‘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

BC ELECTION
Voters hit the polls early

17 per cent of Kootenay East voters have already voted, with four days to go until the election

File photo
Main Roads warns of snow over weekend

It’s expected to snow in most areas covered by the East Kootenay Service Area

Tom Shypitka, Wayne Stetski, Kerri Wall and moderator Thomas Skelton at the Oct. 15 Elk Valley all-candidates forum. (Source: zoom)
At a glance: Kootenay East candidates go head-to-head in Elk Valley forum

Shypitka, Stetski and Wall called in to the zoom forum to talk all things Elk Valley

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons.
MP Morrison responds to federal throne speech, pushes for rapid testing at airports

Kootenay-Columbia parliamentarian criticizes throne speech, wants COIVD-19 testing at borders, airports

Anne Jimmie holds up a photo of her and her mother, Christine Jimmy, that was taken in 1948. Photo: Aaron Hemens
Saving the inner child: The Healing Journey

“There was this little girl inside that was so hurt, that was so wounded … I needed to nurture that little girl and understand her.”

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Fort St. John councillor Trevor Bolin (B.C. Conservative Party)
BC Conservatives leader fights back after BC Liberals leak 2018 workplace harassment case

Sexual harassment case was connected to employee being terminated, WorkSafeBC found

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Invermere couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Most Read