Hiker Tia Vargas likely thought the most impressive thing about her visit to Table Rock last month would be reaching its 11,106-foot summit, but she’d have been wrong.
On her way back down, she came upon an English Spring Spaniel in bad shape; he was limping along with two other hikers who were trying to find the dog’s owner.
“They asked if he was mine and said that they’d seen a note at the bottom of the trail mentioning that somebody had lost their dog,” Vargas, 40, a single mother of three from Idaho Falls, Idaho, told PEOPLE. “The tag on his collar said his name was ‘Boomer,’ and I could see that he was hurt. The other hikers wanted to get to the top of the mountain, so I decided right then, ‘OK, Boomer, I’ll help you.’”
Carrying the 55-pound pup on her back, Vargas hiked another mile down to where here dad was waiting. He had been too tired to make the summit. Vargas said her father laughed, joking that the hike was hard enough without carrying a dog.
“I told him, ‘Dad, this dog is lost and hurt. There’s nobody else. I can do this.’”
But it was harder than she thought. Snow and debris derailed their descent and Vargas and her father ended up getting lost and caught in the rain. She was tired and hurt and cried, wondering whether she might have to leave the dog behind.
The power of a silent prayer, she said, buoyed her
“I suddenly felt like somebody had walked up behind me and lifted Boomer off my shoulders,” she says, “and I realized that I had to buck up and do this. If I didn’t get him off the mountain, I knew that he would die.”
Vargas shared her cheese and crackers with Boomer on the trek, while her dad gave up the ham in his sandwich. “Boomer was obviously hungry,” she says, “and he was in a lot of pain. We felt grateful to have something to give him.”
At the trail’s end, Vargas found the note the hikers had mentioned and called Boomer’s owners. They had been hiking together when Boomer wandered off and fell 100 feet down a snowy crevice, they told her. They had searched, but fruitlessly. The miracle of Vargas’ help, though, ended up changing Boomer’s fate more than once that day.
The family had planned to sell Boomer to a man who wanted a hunting dog, but after hearing the tale of his rescue — that Vargas had carried him six miles — they offered to let her keep him instead once he’d been treated for his injuries.
“I haven’t had a dog in 15 years, but Boomer is part of our family now,” Vargas told PEOPLE. “I feel like there’s a reason why I was on the mountain at the very moment that he needed somebody to help. Both of us had a guardian angel that day.”