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Missing B.C. dog walker found alive days after she disappeared

Search and rescue members on a long line steady Annette Poitras while being lowered to the ground by a helicopter after rescuing her from Eagle Mountain in Coquitlam, B.C., on Nov. 22, 2017.


A professional dog walker that disappeared Monday afternoon has been found safe, with search crews locating her in thick bush, far off a trail, when they heard the barks of three dogs in her care.

Annette Poitras, 56, had been walking the dogs – a boxer, a puggle and her own border collie – in Coquitlam's Westwood Plateau area when she was reported missing. An urgent, high-priority search ensued that involved Coquitlam Search and Rescue (SAR), Coquitlam RCMP, Talon Helicopters and about 300 workers in all. Coquitlam SAR conducted a "sound sweep," SAR manager Al Hurley said. This grid search technique is usually employed in the first day or two that a person has gone missing and involves search members stopping at regular intervals, using radios and whistles and listening for an audible response.

"When we weren't getting a response, we got closer and closer together, going further and further into the wilderness," Mr. Hurley said. "She was found by a sound sweep. And then the dogs lit up and started barking extensively so we knew we were on the right path."

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Searchers had some clues to work with: Friends and fellow dog walkers were familiar with her route, a man had called in a sighting of her, and her mobile phone had pinged a cell tower on Burke Mountain.

Ms. Poitras was located late Wednesday morning in a marshy basin in a watershed area away from where most people would venture, Coquitlam RCMP Corporal Michael McLaughlin said. She had slipped and injured herself – the nature of the injury is unclear – and was unable to hike out on her own, he said.

"She was in a rather difficult place to access, well outside of where you would normally expect people to be walking or hiking," Cpl. McLaughlin said, adding that her footwear was not ideal for the conditions.

Ms. Poitras was rescued with a helicopter cable and taken to hospital. The three dogs were also rescued in good condition.

Ms. Poitras's emotional husband stood in the rain awaiting his partner.

"The people that are here are just incredible. They have been out there searching day and night. I cannot possibly say enough," he told reporters at the scene.

"I just want to say support your local search and rescue and, you know what, hug your spouse tonight. Whoever you're lying in bed with tonight, hold on to them."

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Tina Presley, a friend of Ms. Poitras's and owner of the puggle, said she felt exhausted and elated to learn of the happy outcome.

"During the day, when everything was going on and you could see everybody out there, there was so much hope," Ms. Presley said in an interview. "But [Tuesday evening], when I heard they were shutting down [for the night] … that was my worst fear, honest to God, that they were left out there for another night alone. I was just sick all night."

Ms. Presley said she is looking forward to giving her friend – whose nickname is the Dog Whisperer – "the biggest hug."

Janet Kilberg, another friend of Ms. Poitras's and owner of the boxer, said she was grateful to the search crews and volunteers that brought her friend and pooch home safe.

"Annette is a good friend of mine and I wish her well," Ms. Kilberg said. "I hope that she can get out walking soon because all the dogs love her."

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