Watch Floyd Tibbetts and his dog, Rocky, on an outing in the forest near their Susanville home, and they could be any man and his dog enjoying the day in the outdoors.
In fact, both are lucky to be here today and they owe their presence to the bond between them and the happenstance that brought them together.
Rocky little resembles the half-starved, abused animal that showed up one day at the Lassen County Animal Shelter. He was skin and bones. A buckshot wound peppered his side.
It took days of trying for the staff to even capture him. Frankly, he was an unlikely candidate for adoption but the local humane society enrolled him in their Pups on Parole program at the nearby California Correctional Institute.
Dogs and inmates here seek a second chance together. The inmates, all trustees, nurse and train the dogs preparing them for adoption.
Dawn Tibbetts works at the prison. One day she heard there was a yellow lab in the program, just the kind of dog she knew Floyd had been wanting to accompany him on rock hunting trips.
"I just looked at him and knew he was coming home with me," she remembers. "It was the best thing I've ever done."
So, Rocky went home. Though still wary of sudden movements and people in general he and Floyd soon bonded.
Months later they drove deep into the forest miles from town in search of petrified wood.
Floyd parked his vehicle just off the road out of sight and into the forest they went. Soon Floyd had about 30 pounds of the decorative rock in his back pack, but instead of heading back the way he came he decided to take a different route.
Soon he was lost. Even worse, it was a hot July day. He wasn't feeling well.
Floyd suffers from a slow heartbeat. He had passed out at least once, falling into some brush scratching his face, losing his glasses and hat.
He'd left his heavy backpack behind. In it, his cell phone and water. He was miles from where he'd told people he would be. He kept pausing almost losing consciousness. Rocky stayed with him, kept him going.
"He kept licking my hand," Floyd says
He was by now hours overdue., not answering his cell phone and Dawn was frantic.
"I was scared to death. I knew something had happened."
A search had been mounted, but they were looking in the wrong spot.
Finally he saw a landmark he thought he recognized. At last, he thought, he had his bearings. In fact, he was heading in the wrong direction.
"He was just standing there," says Floyd. "And I'm saying 'C'mon Rocky we don't have time for this. Finally I gave up and followed him."
Rocky had never been out here before, but he led Floyd back to the car. Hours more passed before a bloodied and still disoriented Floyd recovered enough to drive back home.
What would have happened if Rocky hadn't known the right way?
"They'd never have found me down there," says Floyd. "Except maybe by following the buzzards."
"I don't think I'd want to go out without him now. He has my back."
"There aren't words to describe how I feel about that dog," adds Dawn Tibbetts. "He's just incredible."
Others have heard this story, among them the Humane Society of the United States, which holds an annual Pets of Valor Award. Rocky is one of five finalists this year.
A website has been set up where you can review his and the other candidates' stories and vote for your choice once a day beginning today through the 31st.
You'll find this link, www.humanesociety.org/petsofvalor, under Hot Topics.
The Pups on Parole program has found new homes for more than 300 dogs to date.
You'll find a link and information and a list of available dogs also under Hot Topics.