Late last week, someone rented a cabin along the Nooksack River in Whatcom County. On a hike along the river, she noticed a dog on the other side barking for her attention. The slope the dog was on angled steeply up, and it didn’t seem like the dog could easily leave. There was a rushing river between them, and nothing the woman could safely do. Back near the cabin, she mentioned it to someone staying in another cabin who said she’d seen the same dog a day or two earlier. So the woman called for help.
WASART received two calls on Friday afternoon, one from a Whatcom County Animal Control Officer (ACO) and one from the woman reporting the dog. One of our members in Whatcom County went to check it out. Back in cell phone range, the scout reported the operation would need swift water and technical rescue teams along with more hands to help support the deployment. Summit to Sound Search & Rescue (STS) agreed to help us. If you recall the Vedder Mountain/Sumas rescue of the little black dog last year, they were there for that. You may recognize familiar faces as well – one of the swift water people, Ed, was one of the people rappelling to bring the dog home. The other person rappelling with Ed for that mission was WASART’s Rory, who was lead (IC) on this mission. In short, we love STS and are always glad to get a chance to work with them.
On Saturday morning, after we all assembled near the trailhead in the driveway of a kind couple who helped make our day way better by allowing us to use their restroom (seriously kind of them), part of the team scoped the operation, then came back and we all worked on a plan. Once the plan was decided on, we ran through some practice for getting the dog secured once he was caught and practice of the throw bag for safety. Throw bags are used in swift water rescue to give anyone who ends up swept off their feet in the water (always a real danger) a couple of chances to save themselves. A bag filled with rope is thrown ahead of the victim in hopes they can catch the rope before drowning or hitting rapids. Many of our volunteers ended up on throw bag duty for safety reasons: the section the dog was stranded on was bookended by rapids. We also had one person stationed before the first set of rapids to alert us if kayakers were coming. The river is a favorite destination for the sport and we’d need to make sure they could get past us safely.
The hike to the dog was very short—maybe a quarter of a mile. We split the everyone up into teams: the lookout for the kayakers, the swift water team who would travel to the other side of the river and attempt to secure the dog, an observer or two above the operation, and the throw bag team set at intervals down stream.
As soon as the dog saw us, he started barking. He wanted our attention. His tail wagged low and slowly. He barked at the swift water team, then noticed the other teams taking their places and ran and slipped down the bank to bark at them.
The swift water team set up the lines they’d use and the two rescuers who were in dry suits got into place. These two rescuers are Ed and Marcia, who is a WASART member as well as an STS member. Marcia went first with a paracord messenger line tied to her. The cord would also act as a way to pull a heavier rope over. The heavier rope would then be used to ferry over equipment, people, and hopefully the dog. After some strong swimming, Marcia landed safely on the other side. She approached to dog slowly, who barked at her and then turned and ran. Once nearly out of sight, he sat and waited. Marcia, hoping the dog would get used to the idea she was there and return, tied the paracord to the tree as an anchor. Together with the rest of the team assisting the swift water rescuers, she got the heavier rope over. The team then got a small inflatable raft attached to a pulley and Ed crossed the river to join Marcia.
Once Ed was over, he and Marcia waited a bit to see if the dog would return. While this wait was going on, a plan B was made to trap the dog in case it remained too wary of Marcia and Ed. A couple of responders went back to the truck to get a crate and some cans of wet dog food. Since the dog was downstream, it would be able to smell the food fairly quickly and we hoped his hunger would assist in trapping him. While waiting for the crate, the dog had begun to work his way over to Marcia and Ed. He slipped on the rocks, circled back and tried to go up and around, slipped again – badly this time, and kept heading up the steep hill.
The crate arrived and the team sent it over to the dog side of the stream. While Ed worked on rigging an impromptu trap out of the crate, Marcia made her way up the hill. The dog was out of sight amongst the trees both standing and fallen and the undergrowth. There is a plant in that area called Devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus) which has spikes up and down the plant. Much of the hillsides were covered with the plant, and on the dog side of the river where Marcia made her way up, old Devil’s club plants filled in where the blown down trees lay, making the steep trip up to find the dog even more difficult and her dry suit did not provide much protection.
Marcia spotted the dog, who stood and watched her. She approached slowly. The dog was wary, but allowed her approach. Marcia finally reached him and carefully secured him by the collar. The dog did not want to come down with her. Marcia tied an emergency muzzle on him.
Once finished with the crate, Ed headed up to see if he could assist Marcia. Once he reached her and the dog, they carefully picked the dog up and began the descent. Because of the steep and difficult terrain, the two passed the dog back and forth so they could safely make it down with the dog. Once down, they continued to pass him back and forth as they worked their way back to the rope and anchor. Marcia sat and rested with the dog while Ed broke the crate down, secured it to the raft along with any unnecessary supplies and sent it back over. The responder side team sent the raft back for the rescuers. Marcia and the dog were next. It was a bit of a challenge to figure out how to secure the dog on the raft for the trip over. Once one method was decided on, the Marcia and the dog started the journey over. The trip on the raft was short-lived. The Marcia and the dog ended up on the water as the responder side team hauled on the ropes as fast as they could to get the pair over. Marcia held on to the raft with one hand and kept the dog’s head above the water with the other. On the other side, the dog stood and shook himself off. The dog was taken immediately to the ACO, who, along with another responder went back to the vehicles and took the dog to the vet for an emergency checkup.
Meanwhile, the team got Ed safely back to the responder side, cleaned up equipment and headed back.
UPDATE ON THE DOG: An owner was never found for the dog, named Cliff by the shelter staff. He was adopted out.