Vienna takes the road less travelled


What happened when one small Dachshund got lost on a very big mountain

Written by Jayne Le Roux and professional photography by MC Photography Services

On Thursday the 15th of September, my husband and I decided to take three of our Dachshunds for a walk to Silvermine dam, along with my niece, Sophie. We always keep them on a leash until we get to the river walk and then let them run freely down just past the waterfall and then back.

The younger two – Coco and Chanel – are the boisterous ones, while Vienna never wanders far from me, usually no more than five to ten metres. As we neared the end of our walk at midday, just as we were about to put their leashes back on, a group of about six people with a pushchair started down the river walk path. Coco and Chanel, my terrible twins, started barking (as they do); as I put their leashes on, the gentleman said to my husband, Greg, “Your dog is running away.”

The chase begins

I turned to see Vienna bolting back down the river walk with Greg in hot pursuit. We waited for about 20 minutes, not thinking there was much of a problem, until he came back empty-handed: she had disappeared. That’s when my heart sank. I couldn’t believe it! How were we ever going to find her in this huge reserve?

I asked Henry the car guard to keep a look-out, then headed to the entrance gate to report it to SANparks. Family members came to help, and cyclists said they’d seen her in the cycle car park but she’d run into the bush when they approached her. As the signal is bad at Silvermine, I went to find a signal and reported it on Facebook on the Noordhoek community forum. We desperately searched until 7pm that night – the latest we could stay in the reserve. The worst part was leaving that evening, knowing our little baby was going to be spending a night on the mountain.

That night I cried myself to sleep; it was to be the first of many such nights. To make matters even worse, the weather turned that night and the rain fell hard. I think I slept for only two hours.

Searching in the rain

The next day – Friday – I woke everyone up at 5am. We dressed for the weather and headed up to Silvermine at 6am. It was pouring and the mist was so bad that we could only see a few metres in front of us. Greg started walking our Labrador, Roxy, up the road and into the Silvermine reserve, while I drove up with my son, Dylan (20), and our other three Dachshunds.

We called and the dogs barked and we looked everywhere we could. It was raining hard and I felt utterly helpless. I knew we had to take our dogs back after two hours so we went home, dropped them off, changed into dry clothes and went back alone. By the time we arrived back at 10am, there were at least 10 people who had all had come to search for Vienna in the rain. I couldn’t believe it: no one cared that it was cold and raining – they were there to help. We started looking everywhere.

Three hours later, frozen and soaked to the bone, we popped back home to change into dry clothes again. SANparks phoned me to say they had a small group of men who had arrived to help in the search, so we decided to pack a little braai, hoping to entice her out with the smell of boerewors. Again, we were there until the gates closed at 7pm and I realised that little Vienna would spend another long, cold night on the mountain. 

When I got home, dejected, I noticed that Nicole Berg (owner of South Peninsula Pet Care) had created a Facebook page: “Help Find Vienna”. I was amazed at how many people actually really cared about a missing dog they didn’t even know.

Wild goose chases

Saturday was the same, although the weather was slightly better. At 12pm I drove to my “cellphone signal spot” – and saw a post that a couple had spotted a dog on the jeep track. I raced back to my husband and said: “She’s making her way home – we need to go home and walk up the jeep track!” Taking little Chanel, we walked up the jeep track for about four kilometres, shouting and pleading for Vienna to come out, but to no avail. Not a trace could be found.

The next day, with no further information, we began our search at Silvermine dam, and then, again, from Silvermine – this time with Roxy – down the jeep trail to Noordhoek. That evening my husband had to fly to Nigeria. Friends Josh and Gila went to Silvermine for the “evening session” with a kennel, bedding and food, which we placed close to where she’d gone missing.

On Monday I asked the followers on Vienna’s Facebook page to walk with me. Julia offered to accompany me at 7am with Coco and Chanel, who barked the whole way – I couldn’t believe that Vienna wouldn’t hear them. At lunchtime Lauren Vermaak, Stacie Bekker and Jean Vermaak joined me. Baboons were everywhere, making us very nervous. We met a couple, Fiona and Nathan, who had driven all the way from Melkbos to look for Vienna. SANparks carried out more patrols; they said their rangers had heard a dog bark and seen spoor in the restricted area of Tokai forest. They took me to the spot but, despite an hour of calling, we didn’t hear or see a thing. On Tuesday, Lauren and Stacie put up posters all around the Tokai area, and we drove around looking for Vienna, now believed to have moved into a residential area. But still… nothing. The day after that, I drove around the Tokai forest with SANparks, but again, nothing.

