Avid coon hunters for years, the men of the Schopmeyer family didn't expect anything unusual while hunting in their woods the night of Dec. 29.
Anxious to get started, Marvin Schopmeyer, 73, released Sara, his 7-year-old Walker Coon Hound, at 6:30 p.m. and watched the barking dog take off into the woods.
By the time Schopmeyer's son and grandson arrived, Sara was gone.
"We could hear her barking, but she was deep in the woods," Marvin said.
It's common for coon dogs to run the woods unattended for hours.
After following the sound of whimpers and barking, the trio found the dog about 9:15 p.m. Perched 40 feet in the air, Sara was desperately clinging to an ice-covered tree which had fallen across a frozen creek to lodge against another tree. While treeing a raccoon, Sara treed herself.
"She had been barking the whole time," Marvin said. "She barked about 2 1/2 hours up in that tree."
Roger, 39, and Bryce, 20, decided to return to the house for a rope, leaving Marvin to watch Sara.
"I was going to climb up there and let her down," Roger said, amazed at how the dog was able to climb the frozen tree. "I wasn't even sure how I was going to get up there."
But even with the quick response, Sara lost her footing and fell five minutes before they returned.
"She just laid there in the snow," Marvin said.
He watched her fall through the beam of a flashlight.
Knowing of other coon dogs dying from such a fall, Marvin expected the worst. "I figured she was dead."
While considering ways to bring Sara's body back across the creek, the three men were stunned to see her move. After about four minutes she struggled to stand up. Sara was dazed, but alive.
"If it hadn't snowed, she wouldn't have survived that fall," Roger said.
The snowdrift Sara landed in was about 15 to 16 inches deep.
"If she'd have landed on the ice of the creek, or any place other than the snow, she would have died. I'm sure of that," Roger said.
After almost a week of lying in her dog house, Sara is happy to be on a lead again. With tail wagging, her nose goes immediately to the ground in search of smells while leading Marvin and Roger around the wooded area next to the house.
"This is the happiest she's been since she fell," Marvin said.