‘We’ll keep him in our hearts:’ Dog dies after plunging off Vancouver Island cliff

The Cowichan Search and Rescue team prepares to head down the cliff face at Stoney Hill to try to find dog Frankie. (Warren Goulding/Citizen)

Nikki Bigger will leave the Cowichan Valley with a broken heart and without her beloved toy Australian shepherd.

But she will also leave with the memory of how a courageous group of volunteers and two young women came to her aid under tragic circumstances.

The drama unfolded Wednesday afternoon atop Stoney Hill Regional Park when Bigger and another woman were enjoying a hike and taking in the scenery.

“One minute we were taking pictures of our dogs, then she threw a stick over the cliff,” Bigger explained, as her tears flowed.

Instinctively, the one-year-old Australian Shepherd, named Frankie, took off in pursuit of the stick and fell over the edge.

“It is so messed up. My best friend’s life was taken by someone who did something stupid,” Bigger said.

Bigger called 911 and within minutes volunteers from Maple Bay Fire department arrived on the scene. They quickly realized there was nothing they could do, given the steep cliff that overlooks Sansum Narrows, and called Cowichan Search and Rescue.

As she sat in the van that is home for herself, her boyfriend and Frankie, Bigger watched as SAR personnel and equipment gathered on Stoney Hill Road preparing to head to the search site. More than 20 SAR members joined in the recovery effort.

“Do they always do this?” Bigger asked. “This is incredible.”

Assured that this was a typical response by Cowichan SAR, a non-profit organization that is highly trained and highly motivated, Bigger joined the team as they headed back up Stoney Hill.

By 4 p.m., two members of the rope rescue team had made their way to the bottom of the cliff and began looking for the dog.

“Cliff rescues are not rare,” SAR team leader Jamie Tudway-Cains commented. “But dog rescues are.”

Tudway-Cains says in situations like the Stoney Mountain response it’s important to be proactive.

“We don’t want to have to rescue the owner trying to get to the dog,” he said.

As she watched the recovery effort, Bigger was joined by two women who had hiked the 3.2 kilometre loop trail and were surprised to see the SAR team and the distraught dog owner.

Marigold Arbic and Tash Pegg sat with Bigger for more than an hour, consoling her and offering to help her get through the sad experience.

“We’re here for you, whatever we can do,” Arbic assured her, as news came that the dog had been found and would be brought up to the top of the mountain.

Tudway-Cains broke the news to Bigger who already knew the dog had little chance of surviving the fall.

“We have 300 feet of rope and we used all but 10 feet of it,” Tudway-Cains said, noting the drop was almost 290 feet.

Cowichan SAR often trains at the site because of its challenges and the dangers that exist at that location and others on Stoney Hill.

Frankie had become something of a celebrity in his short life. With the help of his owners, Frankie had garnered 24,500 followers on Instagram through @letsgo_frankie.

He reported regularly on his travels with Bigger and her boyfriend as they made their way west from Ontario to Canmore, Alberta and on to Vancouver Island in their customized van.

On Aug. 28, Frankie posted a picture and this message: “So many more adventures to come living in this van and roaring around North America.”

The plan was to carry on to California and spend the winter in Arizona once Bigger’s boyfriend returned to B.C. from a photo assignment in Eastern Canada.

Bigger, also a photographer, posted a heartbreaking message on Instagram Thursday morning.

“This is really hard for me. But I know you’re all wondering what happened yesterday and a lot of people care about him.

“My little hairy, best friend is no longer with us. Thank you for all your support. We’ll keep him in our hearts.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crews building structure at former Summerland train station site

West Summerland Station will pay tribute to railway history, serve as trail marker

$30,000 over 30 weeks for local causes

Send us your good stories and you could win money for your favourite cause

Additional Penticton washrooms open in time for weekend

Washrooms at Riverside, Skaha Lake Park, Okanagan Lake Park, more, now open

Tap Truck Okanagan launches as first location in Canada

The business is built on a restored 1957 Chevy panel van and ready to serve craft beer on tap, wine or cider

First day back; attending elementary school amid COVID-19

“… Social connections are certainly important for kids,” said Carmi principal Dave Ritchie.

Trudeau offers $14B to provinces for anti-COVID-19 efforts through rest of year

Making a difference in municipalities is a pricey proposition

Friends, family mourn Salt Spring Island woman killed in suspected murder-suicide

A GoFundMe comapaign has been launched for Jennifer Quesnel’s three sons

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

Indigenous families say their loved ones’ deaths in custody are part of pattern

Nora Martin joins other Indigenous families in calling for a significant shift in policing

‘Alarmed’: Health critic calls for more data on COVID-19 in trucking industry

Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec said that level of detail is not being collected

UPDATED: Pair accused of ‘horrific’ assault at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park arrested

Police say Jason Tapp, 30, and Nicole Edwards, 33, did not show up to meet their bail supervisor this week

Kelowna Mountie who punched suspect identified, condemned by sister

‘How did he get away with this? How is this justifiable?’

Vernon protesters take Black Lives Matter movement to park

A handful of demonstrators raised fists, signs in solidarity Friday

Most Read