Rose and Tom Clapham like to take their new rescue dog Sissy for a morning walk on the Riverfront Trail, before the heat of the day sets in.
But Wednesday morning, the retractable lead slipped from Tom’s hands and Sissy took off, the leash bouncing on the pavement behind her and scaring her further.
Several hours of searching—and a tip from an “angel,” Rose said—finally led to Sissy, all balled up about 15-20 feet up a drain pipe some 15 feet down a cliff between old Highway 30 and Interstate 84.
It took another two hours of work in the boiling sun and the collaboration of multiple agencies before Sissy was pulled to safety by The Dalles Animal Control Officer Lisa Stuck.
Brittany Hopkins, assistant manager for Home At Last Humane Society in The Dalles, said the Claphams called right away that morning to say they’d lost Sissy, who they got three weeks ago, by the Discovery Center. Hopkins shut down the shelter and staff formed a search team, but found nothing.
A few hours later, Rose heard that cars were reporting nearly hitting a dog running south across Interstate 84, and she and Tom headed to Old Highway 30. There, they pulled over when they saw a woman, “I’m gonna call her an angel,” Rose said, who told them that, yes, she’d seen a dog. The woman had nearly hit Sissy as she darted across the freeway, and then exited the freeway to follow the dog onto Highway 30.
“She got up to our dog, instead of coming to her, she went into that big drain pipe. If that girl hadn’t seen her go in, we never would’ve found her,” Rose said.
“She led us right to her,” Rose said. The woman told them, “‘Yeah, I know right where she is, but she’s not coming out.’”
The “angel” told Rose, who had “been crying for hours,” to call the police. A responding deputy then called Hopkins, who came to the scene with a six-foot long catch pole. “She was back much further than we expected,” Hopkins said.
They called Mid-Columbia Fire & Rescue to try to open up the pipe, and meanwhile personnel from the Oregon Department of Transportation directed traffic, since the whole rescue was at a point in the road with no place to pull over.
“The pipe wasn’t cooperating, it kept closing,” Hopkins said, as fire personnel tried to use the Jaws of Life to open it up. “They ended up cutting off the pipe as far as they could and pulling out the remainder of it.”
Hopkins finally got a visual on Sissy, a border collie/pit bull mix. “She was trying to turn around and that’s what got her stuck. She was folded in half. She wasn’t crying, she wasn’t making any noise.”
Rose learned Sissy didn’t have her harness or leash on anymore. “She was naked when they found her.”
Hopkins was scared for Sissy. “She’d close her eyes, and I’d talk to her to get her to wake up.” She’d been at Home at Last for about a month, so the staff knew her pretty well, Hopkins said.
Stuck, who arrived later to the scene since it was happening outside city limits, was the smallest person there and was selected to go after the dog.
She took off her duty belt and bulletproof vest, then inched into the pipe with a rescue setup that included a six-foot catch pole and a three-foot catch pole, duct-taped together for added strength and length.
“It was redneck ingenuity. I didn’t come up with it,” Stuck said.
Attached to the catchpoles was Stuck’s flashlight so she could see down the pipe to the pup.
Stuck disappeared into the pipe, with nothing but her lower torso and legs sticking out for cameras to capture.
A firefighter stood behind Stuck as a barrier between her and Interstate 84 below as she spent a good 10-15 minutes manipulating the elongated catch pole to rescue the dog.
“She was locked in there so tight I couldn’t get the catch pole around her head,” Stuck said. But she was able to get the catch pole—which has a noose on the end that can be tightened—around Sissy’s tail, and pulled her closer about two feet.
At that point, Stuck was able to get the catch pole around Sissy’s head and pull her the rest of the way to safety. As soon as she got close enough, Stuck switched out the catch pole for a leash.
Sissy growled once, Hopkins reported.
Stuck said, “she wasn’t aggressive, she was just happy to get out of there.”
She said the dog, who isn’t very old, was “very scared. A really nice dog. It was a good save. She was unhurt. Nothing, not a scratch on her,” Stuck said.
“That could’ve ended up really bad,” Stuck said. “I know the biggest fear, especially of Home At Last, was that the dog was going to die.”
After her stint in the drain pipe, Stuck said, “I was absolutely filthy. I went home, and I had to wash my hair twice.” She took the bun out of her hair and a pile of dirt fell out. She washed her clothes and had to pick pebbles out of her washing machine.
“The owner mentioned that his daughter had died three years ago, and they had named the dog after her, and it was pretty important to them, and the wife was beside herself;she wasn’t out there, but she was very concerned,” Stuck said.
Stuck lauded the MCF&R crew. “They were amazing out there and they stuck out there with us to try and get this dog out. They didn’t leave.”
She said of all the responding agencies, “It was a great team effort.”
Stuck said the rescue was “definitely one I won’t forget. It was probably up there with a couple of good saves I’ve had. I’m pretty proud of myself right now; it was a great day. It was hot and I stunk, and I was really dirty, but that’s when you know you’ve had a good day’s work.”
As for the Claphams, Rose said, “we’re going to take a few days off from walking her.” She said they’re starting over with Sissy. Now, “she’s real skittish. She went in reverse kind of. We’re so thankful for everybody that showed up.”