The dog belonging to a firefighter who went missing in the Los Padres National Forest was found on Sunday, nearly a week after the search for his owner began, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.
“Duke” was spotted by a good Samaritan in a parking lot about 10 to 12 miles from where Michael Herdman was last seen nine days ago, according to Dean.
Despite the long journey, the dog was in relatively good condition, the Sheriff’s Office stated in a tweet.
Search and rescue teams still haven’t found any sign of Herdman, who was on a camping trip with a friend in the Sespe Wilderness area just north of the small city of Fillmore at the time of his disappearance.
Ventura County officials announced during a news conference on Sunday that they would begin scaling back their search efforts later that night.
“We’ve reached a point where we have to make a decision. And the decision is we will be reducing our search efforts to a limited, but ongoing, scale,” Dean said.
Herdman, 36, went missing on June 13 after becoming separated from his friend, Taylor Byars, while chasing after Duke when he ran away from their campsite.
When Herdman did not return to the camp, Byars unsuccessfully searched for him and then made the two-day hike out of the wilderness and alerted authorities Sunday night.
Search and rescue crews began looking for Herdman the following morning.
“It’s a rugged terrain. It can be inhospitable, especially when you’re off trail,” Sgt. Kevin Donoghue with the sheriff’s office said. “There are a lot of hazards we need to watch out for.”
Herdman, an avid outdoorsman and experienced backpacker, was barefoot and wearing shorts and a T-shirt when he was last seen.
Officials expressed concern that Herdman might have been seriously injured.
“If the assumption is that if he is able to move around, we would have found him by now, he would have flagged us down and we would have heard him,” Sgt. Eric Buschow with the Sheriff’s Office said on Saturday.
Still, officials haven’t given up hope that Herdman might be found.
“It could happen, he could’ve fallen into a crevice, and he’s unconscious and he wakes up all of a sudden,” Dean said on Sunday. “But there are so many crevices and boulders out there, it’s probably highly unlikely.”
There have been no clues as to Herdman’s whereabouts since his backpack and footprints were located on Monday. And before finally being rescued on Saturday, Duke had been spotted — but not captured — on Wednesday and Thursday.
A massive search operation has been underway in the area since Monday. It has involved roughly 400 volunteers who have searched 50 square miles by air, ground, horseback and even water, officials said.
Five search and rescue personnel were injured looking for Herdman, including an assistant fire chief who landed in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital after a rattlesnake bite.