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Ranger Rick rappels into cave to rescue dog

Rangers with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park rappelled into a 70-foot underground cave last week to rescue a hunting dog that had fallen into a sinkhole in the Cades Cover area.

Backpackers were the first to discover the dog after hearing a dog barking not too far from their backcountry campsite. About 300 yards from their site, they found a 30- by 40-foot sinkhole from which the barking was emanating.

The campers contacted a construction worker in Blount County, Tenn., who was building a house just outside the Park. The builder took a rope and went to the sinkhole with the campers. Using the rope attached to his seat harness, the builder was able to get close enough to the edge to see the dog about 40 feet straight down, but was unable to get down to the dog.

The construction worker called the park, but by now it was nighttime. They went to the sinkhole but could not hear any barking.

The next morning, four park rangers returned to the sinkhole to investigate further. From the top of the sinkhole there still was no activity or response from the dog. Ranger Rick Brown rappelled into the sinkhole. The first drop leveled off about 40 feet down, but no sign of the dog was found on that level. Off to the side of the first drop there was a small opening to another vertical drop of about 30 feet.

Using a light, Brown was able to see the dog lying at the bottom of the second drop. Apparently the dog had walked around during the night and had fallen into the second pit.

When Brown called to the dog, it stood up and looked up at him. The dog appeared to be in good shape. Brown continued the descent through the small opening. After reaching the dog, he fashioned a makeshift harness around him, and holding the dog in his arms, the other three rangers used a pulley system to haul them both out of the sinkhole.

The dog wore a radio collar and identification tag with owner information. The owner, a Townsend man, was contacted and the dog was returned to him for proper care. It is unknown how long the dog was trapped in the cave, but the dog’s owner stated that the dog had been missing for 16 days after a hunting trip.

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