Thursday was bleak – it was one week since Vienna had gone missing. I was at breaking point. I took Roxy at midday and we went to sit by Elephants Eye; I cried my heart out – looking below it was such a vast area and I sat wondering where she was. I prayed hard, begging Jesus to help me find her, and then, with a heavy heart, walked back and went home.

A week and a day

Another night had passed and, that Friday, I contacted the SPCA, organising a meeting with them to ask if they could suggest a way of helping further. My mom and I took Coco and Chanel to Silvermine again – we would not give up hope. On the way there we received the call we had been waiting for: someone had spotted her! Ronelle Muir (whose daughter, Holly, fosters for Cape Dachshund Rescue) had received a call from her friend Mikki Dimopolous to say that a driver had stopped because a Dachshund was trying to cross the busy, dangerous Boyes Drive. Mikki and Ronelle immediately headed off to meet where the Dachsie had been spotted, while I drove there thinking, “No way, she couldn’t be there.” We stopped where they were and investigated the area where she was spotted.

We combed the area for 10 minutes. Ronelle crossed the road, instinctively crouching to look under a bush – and there she was. She asked my mom to call me, and when I heard her excited shout – “Jayne! She’s here, under the bush. It’s Vienna!” – my heart leapt. I looked under the bush… and there was my baby, shaking like a leaf. I crouched down about a metre away, coaxing her, and said, “Come, Vienna, mommy’s pretty girl,” but she just looked at me – and then sprinted in the other direction.

I dove into the bush to give chase; I was not losing her again. Moments later, a guy stopped in a car – he had seen her running across Boyes Drive into thick bush. All of us were now doing the 100-metre sprint up the road and hunting in the bush. I phoned for back-up, and friends and family were there within minutes.

By then it was on Facebook. Others who’d been part of the search came to our aid. My worst fear was her crossing the railway lines, so I called to two builders – Ziyaad and Rushdien – who were working nearby and asked them to help. They were worried that the bush was full of snakes, but I pleaded with them and they went in along with Stacie, Holly and my son, Dylan, and Blaze.  

About an hour later, they finally caught her. One of the guys had spotted her; Holly and Stacie headed over and Vienna literally jumped right into Holly’s arms. They carried her down to me… seeing her after those eight days was the most amazing feeling ever – she came to me and licked my face. I couldn’t even cry, as I was so overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe it: we’d finally found her – miles from where we’d lost her. I bundled her up and took her home, where her siblings sniffed her while she raced straight to see her friend, our cat, Kiara. I then took her to the vet; Vienna had lost two kilograms and was dehydrated but, apart from that, she was fine and was free to go. So Vienna and I went home – and the homecoming party could begin.

Gratitude

I could not have gotten through the week without the amazing support of the Facebook community and my family and friends. For eight days all I thought about was finding Vienna. I had a constant black cloud over my head; I cried myself to sleep every night and I prayed and asked my dad, who’d passed away a couple of months earlier, to keep Vienna safe at night. I received messages from animal communicators and grief counsellors; I was told she wouldn’t leave the area where she was lost and would show up close by – but it goes to show anything is possible. No one can predict what a dog will do when in stress. Never underestimate them – our little survivor lasted eight cold nights out on the dangerous mountain. I have no idea what she went through but I am just so glad I found her. 

Thank you to everyone who helped along the way, especially when I was feeling so low – you all kept me positive. I can’t name all of you, but know that we are grateful. SANParks (Table Mountain National Park Management, rangers and staff) really worked very hard helping in the search. We have an amazing community of dog lovers, and not just in the area, as I had messages from Noordhoek, Cape Town, and as far as the U.K. and America. I have made some great friends along the way and Vienna was even mentioned on the radio and in the newspaper. She has become a celebrity overnight and she even has a couple of functions lined up in the coming month. 

To anyone who ever loses a pet: hold onto hope and never give up searching, they are stronger then we think. They are survivors.

Visit the Facebook page: Help Find Vienna https://www.facebook.com/groups/203288636755646/ to see how the story unfolded.