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'We know he's alive': Weeks after Colorado avalanche, search to find Ullr the dog continues

GoFundMe page is continuing to raise funds for K-9 tracker, who has picked up Ullr's scent multiple times
search for ullr dog after rapid creek avalanche.jpg
Posted at 5:03 PM, May 05, 2023

CARBONDALE, Colo. — Almost 50 days have passed since an avalanche separated a Carbondale man and his dog, and the weeks since have been full of painful uncertainty. But one thing is known — Ullr is still on the move.

"He is alive — we know he's alive," owner Jacob Dalbey said Friday afternoon. "He's been seen. He's just lost and confused and trying to find me."

It's been a rollercoaster of a journey, though. And the clock is grinding down patience. Ullr has shown himself in only brief glimpses — a report from a resident, but no photo, or a paw print that carries his scent, but no sign of where he went.

GoFundMe for Ullr paw print

"Having news and then a couple weeks go by and nothing comes up and then something pops up — it's uncertain, but we have to follow it up," he said.

Dalbey and two friends left Marble on the morning of March 17 with a goal of scouting a place in the Rapid Creek drainage, southwest of town, for future adventures. All three of them had avalanche safety equipment and advanced or professional avalanche training. As usual, Dalbey brought Ullr, his snow-loving 7-year-old border collie mix that is also part-wolf, with him for the adventure.

Jacob Dalbey_ullr dog.jpg

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"We (have a) very unique connection," Dalbey said. "Spent almost every waking minute with him since he was a puppy and I got him."

But that March morning, as the group neared the top of a ridge, the ground gave way and swept them all off their feet. By the time it stopped, the avalanche ran 400 feet wide and 2,500 vertical feet over three cliffs. While one friend was able to make his way out, though he had head trauma, Dalbey's other friend was killed.

And Dalbey himself was almost completely buried. His right hand — the only appendage free of the snow — was broken, and he slowly clawed himself out of the snow and ice with two fingers over the course of three hours to free his other arm. Once free, he triggered the SOS on his emergency beacon and began searching for his friend, not knowing he was under several feet of snow, and Ullr. He didn't see either one.

As the sun set, he decided he had to head back down toward town and get help. He was in pain and hypothermic.

At the hospital, Dalbey's roommate, who works in search and rescue, said there was a glimmer of hope: dog tracks were seen exiting the slide path above where Dalbey had dug himself out. The tracks traveled down to the trio's skin tracks and followed them along the drainage to Highway 3 in Marble.

Search continues for the dog Ullr after Colorado avalanche

In between doctor appointments, Dalbey has searched every day for Ullr, who is microchipped, had a collar on and knows the area well.

A GoFundMe was set up to help him cover the fee for a professional K9 tracker. It has raised more than $21,000, which is mostly covering the tracker's fees, but can also help pay for any of Ullr's future veterinarian bills.

The tracker will return for the third time this weekend to continue searching, and to confirm if recent tracks belong to Ullr.

In addition, he's turned to animal communicators, something that has worked in other missing animals cases, he said.

"It's a very intuitive process and you just kind of have to have an open mind and believe it's true," he said.

As of Friday, more than a month and a half has gone by since the avalanche.

Dalbey said he knows people are losing interest in the situation because they don't believe a dog can survive for seven weeks in the wild. But Ullr is no average dog.

"When they go into survival mode, their biggest concern is food, water, shelter and safety," Dalbey said. "And they just resort to their natural instinct. You know, there's dead elk and dead deer and all sorts of dead stuff everywhere. And I'm sure he's hunting a little bit or scavenging — whatever he can find."

He said Ullr is tough enough to live the rest of his days in the wild. But he'd much rather have him home.

Most people in the Roaring Fork Valley between Carbondale and Marble now know about Ullr's story, and Dalbey feels confident they'd reach out with any information. Still, these areas aren't heavily populated, so he is not surprised that there haven't been many sightings.

search for ullr dog after rapid creek avalanche.jpg

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But as the weather warms and the Rocky Mountains begin to melt, more people will come into the valley from out of town for recreation. On the extremely rare chance any visitors see Ullr, Dalbey said he hopes they know to take a photo, mark their location and report the sighting.

Ullr is moving north, Dalbey said, and the most recent sighting was southwest of Carbondale, where Dalbey lives. When asked about the likelihood of Ullr trying to get to Dalbey's front door, he said it's 100% possible.

"Potentially, you know, he is trying to make his way back home," he said.

Earlier this week, Dalbey took to social media to ask for positive thoughts as the search continues.

"Every second feels like an eternity," he wrote. "My soul is ripped apart at the seams with each fleeting moment. But I KNOW that Ullr is still alive. I can feel it with every cell in my body. Our souls are one. I feel him every second of every day."

As of now, the best way to help with this search is to contribute to the GoFundMe.

Anybody who sees Ullr, took him in, or knows of his whereabouts should contact the Gunnison County Sheriff's Office (970-641-1113), Pitkin County Sheriff's Office (970-920-5300) or Garfield County Sheriff's Office (970-945-0453).

If you want to help or have a tip, you can also reach out to the reporter for this story at Stephanie.Butzer@Denver7.com and she can connect you with Dalbey.


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