Blue heeler doggone lucky to be rescued

Published: Saturday, March 15 2008 1:44 a.m. MDT

There is a well-known spoof flier that purports to be seeking a lost dog that, despite numerous damaged or missing body parts, answers to the name "Lucky."

Turns out Lucky is alive and well, or at least doing better, and living in Salt Lake City. And her name is actually "Hogan."

Cautious but calm, the blue heeler mix limps around fairly well in spite of a missing left front paw and broken bones in her right front paw. Other known ailments include a broken pelvis, damaged ligament in a knee, dislocated hip, collapsed lung, damaged colon, several broken teeth and, so far, $4,000 in veterinary expenses.

A Union Pacific train crew rescued her from a tunnel in Utah's western desert in February after freight conductor Ken Van Moorhem first spotted her at Christmastime, miles from anywhere.

How she got there is a mystery. Ken speculates she's one of those dogs that used to like riding in the back of a pickup truck.

Ken said he is used to seeing miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles as his freight train makes its regular route between Salt Lake City and Elko, so the sight of a dog out in the middle of nowhere caught his attention.

He talked with other train crews about seeing the dog, and occasionally they'd spot it and toss granola bars to it as the train rumbled by. He wanted to rescue the dog but didn't know from day to day whether, or where, he'd see it.

About two months passed before Ken started seeing the dog, predictably, in the milelong Hogan tunnel. "I hoped that she would stay there so I could go get her," he said.

On Feb. 23, on a day off, he loaded up his truck and was driving toward the tunnel when he got a call from another train crew. Mike Goodrich and Theo Bassett told Ken they stopped their train when they saw the dog and it was now riding with them in the engine as they rolled toward Wendover.

Ken met the crew in Wendover and brought the dog back to Salt Lake. He decided to call her Hogan after the tunnel she was found in. "It's not a very girly name, but it's appropriate," he said.

The next morning he took Hogan to the veterinarian who cares for his two other dogs. He called his wife, Tonia, from the vet's office.

"He always gives me a hard time about bringing home strays, and then he's the one who brings one home," Tonia said. They talked about the laundry list of physical damage the dog had suffered and the estimated cost to start putting Hogan back together.

"I asked Ken: If she has surgery, what will her quality of life be? Ken said the vet told him she'd be just fine."

The veterinarian, examining the paws, concluded Hogan had been caught in a trap and had chewed the one paw off to get free.

Hogan's ligament repair went well, but more surgery is needed to fix the broken bones on the other paw, Ken said. In the meantime, he's taking care of veterinary bills but glad to accept contributions, which can be given to the "Help for Hogan" fund at any Wells Fargo bank branch.

Ken said it did not take long to figure out Hogan is a bright dog, describing how she cleverly commandeered his favorite spot on the couch.

Still, with two dogs in the house already, Ken plans to let Hogan out for adoption once she is stable. He said several people have already expressed interest. "The hard part at this point is choosing who gets her."

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals spokeswoman Ashley Byrne said the animal-rights organization gave Ken its Compassionate Action Award for the rescue, saying he "set the gold standard for others in the community to follow."

Ken said he was surprised by the PETA award. "It was nice," he said. "I didn't think I did anything that special."


E-mail: sfidel@desnews.com

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