Joy Driscoll of Lehighton always loved animals, but two and a half years ago when her husband passed away, she had to find homes for their two greyhounds, two Labs, and four parrots.
Now two and a half years later, missing having a dog, Joy searched the Internet and chanced upon the "Ain't That A Pittie Special Needs Pit Bull Rescue" in Jim Thorpe - a group that walks dogs at the Carbon County Animal Shelter.
"I miss not having dogs," Joy said, "so I decided to start dog walking at the shelter."
On Sunday, August 25, Joy made her maiden visit to the shelter, riding there on her motorscooter. Telling them that she was from the Pittie group, they minimize the paperwork and gave her two pugs to walk around the grounds - the area surrounding the Carbon County Correctional Facility. One loop and the pugs were exhausted.
Joy asked if they had another dog who wanted to be walked. She was told, "Yeah, Duke," pointing to a powerful-looking 50 pound, seven-year-old gold-colored boxer mix.
Setting out on the trail, Joy came to a path into the woods that appeared to be a shortcut. Before she knew it, she and Duke were into the forest. "It must've been a dear trail," Joy now thinks, "not a walking trail."
"I was totally disoriented, but then I heard something, I thought it was the traffic on Route 93 going up the hill from Nesquehoning to the shelter. I tried following the sound," she said, "But it apparently was echoing and coming from a different direction."
"We passed a camp site with a sign that read, 'Beware - Do Not Enter.' So for the next two hours I'm yelling 'Help I'm lost.' I walked around the perimeter of the camp looking for a trail out. I couldn't find any."
Joy continued walking, and to her surprise, Duke followed her every move. "I fell on him at least half a dozen times. I mean tripping on rocks and falling on him with my full body weight. When I tried climbing down moss-covered rocks, I would dragged him down with me, and he wound up on top of me. Then both of us had to crawl to get through the thick bush."
Then, before them was a river - the Lehigh River below the first rapid at a feature called Canaries - except Joy didn't have any idea where she was. All she knew was that it was 2:30 p.m. and she left the shelter at 11 a.m., that it closed at 2 p.m., and she had no idea where she was.
Joy tried walking along the river bank, but along the slippery overgrown bank she is alternately crawling and falling, ultimately falling into a hornet's nest. "I got about 30 or 40 stings in my arms and legs. It was burning. Duke, by this time had become wary of Joy falling on him and let her take the lead, thereby avoiding being stung. She was amazed at how calm and adaptable Duke behaved during their 700 foot descent down Broad Mountain.
"I'm on the riverbank waiving at her hands back and forth in the universal signal for emergency, and yelling 'Help, I'm lost. Help! Help! Call 911!' I guess '911' in the rapid sounds like 'Have fun,' because the people on the rafts and kayaks yelled back, 'You have fun too.'"
Around the same time, Tim Swierczek, river operations manager for Jim Thorpe Rafting Adventures was leading a 64-person trip down the Lehigh River, putting-in from Glen Onoko about a mile upriver from where Joy and Duke were stranded.
"We went through the first rapid," Swierczek said. "I saw somebody in a tie-dyed shirt holding onto a dog and sitting on the side of the river."
"As it's an inaccessible spot for walking, I was wondering what she was doing there, so I paddled over and the closer I got, the more I can see that she's red in the face and looked pretty dehydrated. I asked, "Are you all right?"
"I told a passing boater to get help," She replied. "The rangers are coming to get me."
Swierczek explained to her that she was outside Lehigh Gorge State Park, so even though the park was nearby, it was outside the ranger's jurisdiction. He had a feeling that no one was coming.
"I pulled my cell phone out of my waterproof case and I called the president, Jerry McAward." McAward is the president of JTRA. "I said, 'I found this nice lady with a dog on the side of the river. I think she needs some help.'"
Swierczek told her that McAward was getting a raft and would rescue her.
"I gave her my water bottle and told her not to move, otherwise it would be difficult to find her. I had to catch up with my trip, and as I left I said, 'Jerry's coming to get you. Stay here and take care of Duke.'"
McAward called the rafting center and had them contact the police, the Comm Center, and the state park. "I said to tell them that it was easy for us to do," McAward said. "It's not even a rescue, it's a pickup. They all agreed. I returned to the rafting center, grabbed a raft and an extra lifejacket and paddle, put them on a trailer, and took it to Glen Onoko."
A few minutes later, as McAward was exiting the rapids, he saw them along the shore. " As I already knew her name, I paddled over to her and called out 'Joy.'"
The first thing she said was, "This is the dumbest thing I've ever done."
McAward pushed the raft to the shore and started talking with her. "Over the next minute we got to know each other. I encouraged Joy and Duke to get into the raft. I didn't know the dog, so I wanted to be careful in case he might be aggressive towards me."
Duke started to go towards the raft but slipped in the briars along the river bank. Duke regained his footing, draped his head over the tube, looked into the bottom of the raft, and without hesitating, jumped in.
"I helped Joy into the boat, but I wasn't sure how Duke would react. She sat in the middle of the thwart and Duke rested between her knees, looking at her. What a remarkable dog," McAward said. "He's not agitated. He's not upset. His tail is wagging."
They floated on to Jim Thorpe. Even in the rapids, when Duke became a little excited, Joy would touch him, and it would calm him down. "Once we beached in Jim Thorpe, Duke leaped from the raft, and walked right up to the van," McAward said. "He didn't even know it was our van." McAward drove them back to the shelter.
They arrived at the shelter at 6 p.m. Although the shelter had been closed for four hours, someone was there to welcome Duke back.
"It was like Joy had a seven-hour test drive," McAward quipped.
"There is nothing that you could put a dog through to test him like this: fast walking, falling, pulling him down the mountain, bugs, raft trip," Joy said. "Duke didn't even know me. We just met at the shelter."
"He was one of the most remarkable dogs that I have ever seen," McAward said.
On the drive to the shelter, the discussion was whether Joy or Jerry would adopt Duke. "I figured that I owed it to him, to adopt him," said Joy. "Anything less I would call animal abuse."
Joy drove home on her motorscooter that evening. The next morning she returned to the shelter and adopted Duke.
"I never realized how your life can change in a 'turn,'" Joy mused. "I could have been lost there forever, or have died falling down a rock pile. Tomorrow Duke will come to his Furever home and I'm the one that is blessed."