August 16, 2016
We received a call for a dog over a cliff at Pt. Defiance Park in Tacoma. The dog, a 70ish lb Black Lab mix named Sheila had fallen over an abrupt drop off. Also on scene was Sheila’s owner and some of her friends.
Our first responders arrived shortly before dark, though it was light enough to see where the dog had been seen going over and get a feel for our options. The drop was visually clear for part of the way, so we could get an idea of the actual land involved. Below, we could see the glint of cans and bottles people had thrown over the edge. After the first steep drop of about 150 feet, it leveled out slightly at a line where trees still held on to the crumbly ground. After that was about 200 ft of varying but mostly steep terrain which ended at the beach.
We discussed setting up a rope system so we could lower someone down and have them look on the way or finding a beach access point, mostly likely Owen Beach or Salmon Beach so we could scramble up since we worked on the hypothesis that the dog continued down and we’d have a better chance of finding her closer to the beach. We also weighed heavily the option to come back in the daylight to cut risk to our responders as well as give us the advantage of daylight. We were also conscious of the possibility of Sheila getting trapped by the tide, which would be coming in. We decided to do what we could safely manage at that time and possibly come back the next day if needed.
As the rest of the team arrived, a police officer from the city of Ruston stopped by. He knew the area so he walked us some distance away to an unofficial set of trails that dropped down to an opportunity to cross the terrain rather than descend it. Since this was the safer option, we changed the strategy. We sent responder Aaron down and across with flashlights, headlamps, muzzles, and a harness.
Aaron found his way across while part of the team stayed at the access point and another part went to the original drop off with a flashlight so Aaron could find the right location to start a more intensive search. Aaron also checked the beach, which had fresh dog tracks that crossed each other and then disappeared. He walked the beach calling for Sheila. We sent responder Tammy down to join him. They continued to call for Sheila and the owner called as well as they checked the beach and the land above it.
At the beginning, we’d very occasionally heard barks we felt were probably Sheila’s. Once the team and the owner began calling, however, the barks stopped.
Aaron and Tammy returned to the access point and we decided to go back to the point where Sheila had fallen and rappel down her path to see if we could find anything. Aaron and veterinarian Dr. Ryan Peters would be the responders rappelling. While Aaron and Dr. Ryan got harnesses on and gear set up, others checked over the edge with flashlights. We’d see the glints of the beer cans and occasionally something else. Aaron threw the rope bag down in preparation to descend, and he felt certain he saw eyes as it landed.
Aaron went over the edge and a trail of dust followed. It’s very dry right now and that part of the hillside is exposed dirt so we waited for the dust to clear and for Aaron to get to a point where we could send Dr. Ryan after him. Aaron radioed up that he had found her and she appeared to be okay.
It’s our policy to muzzle all dogs, so Aaron fitted Sheila with a muzzle while Dr. Ryan rappelled down to meet them.
Dr. Ryan did a quick exam to see what her condition was so we knew if we’d need to raise her or if the could walk her out, which is always our preference for safety reasons. She felt Sheila was okay and capable of walking but very tired. Aaron and Dr. Ryan had found her on a little outcropping just big enough for her to sit on with her legs braced in front of her. She had likely had been in that position since around 6 PM when she’d fallen and it was now about 2 AM.
We’d decided it was better to walk her out rather than build the raise system so they put the harness on Sheila, rappelled do a bit farther and found the trail about 70 feet away where Aaron and Tammy had been searching earlier.
Exhausted, she was reluctant to walk and Aaron and Dr. Ryan had to carry her by the harness much of the way. At the trail access point, a couple of team members went down to meet the team with the dog and help assist her up the last steep part, which was a short scramble.
Once up, we took the harness off so Dr. Ryan could check her again. She felt Sheila was dehydrated and exhausted but otherwise okay. We were happy to escort Sheila to her owner. Both seemed very happy to see the other.
We packed up and headed out, the last of us getting home a bit after 4 AM.
We hear Sheila is doing well.