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A spider scurried across my face and the ropes around my ankles bit into my skin as I was lowered head-first down the steep, dark culvert. It wasn’t much bigger around than I was and it was set deeply into a steep hillside. It was intended to divert water around a remote home and I couldn’t even see the dog yet as the pipe curved slightly about 20 feet down. I felt a little claustrophobic at not being able to move much in the tight space but I could hear him whimper and that motivated me to keep sliding downward on my belly. I had never even met the men who held the ropes that kept me from tumbling straight to the bottom but I had to trust that they would keep me safe.
Finally a dog appeared in my flashlight beam. He looked like maybe a Cattledog mix and he growled ominously as I slid closer. He must have been terrified and the sound echoed in the narrow space as he began to back away from me. The pipe was so narrow that I struggled to reach my hand into my pocket and remove some liver treats. I tossed one in his direction and he gobbled it and looked for more. It was critical that he not retreat much farther as I was nearing the end of 60 feet of rope and the pipe went on indefinitely. I tossed a few more treats and slowly slid the catch pole out in front of me. With some careful maneuvering I was able to get it over his head and cinch it to a safe level.
The caller had described hearing a dog barking and whining in the area for a week or so, but had been unable to locate him. He finally found the source of the noise in the long pipe on the hill and being unable to even see the dog, he had called animal control. When I arrived and saw what we were dealing with I was taken back. The pipe was too narrow to even crawl into, and too steep to back out. After brain-storming with the property owner and his friend for a few minutes we decided that the only way was to lower me in by my feet.
Thankfully he had a very long sturdy rope and some knowledge of knots, but it’s an odd feeling to have two men you have never met tie ropes to your ankles and lower you sixty feet down a hole. Still, when I had the dog safely caught, and hollered for the men to pull us up, it was all worth it. The dog scrambled up the slippery pipe after me and then stood blinking in the bright sunlight. I felt a thrill of satisfaction as I watched him taking in the scenery. He looked to be in pretty good shape and had a bandana but no tags or microchip. We offered small amounts of water as he was terribly thirsty and then loaded him into the truck.
Thankfully, a faded and tattered flier on a nearby telephone pole proved to be a match. The shocked owner stated that the dog had been missing for three weeks and they had all but given up. The dog certainly didn’t look like he had been down there for weeks but a visit to the vet confirmed that the formerly overweight dog had lost 15 pounds since his prior visit. The owner explained that they had been trying to get 15 pounds off of the dog for some time. I suppose a trickle of condensation on our foggy nights may have kept him hydrated. I felt a wonderful euphoria for days after returning the dog to his ecstatic owner. A call like this is so rewarding and helps make up for some of the sad, difficult things we see in this job.