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TIMBER COVE - One could hardly blame Ray Frost for breaking down when he was reunited with his dog, Mike, a few days ago.

Frost and most of his family had given up hope of seeing their beloved shepherd mix ever again after he disappeared seven weeks ago.

So when two fishermen at the bottom of a cliff stumbled upon an emaciated dog Thursday night with just enough energy left to nab one of their fish, it was as if a miracle had befallen Frost, his wife and their three grieving daughters.

"It was quite a homecoming," Frost, 54, said Sunday. "It was pretty amazing."

"We just thought he was gone forever, you know?" his wife, Alicia Frost, said.

Folks all over Timber Cove and environs know Mike, who goes everywhere with Frost, perched atop the silvery tool box in the bed of his owner's white pickup, as he has for the past decade.

It's not clear how the nearly 12-year-old German shepherd/Akita mix found himself stranded about 150 feet down a ravine below Highway 1 just north of Ocean Cove, but Frost believes he may have "chased a varmint" off the cliff and been unable to climb back out.

The day, March 27, had otherwise been fairly normal, Mike going with Frost about his daily chores managing properties and maintaining landscaping in the area.

They had been working across Highway 1 from the family's home, and came home in the late afternoon for a little play time in the back yard before Frost put the dog's dinner out and went to feed the family rabbits.

Later that night, when his wife came home from work at the Timber Cove Lodge, she noticed Mike hadn't eaten and wasn't around to get the scraps she usually brought home from the restaurant.

The next day was stormy, and Mike sometimes stayed home on such days, so Frost, thinking the dog was probably under the porch, bid him farewell and went off for the day. It wasn't until he came home and there was no sign of Mike later that day that Frost's "stomach just started to roll."

For days, he hiked the woods behind the house, and called and whistled for Mike, to no avail. At one point early on, he thought he might have heard the dog's bark, but there was no sign of him in the area from which the sound seemed to have come.

It appears Mike was probably fairly close to home but unable to make himself known from the rocky shoreline, where he got by on a trickle of fresh water and who knows what else, growing weaker by the day.

On Thursday, Santa Rosa resident Nathan Wilson and his friend and co-worker climbed down the cliff-face to fish, using a rope tied to a tree on some of the Frost's property.

At some point, Wilson saw movement under a rock and realized he was looking into the face of a German shepherd. "It was surreal," he recalled Sunday.

But the dog didn't want to come out, so Wilson let it be for a time and continued fishing with his friend and co-worker, J.J. Hidahl.

They left a fish they'd caught on a rock but it disappeared when their backs were turned, and they realized the clearly starving dog had taken it, Wilson said.

Wilson said they decided to cut their fishing short. "I just figured we had to get him out of there," he said.

So he hoisted the dog onto his shoulder to see if the animal would resist, but it just was limp, Wilson said.

As he slowly climbed up the ravine, one hand around Mike and the other on the rope, there came a point where the dog struggled but not for long, and they reached the top without further trouble, Wilson said.

At the Ocean Cove Grocery a short distance down Highway 1, the two men stopped for milk and cookies and asked if anyone in the store, a local gathering place, knew anything about a lost shepherd.

Christine Manaro, who was holding down the fort, thought immediately of Mike. She sent her friend, Judy Hoegel, out to Wilson's vehicle to check. It was indeed Mike.

Frost was summoned, and at the store found Mike, greasy, shaky and weighing about 35 pounds less than when he'd last been home. But the dog wagged his tail and was clearly excited to back with family.

The first day home, he could barely walk 20 feet without resting, Frost said. But by the second day, he could already jump into the bed of the truck. He's still shaky and weak, but is eating and drinking just fine, Frost said.

"It almost seems the way he is now that it's all a phony story," Frost said.

As for the men who found him? "They certainly have a lifetime of fishing rights now," he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.