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Agility trainer and six dogs crash in the desert

Tuesday June 19th, 2012

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The six dogs that were with Elicia Calhoun when her car crashed. (Photo credit: Best in Show Daily)

June 11 was a day that dog lover Elicia Calhoun, a world-renowned agility trainer, dog handler, and speaker, will never forget.

Calhoun set off down Arizona’s Interstate-10 with her six dogs in tow: 12.5-year-old Border Collie, Iceman; 9.5-year-old Australian Shepherd, Nika; 9-year-old Border Collie, Breesea; 3-year-old Border Collie, Tobie; 1-year-old Australian Shepherd, Destiny; and finally, her new Australian Kelpie puppy, 13-week-old Tsunami, who was in the passenger seat locked in a dog crate.

Around 8:30 that morning, as Calhoun’s car traveled through the middle of the Arizona desert, the unthinkable happened. The car was involved in a serious rollover accident, careening off of the highway and into the brush. All six of Calhoun’s dogs were thrown from the vehicle in the crash.

After the accident, Calhoun, badly wounded, was able to crawl over the mangled dashboard and airbags to exit from the hood of her car. Desperate, the injured trainer searched for her missing dogs.

As help arrived, all Calhoun could do was beg for assistance — not for herself, but for her dogs. Calhoun and the rest of the makeshift search party were able to locate three of them soon after the crash: Breesea, Destiny, and Iceman; the others were still nowhere to be found.

When ambulances arrived on the scene, Calhoun refused medical treatment, but when the paramedics insisted, she only agreed to leave with them on the condition that bystanders — including a border patrol agent — continue to search for her missing dogs.

As a result of the impact, Calhoun suffered a variety of bumps and bruises, the most serious of which was a punctured lung. Concerned more for her dogs than for herself, however, Calhoun defied doctor’s wishes and signed herself out of the hospital that same day.

Meanwhile, word of the accident spread via Facebook, and when Elicia’s friends learned that Nika, Tobie, and Tsunami were still missing in the desert, the dog-loving community sprang into action. Within hours of the car crash, more than 3,000 people had mobilized in the efforts to bring Calhoun’s dogs home.

Sadly, as Calhoun was leaving the hospital, she learned that little Tsunami didn’t make it. The search party found the young Kelpie’s body near the site of the crash.

Elicia was heartbroken, but knew that she needed to act fast to find Nika and Tobie. The Australian Shepherd and Border Collie were still out there in the desert, where the beating sun, high temperatures, rugged terrain, and wildlife could claim a dog’s life in seconds.

Calhoun rejoined the rescue efforts, and by day’s end, her story had found its way onto local news broadcasts and social networking sites. Truckers were notified on their radios and local ranchers mounted their horses and searched the expansive desert for any sign of the dogs.

In a tragic turn of events, Calhoun got word around 7:00 p.m. that Nika’s body had been found. The Australian Shepherd, dazed from the crash, had been spooked and dashed into the freeway, where she was struck by a passing car. Calhoun ran to the freeway median and held Nika’s body, crying as she said goodbye to her friend.

But Calhoun knew that Tobie was still out there somewhere in the desert. She set up camp and slept outside that night to make it easier for the missing Border Collie to find her way.

By the following morning, a whopping $13,000 had been raised by Calhoun’s friends and family to pay for an aerial sweep of the area in hopes that Tobie would be spotted.

Calhoun woke early to word that Tobie had been spotted limping near the crash site. Frantic, Calhoun rushed to the location. As she and a volunteer from Tucson made their way back down the freeway, they spotted Tobie going in the opposite direction. Calhoun hopped out of her car and called for Tobie, who recognized her, but bolted in front of an oncoming truck. Thankfully, Calhoun and the volunteer were able to coax a very frightened Tobie off of the road, where finally, the two could reunite.

Calhoun is now nursing her own wounds, including the ones caused by grief over Tsunami and her longtime pal, Nika. She is also taking care of Iceman, Breesea, and Destiny, who came away from the crash with bruises and scrapes. Tobie, resilient, is still being treated for her injuries but is expected to make a full recovery.

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