mango was headed.
Dirt bike pickle
“My husband and I were searching for Mango the day before and we found Mike (Mahoney) and Matt (Felix) at a picnic table, they told us Mike had to return home the next day,” said Frazer. “I had a sleepless night thinking about Mango and her movements over the last 12 days and I was certain she was making her way towards Sugar Pine.”
The Frazers decided to search one last time. They were exiting their car when they heard two dirt bikes approaching.
Tanner McConnell of Bass Lake took his visiting brother Trevor out for some riding. At the beginning of their trip a trail called to Tanner. He took pause. He was hesitant to lead his brother on a trail that seemed too technically demanding for his skill set. Tanner defied logic and answered the call.
Three miles into the ride, after crossing creeks and passing waterfalls, both brothers caught a glimpse of a small black dog running on the side of the dirt road for a brief second. They decided to continue forward in pursuit of a potential family.
“A higher power was watching over that dog that day, we were all at the same place at the same time and there was no way Mango would make it another day,” said Tanner. A mile and a half later they came across the Frazers.
“We had only been there for 20 seconds when Tanner and Trevor approached us and asked if we were missing a dog. Our jaws dropped when they described Mango,” said Frazer.
The brothers made a plan to capture wild Mango. Tanner would sprint his bike ahead of her and Trevor would hover behind, creating a mobile pickle. As their plan unfolded, Tanner brought his bike to a sudden stop, leaped off, and tackled a running Mango.
Mango was wrecked. Tanner pulled water from his backpack and poured it down her face so she could drink. James ran behind the bikers for a mile and a half, and according to a surprised Tanner it took James only three minutes to arrive.
The brothers handed Mango over to James, who made his way back to his wife.
Needless to say it was an emotional moment for Mahoney. When he got the call from Frazer, his first response was utter disbelief. His second response was tears.
Mahoney’s journey was over and to his own amazement he was returning home a hero. He parted ways with his new friend, Felix.
“I have to be honest, said Felix, laughing, “I was so happy for Mike and his family when I saw Mango safe in Frazer's arms ... but I was a little jealous that it wasn't me that found her."
Mango made a stop at the vet on her way home. She had lost one third of her body weight but was OK.
Once the two arrived back in Simi Valley, the Frazers and Felix received a text. It was from Mahoney. “I am here with Mango, my wife, my kids, and my neighbors... we are all in such disbelief and crying. Thank you."