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Image: Kujo
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Kujo, a 120-pound Presa Canario, was rescued on Friday after falling into a 30-foot-deep well.
updated 9/1/2009 9:39:41 AM ET 2009-09-01T13:39:41

It sounds like a “Fear Factor” challenge: Lower a man into a narrow, 30-foot pit where, at the bottom, awaits an injured, scared, pony-size 120-pound dog named (yikes!) Kujo.

Luckily, in the real-life scenario that played out last Friday in Suitland, Md., the man being lowered was a trained rescuer, and the dog who bears the name of the most bloodthirsty canine in fiction (albeit with the capital C changed to a K) proved to be a lover, not a fighter. And it concluded with a storybook ending that nearly brought a tear to a dog owner’s eye.

Prince George County firefighter/EMS worker Travis Lambert, grateful Kujo owner Daniel Ellis and the dog of the hour himself appeared live on TODAY Tuesday to detail the brave rescue of a pooch who fell down a well when he was just trying to get out of the rain.

The hole truth
Ellis told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira and Carl Quintanilla that he and his fiancee were taking turns minding Kujo, a Presa Canario (a type of mastiff originating in the Canary Islands) on Friday. She leaves for work at noon; he returns home from work at 1 p.m. But in between Kujo found himself down in a hole.

“When I got home, I didn’t see him, but I could hear him,” Ellis said. “I thought, ‘What’s wrong?’ He was whining. I looked for him and I couldn’t find him.

“I went out back and walked on the deck, and I could hear him under the deck, but I didn’t know what was the problem. I crawled up under there with a flashlight, and he was down in the well.”

Kujo had climbed under the deck to seek shelter from an oncoming storm hitting the area, but fell through a piece of rotting plywood covering a defunct water well. Police were called. They determined it was a job for the fire department, who in turn called on the department’s rescue team, which includes Lambert.

Race against time
Lambert had been performing technical rescues for 10 years, but had never before rescued a dog. Especially a really big one with the name Kujo. Still, time was of the essence; the well was quickly filling with rainwater that threatened to drown the dog.

Vieira asked Lambert, “Did they warn you: ‘By the way, the dog’s name is Kujo and he’s not very happy?’ ”

Lambert smiled and replied, “I had a little bit of a concern, yes. I was nervous; he’s a big dog and there’s not a lot of room to move down there.” Lambert describes himself as an animal lover, but knew all too well an injured dog might react violently to contact.

The rescuers, who totaled about 15 from various departments in the area, had to think on their feet. They had no harness specifically for rescuing a dog. “We had a couple of different plans going on,” Lambert said. “We tried a [human] harness at the beginning. But we couldn’t get it around him. It was too tight down there.”

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The team eventually set up a tripod, and rescuers used a pulley system to pull Kujo up with a rope and another system to raise Lambert. It took more than two hours to set up, but Lambert estimated he was only down in the well setting up Kujo’s rescue for about 15 minutes. He added that while Kujo seemed scared, he didn’t snap at him, instead seeming grateful for the rescue attempt.

A little more than four hours after falling down the hole, Kujo was brought back to ground level amid cheers from rescue crew and onlookers. Amazingly, Kujo didn’t go to his owner first — he had some gratitude to his rescuer to express, climbing on Lambert and planting a wet lick across Lambert’s face.

But Kujo eventually got around to showering his frantic owner with affection as well. “Look at the picture, he was happy!” Ellis told Vieira and Quintanilla. “He was happy to see a friendly face. This is my guy, this is my buddy here,” he added as he gave Kujo a pat on the back.

Kujo is a little the worse for wear after his ordeal — he suffered cuts over his eyes and some bruising on his feet and hind legs. Still, he was calm and collected as he panted happily for the camera on TODAY. Quintanilla called the dog “my favorite guest of the day.”

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Video: Dog OK after falling into 30-foot well


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