Springer spaniel never learned to “Look before you leap”
GREENBANK, Washington––Seven Central Whidbey Island Fire & Rescue and South Whidbey Fire/Emergency Medical Services vehicles converging on a house about a mile south of ANIMALS 24-7 at around 3:30 p.m. on September 30, 2020 created an irresistible distraction from completing and posting a news article––especially when the ANIMALS 24-7 team learned that the individual in distress was Buster, a 16-year-old springer spaniel, who had fallen forty feet down an 80-foot cliff, into a dense patch of blackberry bushes.
Raccoons go where dogs cannot
Arriving with his owner for an afternoon visit with the homeowners, Buster apparently caught scent of a raccoon trail starting from the homeowners’ back lawn and charged down it despite yells of warning.
What Buster did not realize, until much too late, was that the trail abruptly became a descent that raccoons make with the help of alder trees that form natural ladders into the blackberries.
Tumbling through the blackberry bushes to a narrow grassy ledge, which broke his fall, Buster was bruised, shaken up, and trapped.
Buster could not scramble back the way he had come, up the steep ascent, and was unwilling even when baited with treats to try to climb far enough for the man of the household to grab him.
The man meanwhile realized that attempting the rescue himself could potentially put both himself and the dog in need of emergency aid, so crawled back up to safety and dialed 911.
Recognizing a training opportunity on an otherwise quiet day, Central Whidbey Island Fire & Rescue and South Whidbey Fire/Emergency Medical Services dispatched teams, including technical rescue personnel, from at least three fire/rescue stations.
Practicing rope rescue skills
Rescuing a dog who has fallen over a cliff is not something Central Whidbey Island Fire & Rescue and South Whidbey Fire/Emergency Medical Services have occasion to do often, but rescuing hikers from similar situations is relatively routine most summers.
The summer of 2020 saw fewer fall-calls than most, however, because COVID-19 precautions meant a much slower tourist season.
Central Whidbey Island Fire & Rescue had not had a chance to practice rope rescue skills since training sessions on August 6 and August 17, 2020.
The department had kept busy otherwise, sending crews to help fight the 17,988-acre Palmer Fire in Okanagan County, the 324,000-acre Cold Spring Canyon/Pearl Hill Fire in Okanagan and Douglas counties, and the 290-acre Bordeaux Fire in Thurston County.
The Buster rescue took about an hour, altogether. The lead rescuer rappelled down the cliff to the ledge where Buster huddled, talking gently to him while getting him into a sling. Once Buster was secured, other team members pulled Buster and the lead rescuer up.
Hiking about a mile to our vantage point, guided by Buster’s yelps, the ANIMALS 24-7 team arrived on the beach below, near the mouth of Holmes Harbor, at about the same time the lead rescuer reached Buster and began trying to calm him.
A vigilant red tail hawk watched quietly with us until the rescue was finished.
The red tail hawk then flew off toward the Seattle television stations in time to make the 6 p.m. newscasts.
The ANIMALS 24-7 team hurried back down the beach and up the road to get a few more photos and interview some of the participants.
Having had dogs at that location for about seventy years without ever having one run over the cliff before, the homeowner and Buster’s owner, who grew up there, were left relieved but shaking their heads.
Buster, somewhat surprisingly, emerged from his ordeal none the worse for wear, and only slightly subdued, an old dog who may or may not have learned new tricks.