Pooch in peril: Search and rescue saves dog after 200-foot fall
It started with a call to Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue last Wednesday afternoon. A dog had fallen off of Sanctuary Trail, an estimated distance of about 20 feet, and the owner needed help retrieving the pup from peril.
But when firefighters arrived on scene, they could not see where the dog was. The owner, too, had lost track of the pooch. After the scary 20-foot fall, the dog was holding on to a precariously placed tree, but the dog eventually slipped farther, tumbling down about 200 feet, ending up near the banks of Fish Creek.
Still, no one could see where 14-year-old Belle had fallen, and some worried the dog may have been caught in the strong current of Fish Creek, which is running much higher right now as snow melts.
Needing more expertise, particularly someone who had the ropes to repel down the cliff to the dog, firefighters called Routt County Search and Rescue.
It is unclear exactly how the dog fell, said Kristia Check-Hill, an incident commander for search and rescue. The owner had stopped to take a break, and 14-year-old Belle somehow ended up over the edge.
“When you hear that nobody saw the dog, nobody could hear the dog, now nobody has eyes on the dog, you are thinking the worst. It’s in the river and it’s gone,” Check-Hill said.
When search and rescue volunteers showed up, they sent two teams in, one up the trail where the dog had fallen from and another to spot where the dog was from the opposite side of Fish Creek. They were finally able to get eyes on the dog, ensuring that it had not been swept away by the current.
The team with eyes on Belle then guided the other down the cliff. Check-Hill said they didn’t want to repel down directly over the dog, fearing they could disturb rocks or other debris on the way down that could hit the dog.
“We used a 300-foot rope, and we used all of that 300,” Check-Hill said.
When they got down there, the dog had some scrapes, but it was largely unhurt. The volunteers then put the dog in a little harness, and they pulled the dog back up to its owner.
By the time Belle had been raised to the top of the cliff, Cindi Hillemeyer, a search and rescue volunteer who is also a veterinarian, had just arrived.
“She actually looked really good, considering,” Hillemeyer said. “I was really surprised that she only had some minor superficial injuries, no obvious fractures, seemed pretty stable for an old gal. … Quite a trooper.”
Volunteer Yuri Kachuro carried Belle, who weighed around 35 pounds, all the way out to the parking lot. When she called later Wednesday evening, Check-Hill said the dog had already left the vet and was at home resting.
“It’s quite exciting, to first hear that nobody could see the dog, nobody knew if the dog had gotten in the water, if it had gotten in the water, if it was swept down stream” Check-Hill said about the moment they learned the dog was safe. “It was the best case scenario — dog was OK, and everybody got reunited.”
Hillemeyer said she had never worked with an animal on one of search and rescue’s missions since she joined. Luckily, she was off Wednesday, and was available to respond to the call and give Belle a physical exam.
“When I saw the call come out, it was definitely, ‘Oh no!’ and I just wanted to be able to help if possible,” Hillemeyer said.
As with almost all search and rescue calls, Check-Hill said there is a lesson to take away, hopefully avoiding another similar situation.
“Keep your dogs and your kids away from the edge of cliffs, keep them away from raging water, even if you are just walking along it, because right now, the water is moving, and if you get in it, you could be downstream in a matter of no time,” Check-Hill said. “Just be prepared with the rivers right now.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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