The Rescue of the Rattlesnake Mountain (dog) Gang

Local residents know about the many benefits that come from living in the beautiful Snoqualmie Valley. Unfortunately, most of us know there are drawbacks too. Two of those drawbacks are lost and abandoned dogs.

Many selfless locals spend a good portion of their summer weekends trying to help out-of-towners who, for one reason or another, have lost their dogs while hiking our local trails. It is a sometimes-heartbreaking task that few choose to take on and even fewer make as their life’s work. This is the story of someone who does just that and recently saved the lives of four young dogs.

On Friday, August 20th, a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employee, Shannon Eggers, went to open the DNR gate on Winery Road as part of her job. That morning she discovered four mixed breed young dogs and a poured-out bag of dog food near the gate.

Eggers called Animal Control who set a trap and posted signs warning hikers and bikers to stay away from the dogs. Since the dogs were charging at people in a way that could be seen as aggressive, Animal Control called Jim Branson from Useless Bay Animal Sanctuary.

If you don’t know of Useless Bay Sanctuary and Jim Branson, you should because he and his non-profit are an enormous help and blessing to the pet community in the Puget Sound area.

Founded in 2013, Useless Bay Sanctuary is a team of rescuers passionate about helping lost dogs. They help dogs that other people have trouble capturing.  Their mission is to help those stray dogs that may not fit with the tools and resources of traditional animal shelters and rescues. 

Animal Control called Branson because he has experience and tools specific to hard-to-catch dogs. The rescue also has the flexibility to persist in helping a dog that may fall outside the jurisdiction or skill set of other rescues and shelters. They are a nonprofit, 501c3 charitable organization.

It was named Useless Bay after the bay on Whidbey Island, not deep enough for large ships. One person’s useless is another person’s treasure. The dogs they save may have been deemed useless by someone, but they find a place where they are valued family members.

Branson and his volunteers arrived at the gate and started with Calming Signals, a series of postures and facial expressions dogs use to calm each other down in potentially dangerous situations.  All four dogs charged at him, barking, but he just relaxed and didn’t respond.

Said Branson, “I could see they were just puppies, getting worked up by each other, and not a serious threat.  I tossed them some treats.  I made eye contact and then looked away.  I turned my body to the side and let them come up behind me and check me out.  Then I sat down, with my legs out in front of me, to show them I wasn’t going to get up quickly or make any sudden moves toward them.”

That first evening was all about gaining their trust so they could try various containment methods.  The sanctuary has a large trap, 10 feet by 5 feet, that Branson would have liked to use, but it was currently in use on a different assignment for two dogs in Gig Harbor.  So, he just sat and made friends while messaging people about different trapping situations they might try. He and the volunteers tried walking them toward open vehicles, hoping they would jump in, but that didn’t work.  

Saturday, he got there as early as he could and continued building trust with them. Now named Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael, a.k.a. The Rattlesnake Mountain Gang, the dogs seemed happy to see him, especially Raphael. James spent the morning with the four dogs but soon had to leave to care for his own dogs.

Photo Credit: James Branson

He received a message that a car had crashed into the woods just across the road from the DNR gate as he was returning.  When he got there, a tow truck came to haul the car out of the woods.  The tow truck driver asked about the dogs, and James mentioned that they were looking for something like a horse trailer with a wide opening and a low floor that he could lead the dogs into.  It just so happened that he had a horse trailer they could use.  After towing the car, he came back with the horse trailer.

Even though dogs were very interested in the smells of the horse trailer, after several failed attempts to lead and coax the dogs into the trailer with little luck, the group decided just to let the dogs rest and try a different approach the next day.  

The horse trailer was left overnight, but wildlife cameras showed the dogs did not approach the trailer again, even in the quiet of night.  So, on Sunday, Branson was back at building trust again and worked on a plan of setting up a pen, 10 feet by 10 feet, to lure them into.  A volunteer went to Tractor Supply in Monroe and got a large dog pen.  They set it up, and the dogs were not too wary of it.  

Unfortunately, as they were getting ready to lead them into it, someone arrived intending to take a dog or two. The person was very disruptive and wouldn’t listen to the group explaining that they had been working on trapping them for three days, building trust over time.  This person upset the dogs and created a huge commotion, only leaving when the police were called.

Two of the dogs happened to run into the pen they had set up during the pandemonium, and a volunteer closed the gate.  They had Raphael and Leonardo contained! But Michelangelo and Donatello were still loose.  Branson was able to sit down and let Donatello get close to him, and after a while, he was able to put a slip lead on the pooch.  

Managing to get Donatello into the pen, only Michelangelo was left out, but he was still suspicious after his previous experience in the horse trailer. The three dogs inside the enclosure were put into kennels, so they were safely contained, and Michelangelo could be with them if he wanted to.  

At this point, Branson got Valentino, his own dog, from the car.  All four dogs got very excited about his presence, and as the three kenneled dogs were barking at Valentino, Michelangelo came closer to be with his pack to bark with them.  

Photo Credit: James Branson

A volunteer closed the gate behind Michelangelo after he went in, as he was distracted, barking along with his brothers.  Another volunteer ran home and got a fourth crate, and they were all contained! They were then loaded into vehicles and taken to the King County shelter in Kent.  

This story is one of many I’ve personally seen online about Jim Branson and his wonderful organization. From 2008 to 2016, James Branson and Kelsy, the black Lab, helped find lost dogs and cats in the Puget Sound area. He volunteered for Missing Pet Partnership for four years before forming Three Retrievers Lost Pet Rescue in 2012. Kelsy was a scent trailing dog, and she usually would follow the scent trails of lost dogs, sometimes cats. Kelsy searched for 8 years, until her death, from cancer, at age 11.

Valentino, born in 2016, has become the primary scent trailing dog since 2018. James Branson is a certified Missing Animal Response Technician trained by Missing Pet Partnership. Branson has written handbooks on finding lost dogs and cats, which you can order or download immediately from

Says Lily Burns (UBS volunteer and one of the admins for the Lost Dogs of King County WA Facebook group), “Jim is synonymous with lost dogs and Useless Bay Sanctuary. His dedication is nearly unimaginable until witnessed day after day. The work he and volunteers do through Useless Bay Sanctuary for stray and difficult-to-catch dogs is nothing short of phenomenal. I’m constantly inspired by his expertise, patience, and countless hours he devotes to saving a single dog, nonetheless a pack of four large breed puppies who had been failed by their own humans. The stories are endless, as is the devotion behind them.”

Please consider donating to or volunteering for Useless Bay Pet Sanctuary. None of us know when we might need Jim and Tino’s services, and we need more people (dogs are people too!) like them in the world.

Thank you, Jim & Tino (and volunteers LaVonne Finnerud, Shannon Eggers, Judy Cecil, Janelle Logan, Brenda Jorgensen, Lily Burns), for all you do!

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