The couple who walked 10kms from the highest peak in the Wicklow mountains to rescue a lost dog say they would do it all over again if needed.
Speaking to Independent.ie, Dr Ciara Nolan (32), an obstetrician at the Rotunda Hospital, said she and her partner, Dr Francois Bonnet (35), a registrar anesthesiologist at Dublin’s Mater Hospital, would happily do the four-hour mountain trek again if it meant saving the life of an animal in distress.
The couple made headlines when a video Ciara took of Francois painstakingly carrying Neesha, a near-starving and frozen golden retriever, on his back wrapped up in a spare jacket went viral.
Their generous act of kindness brought untold relief to Neesha’s worried owners, Erina O’Shea-Goetelen, her husband Serge Goetelen and their children Shannagh (20) and Caolin (16).
The Irish-Belgian family who live in Aughavannagh, Co Wicklow, had all but given up hope of ever seeing their beloved dog again after she went missing after chasing a deer while out for walk on January 23.
Despite ongoing searches and even sending a drone up over the Wicklow mountains in a bid to find her, they thought she would never survive being lost in the mountains for a fortnight.
But by sheer chance, Ciara and Francois, who are avid mountain-climbers, came across Neesha while they were out for a hike last Saturday.
Ciara, who took part in a medical expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania before the pandemic as part of trauma training, said they knew straight away that Neesha was almost on death’s door.
"The dog was very lucky we found her,” she said.
"We know how to recognise hypothermia, it was just pure luck we found her,” she said.
Fortunately, the couple packed all the right gear for their trek, including bringing extra clothing, including a spare ski jacket and snacks for their hike up Lugnaquilla, near their home in Arklow.
"The weather was terrible but we had nothing else to do so we thought ‘let’s get some fresh air. We just love the outdoors, especially during lockdown,” she said.
As they were climbing up the mountain they saw Neesha shivering on a rock.
“We spotted her hunkered down beside a little rock that didn’t offer any protection (from the elements),” she said.
"She was completely exposed to the elements. She was so weak she didn’t have the energy to stand. She just lifted her little head.”
Francois, who hails from Nice in France, knew right away that Neesha was suffering from hypothermia and immediately wrapped her up in the spare ski jacket to warm her up.
"She was completely frozen and she had injuries on her paw,” said Ciara, adding the couple could tell from her injuries that they weren’t fresh cuts which “set off alarm bells” that she had been exposed to the elements for several days.
They gave Neesha sips of tea from their flask to warm her up and fed her small bits of bread to kickstart her metabolism. Despite weighing more than 20 kgs, Francois hefted Neesha up on his shoulders and the couple began the long trek down the mountain.
"He slipped and fell a few times so we used my scarf like a baby sling on his back. We just wanted to get her down from the mountain,” said Ciara.
“It was completely out of the question that we would leave her there,” she said, adding Francois “didn’t complain once”.
"He was absolutely wrecked but we were running on adrenalin.”
After a gruelling 10km trek the couple took the longer but less arduous route back home and put Neesha in front of the fire.
They contacted the local ASH animal rescue centre which was able to put them in touch with Neesha’s owners, who were in “complete disbelief" that she had been found alive.
"I spoke to Erina and said ‘I think I have your dog’,” said Ciara.
"She said ‘is she breathing? Is she alive?’ I said ‘yes, we have her here, she’s ok, she’s in front of the fire’.”
The Goetelen family brought Neesha to their vet who treated her with antibiotics and painkillers for what turned out to be dermatitis from sheltering on the hard rock.
The Goetelens meanwhile, are eternally grateful for the couple’s kindness, saying they were not only frontline medical heroes, but heroes in every sense of the word.
“What they did for our dog, there’s no words to thank them,” Erina told Independent.ie this evening. "So much courage and energy. What they did is beyond belief.”
Neesha is recovering from her ordeal
“Her spirit is good. There’s a twinkle in her eye,” she said.
Ciara, meanwhile, said the couple is delighted with how things turned out and would do it all over again.
"Francois was definitely sore the next day but he said he’d do it a million times over again,” she said.