It's Shadow, No Doubt

updated 06/07/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/07/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Darren Mertz and his brother Scott were hiking along the barren outskirts of a ghost town near Death Valley National Park May 16, when they came upon a wooden cross jammed into the dry earth right before a deep, narrow well. Puzzling it out, they sadly concluded the cross probably commemorated a dog. "Nobody would leave a person down there," says Darren, 34, who owns a skateboard and snowboard store in Trona, Calif. "And people don't take their cats hiking." They tossed in a few stones and were moving on, when they heard a "distant bark," says Scott, 36, a dockworker. "I said, 'Did that come from the hole?' "

It did, and it was the yelp of one remarkably tough dog. Shadow, a 10-year-old, 25-lb. cocker spaniel-beagle mix, had fallen to the bottom of the 30-ft.-deep natural well five weeks earlier while hiking with her owners, Jeffrey Schwartz and his sons Stephen, 17, and Kevin, 18, and two nephews. When the boys discovered the well, Shadow ran after and accidentally plunged down the 3-ft.-wide hole. Schwartz, 50, a borax-mine worker in Trona, tried to rescue the dog by lowering a deserted extension ladder found nearby, but the ladder was too short. An hour later, says Schwartz, Shadow stopped whimpering, "and there was silence." Assuming the worst, he and the boys erected the makeshift cross and hiked six miles back to the car. "We were all in shock," he says.

More than a month later, the family experienced a more joyous jolt: The Mertzes phoned to say they had rescued the dog, who fortunately was tagged. Using a discarded hose from an abandoned water tank nearby, Darren lowered down Scott, who coaxed an underweight but otherwise uninjured Shadow into his arms. (She had survived on nothing but springwater.) When Shadow was reunited with her family, "the look on their faces made it all worthwhile," says Scott. As for Shadow, says Stephen, "her tail was wagging like crazy."

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