Four-legged neighbor becomes a hero in Rifle

With the urging of their beloved rescued American Eskimo dog Ian and Stacey Wilz saved their neighbors life last week

Jane Holt, center, is so happy her neighbors Ian and Stacey Wilz, and their dog Sitka helped save Holt’s mother Dot after she fell outside their Rifle home last Wednesday morning. (Kyle Mils / Citizen Telegram)

For Stacey Wilz and her dog Sitka, a typical day begins when they set out for their morning walk around 5:25 a.m. 

Stacey and her husband Ian Wilz live in the Homestead, a collection of townhouses set around Fir Court in the Graham Mesa area in Rifle.

The Wilz’s have lived there for seven years, and have become friends with many of their neighbors including Jane Holt and her mother Dot Holt, who lives across the street.

But last Wednesday something was different.

Sitka was the first to know there was trouble.

“We always go around the circle, and basically end up right in front of Jane and Dot’s house,” Stacey said.

But before they even got to Jane and Dot’s house, Sitka started acting unusual.

“He was pulling really hard, he got to the sidewalk right in front of the house and he just sat down and took attention right to the house,” Stacey said.

Stacey, who commutes to Glenwood to her job at Berthod Motors kept calling him and telling him that she had to get ready for work, but Sitka wouldn’t budge and kept staring at the house. 

“Finally I went to pull him one last time when I heard a murmuring, a really deep breathing sound.”

Stacey said it scared her at first, with thoughts of a mountain lion or something else on the front porch racing through her mind. 

But she noticed it was a consistent sound so she took out the flashlight she always carries in her pocket.

“At first I thought it was really weird because there was a blanket or something on the front porch that was making this weird noise,” Stacey said

When she shined the flashlight over toward what she was hearing Stacey thought to herself it had to be an animal or something, and that’s when she realized it was a person.

“My heart sunk and I began shaking.”

Stacey always checks the temperature when she leaves the house in the morning and she remembered it was only 15 degrees that morning.

Stacey ran back to her house to wake up her husband and call 911.

Ian Wilz said he was just waking up when Stacey burst through their front door, yelling that there was someone lying on the ground in front of Jane and Dot’s house.

Lying on the freezing concrete by the corner of the garage was 93-year-old Dot Holt, who has dementia.

Ian knelt down and started holding Dot trying to use his body heat to warm her up.

“I’m trying to get her to respond, as I told Stacey to get Jane,” Ian said.

Ian, a fourth-grade teacher at Highland Elementary in Rifle, and was able to use a little background in emergency response; he was a lifeguard for many years when he was younger.

Stacey ran through the front door, which was still open, yelling for Jane.

“Jane came out with the blankets and we wrapped her up,” Ian said.

Stacey and Ian said the paramedics responded quickly, and rushed Dot to the hospital.

“The 911 dispatch was absolutely amazing, I would have probably been in tears if it wasn’t for them,” Stacey said.

“If he hadn’t pulled the attention to it, there’s no way I would’ve known she was out there. Our little rescue dog rescued someone else,”

Caring for her mother

Jane Holt has been living with her mother for nine years now. She decided to sell her shoe store in New Hampshire about 11 years ago and start the process to move to Rifle when she noticed that her mom was showing signs of Dementia.

Holt said people with dementia can change every day – they don’t really have any patterns.

“Every moment is different,” Holt said.

Last Wednesday wasn’t the first time Dot Holt has wandered out of the house and into the elements.

“She had done this once before and gone out our back door to the balcony, and was out for a time, but it was 40 degrees. I found her in the morning and everything was fine after a hospital visit, we ended up putting a combination lock on the door,” Holt said.

Since then she has an alarm by her mom’s bed that she usually steps on if she gets up.

“Somehow she has missed it a couple of times, and this time she went out the front door, which we don’t even use because we have a ramp going out the garage,” Holt said.

Her mother’s temperature was 85 degrees when paramedics arrived. Doctors estimated she had been outside for a couple of hours because of her condition.

“It couldn’t have been much longer, it was like 15 degrees,” Holt said. “I’m so in love with this dog, and I always have been. He is such a great dog.”

Holt admits that Sitka is her new favorite dog and even told her dog he is second now.

Jane said her mother has no recollection of the event.

“She keeps asking what happened here, when she looks at her scrapes and bruises,” Holt said. “The woman’s bones are made of titanium.”

Jane has finally admitted to herself that taking care of her mother is getting to be more than she can handle and is moving her mother to a memory care center in Grand Junction next week where she will be safer.

Holt calls Sitka the neighborhood mascot. Now he’s also the neighborhood hero.

“It would have been an absolute nightmare, they truly saved her life. They absolutely saved her, “ said Jane as she held back tears before giving Stacey and Ian a big hug.

Sitka is all smiles with one of his new toys he received for being a hero last week in Rifle. (Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram)

Finding Sitka

The Wilz family adopted Sitka from the Rifle Animal Shelter about a year and a half ago.

“We got him July 1, 2018, we had been looking for a dog for a while,” Ian said.

The Wilz’s don’t have children but wanted to share their joy and happiness to someone else.

“Being in this small space it is hard to find a dog, but this guy came up the day before my birthday. I said, ‘Oh my god we have to get him – he’s the one,’” Ian said.

He said he went down to the shelter to put his name down the day a picture of Sitka, known as Luke at the time, showed up on the shelter’s website.

Ian and Stacey were told he was 5 and that he was an American Eskimo when they got him, but not much else was known about him.

They changed his name to Sitka, after Sitka, Alaska, because Luke just didn’t fit his personality. 

Ian said he is still a little hyper and was skittish at first, but now he will walk up to everybody.

“He just loves being around kids, dogs, and other people,” Ian said.

Stacey said after word got out about Sitka’s heroics one of the neighbors made him a little hero medallion to wear and gave him a certificate.

He’s been getting treats from the neighbors and Jane brought him a basket full of toys and treats last Friday.

“He’s gotten quite the ego lately,” Stacey said with a laugh.

The incident has Stacey watching her surroundings more carefully and believes there are things people should watch for.

“If your dog is trying to tell you something, you need to listen, and second you need to look out for your neighbors, you never know what’s going on you have to be aware all the time,” Stacey said.

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