When teacher and recreational caver Rick Haley set out to help map a cave on August 6, he had no idea he would end up staging a rescue mission – let alone reuniting a lost dog with her owner.
Haley, along with a team of around 30 spelunkers, was mapping a cave north of Perryville, Missouri, as part of a project for the Cave Research Foundation. The cave is part of the Berome Moore cave system, Missouri’s second largest cave system, measuring around 22 miles, he told CNN.
Haley, 66, who was involved in logistics and managing problems on the expedition, exited the cave to find another caver and an assistant fire chief from the local fire department.
“Glad you’re here,” the fire chief told Haley. “You can help us do a dog cave rescue.”
Another group of parents and children visiting the cave for the day had encountered a dog deep in the cave before flagging Haley for help.
Haley and fellow caver Gerry Keene, both of whom have specialized cave rescue training, had to crawl and squeeze through tight passageways to get to the dog.
The dog was in poor shape, Haley said. “She didn’t seem to have any injuries,” he said. “But boy, she was really malnourished. She was skin and bones. She had mud on her.”
The lost canine was “lethargic” and reluctant to walk, said Haley. He placed a blanket in a duffel bag and she stepped in, allowing them to carefully maneuver her out of the cave.
The rescue mission took over an hour, according to Haley. Although their rescue training doesn’t cover dog rescues, he explained that “many of the same principles that you would use for a person you can use for a dog” – like keeping them warm and dry and being careful of any injuries.
“The dog was in bad shape,” said Haley. But once she was out of the cave, “her spirits perked up a bit.”
One member of the caving team canvassed the neighborhood with a photo of the dog in the cave before identifying her owner, who “was astonished to see the dog,” said Haley.
According to Haley, the owner said 13-year-old Abby had been missing since June 9 – meaning that she could have been in the cave for almost two months.
Haley said that it still isn’t clear how the dog ended up so far in the cave. She may have been chasing an animal like a mouse or raccoon, he said. And he speculated that flooding in the cave caused by heavy rains may have brought her deeper into the cave system.
“It’s a good feeling” to participate in the rescue, said Haley. He also credited the work of the team of cavers working with the Cave Research Foundation.
“I happened to be one of the only people on the surface at the time that the rescue needed to happen,” he said. But “if there had been all 30 of those cavers there, you would have found 30 people facilitating this rescue.”