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Dramatic Dog Rescue

by PCW ~, 29 June 2010

South & Mid Wales CRT. Dog Rescue. 13/14th June 2010.
Report by Jopo, and many thanks to T. C. Davies for the pictures.

[Sensitive readers might find a few of the pictures rather upsetting]

At 15.30hrs on Sunday 13th June we were called out by South Wales Fire Brigade to assist in the rescue of two 11 year old Springer Spaniel sibling bitches who had fallen down a rift at about 12.00hrs Sunday.
We organised a small team and took equipment over in the land rover and cars to meet the fire crew at Forest Point 17 on the A4061 and were then guided to the nearest we could get cars which was some 2 k from the incident site at SN 9229 9962 above Blaenrhondda - in the area we have undertaken several dog, and sheep, rescues before. We then transported kit and team members along the rough track to the site arriving at about 17.30. Initially we were advised that only the Argocat could get along the track but, after a reconnaissance by Argocat, Toby decided it was possible in the land rover which was good as it would have taken at least 4 trips otherwise. The dog owners were present onsite along with some more fire crew and a couple of walkers, one of whom was a photographer.

Clearing the the rift and trying to hook Sadie.

Both dogs had vanished down a rift (which, typically, had been completely covered). They were in separate sections and we could see one dog, Phoebe, about 9m down. The fire crew had previously cleared some of the top and had made an attempt but it was too tight. The second dog, Sadie, could not be seen but was heard. Owing to the time we decided to go first for the dog we could see and started to enlarge the rift about 2m to one side of her. Initial inspection had shown that the second dog was somewhere in a much narrower section about 10m further along the rift from Sadie. It was obvious that this site would require heavy digging equipment to go from above as initial inspection showed the rift to be narrower and it was hoped that we could approach her from along the rift where Phoebe was trapped.
It looked as if the rift Sadie was in might widen lower down - as they sometimes do - and eventually Hannah attempted a descent. The rift did not widen and we needed to remove some more rock to get Hannah back to the surface. The rift was slightly wider towards the dog but was blocked for about 2m down by a column of shattered rock. A second attempt by Hannah was tried closer to this column, again it got too tight. We then decided to remove the rock column - after all we did have Tony Donovan with us. We had taken the quadpod and this made belaying and rope handling much easier as the head was some 2.5m above the ground.
After the column was removed more work was required before Joel could almost reach Phoebe but could not attach the dog catcher pole. Hannah then managed to get head down and clip a carabineer and sling into her collar and Phoebe was manhandled and hauled to the surface at 22.00hrs.

Having lost daylight I had initially intended to call a halt at 21.30hrs bearing in mind the safety of the team and that we had to negotiate the track back to the cars without the fire service Argocat but we were so close that I did not need much persuading to carry on.

The dog owner took Phoebe home at 22.15hrs. The rift between the two dogs proved totally blocked with rock and soil and appeared to narrow. We had still not seen Sadie or had heard her since about 18.00hrs. so we called it a night. Toby did two runs of kit and team to the cars. Leaving the forest there was a car blazing merrily just before the gate. At 00.30am Monday I informed the police that we had stood down and would be back in the morning.

Hannah sliding down the crack.

By 11.00hrs Monday we were back with some fresh faces and Tony's Kango and generator. The fire service arrived with a tender and the Argocat and we transported gear and people back to the site with the added benefit of Gary Mitchells off roader. We had left the quadpod and tent on site with most of the rope and hardware.
We started clearing above where we thought Sadie was. She was now giving a regular 'woof' and we started a shaft about 2m uphill. After digging a shaft about 1m deep we could get into a position to see her. She was about 9m down and stuck fast in a very narrow section. It was difficult to see her and it was several hours before we could decide which way she was facing. We started a second shaft about 2m the other side of her location where the rift widened out a little. As work progressed it was seen, from the first shaft, that above Sadie - almost to the surface - was a void but any attempt to dig here showered debris directly onto her so we decided to carry on dropping both shafts until we could attempt to get down and use the dog pole. Chris and Pyro tried and Pyro managed to get about 4m down. We then attempted to attach the dog pole, fixed to about 10m of drain rods. It proved impossible even working from both sides. All we could see was the top of her head and several times we almost managed a catch but, manoeuvring such long poles and the target being so small, we were not successful. I phoned Toby and Clare Sansom at work and Clare, the smallest member we could think off, arrived on site with Toby at about 17.15hrs.

Claire clipping on . . Night falls.

Hannah and Joel had phoned earlier to say they were now available and after initially putting them on standby I called them out. Very shortly after arriving Clare was ready to descend and immediately passed Pyro's lowest point - we were all pretty stunned at how deep she got. It was very tight and she was not quite on the best line so we got her out. After a caffeine, chocolate and nicotine fix she declared herself ready to try again. The second time she got even closer to Sadie but there was no chance of actually reaching her. Sadie had now been trapped for over 30hrs. We assume Sadie had become wedged after the initial fall but we could not see where she had originally gone down. It is unlikely that she fell directly to her current position as there was no hole above her until we made a small one. Things were looking pretty desperate for her - her breathing was getting shallow and she had had no water, although she was still giving an occasional, but increasingly distressed, woof.

It seemed the only chance we had was to hook her collar. Clare, although much closer, had still not being able to guide the dog pole loop over her head - there was simply not enough space and the loop was getting pushed out of place by the sides of the rift. We fashioned a hook from a small key carabineer and it was fastened onto the drain rods. Clare and Gary - working from either shaft - managed between them to hook her collar. Unfortunately when we started to pull the rope the carabiner straightened out. We then made a hook from a proper carabineer and they managed to hook her again.

Fashioning a hook out of a carabiner. Sadie is pulled to the surface and her collar is cut off.

Sadie was pulled out. As she reached the bottom of our shaft she was in severe distress and the collar was cut off as soon as she was in hand. She may have been breathing when she reached the bottom of the shaft but when she was handed up to safe ground she had stopped. Then something remarkable took place. Fireman M Davies cupped his hands around her nose and started mouth to nose and Fireman S Steward started compression. And they got her back. After a few minutes she started to breathe spontaneously and her eyes began to move. We gave her oxygen and she began to stabilize.

Sadie had stopped breathing. The Firemen applying CPR. Sadie's first breath.

After so much hard work by the team and fire crew, with Sadie hanging on for so long, it is difficult to describe the sense of loss and then the elation as she breathed. There were more than a few tears shed - and not just from the owners and cavers. Time out was 19.30hrs.
After she had rested for a short while she was taken by the fire crew to the car park and then to the vet.
The police were informed, at 21.30hrs Monday that the incident was closed.

Snagging Sadie by hook was the only option we had left. She was very firmly wedged and we could not get a rope or sling below her to try and lift her up. Her breathing was getting noticeably worse. We were left with little choice and at least we gave her a fighting chance when she had had none. On reflection the dog catcher loop may well have caused more severe damage than lifting her by her collar.

It was a cracking team effort ably assisted by the fire crew. The photographer who was onsite both days remarked to me that he was impressed by the way the teams just got on with it without orders being given - just discussion and action. The fire crew recognise that we have a very specialised skill set. Some of the crew remembered us from a sheep rescue in the area and we simply worked together seamlessly.

All rescues are very much a team effort and we all do our best. This time I feel I do have to single out Hannah, Clare and crew leader Mark Davies and fireman Rob Stewart. Hannah and Clare really pushed it. Hannah's made three attempts and eventually managed to go head down and clip into Phoebe's collar. Clare's determination got her close enough to Sadie to enable her collar to be hooked and Mark Davies's swift action with mouth to nose resuscitation saved the dogs life. We are writing on behalf of the team to the RSPCA to see if it possible that they be recognised for their efforts. Some may remember a award to a team member for services to a duck many years ago!
It is not just that Hannah and Clare are - shall we say slight - they were very bold. I think I can speak for all and say that it gave us all a lift.

Gary M and Sadie's owner Sandra giving oxygen. Great relief.

In Conclusion.

There are lessons to be learned - whenever is there not! They are in hand.
The LandRover earned its keep. Toby did four traverses of the track in the dark which he thought was fine. I did two in daylight (with tree saws to clear the branches completely covering the track in places) and thought he did it brilliantly in the dark. If you are thinking of changing your car more off roaders would be useful!

I have been asked to pass on thanks by Jason and Sandra. They are extremely grateful for our efforts and very impressed by our and the fire crews perseverance and skill.

Toby, Joel, Hannah Moulton, Chris Jones, Gary Mitchell, Pyro (Mike Young), Matt St Clair, Vince, Tony Donovan, Rich Frost, Amy Nixon, Clare Sansom, Hywel Jopling and Jopo. Some for both days, some had to work Monday.
Station Officers (South Wales Fire Service) John Jenkins, Steve Doel and the Tonapandy fire crews.

Gary Evans, Jules, Ali, Steff and Rhys.

Latest news: Thurday pm.
Vince spoke with Sandra (dog owner) and Sadie is progressing well and is home. She is not quite ready yet for another adventure (on a lead we would hope).
South Wales Echo story and more pictures, 12th July.