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Video: Hero rescues canyon-trapped canine

  1. Transcript of: Hero rescues canyon-trapped canine

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: We are back at 7:39 with the daring rescue of a dog who was trapped in the bowels of a deep canyon, and the man who carried the pooch out by himself and captured most of it on camera. We're going to talk to him in a moment. But first, NBC 's Kristen Welker has the story.

    KRISTEN WELKER reporting: The canyons that run along the Arizona / Utah border, spectacular in beauty, scope and depth. They're a dream for photographers and rock climbers alike, so outdoorsman Zak Anderegg made sure to bring his video camera when he went hiking in the area over the weekend. He was expecting to capture lots of twisted walls and dark caverns, but he wasn't at all prepared to find this...

    Mr. ZAK ANDEREGG: I cannot believe I found this guy.

    WELKER: This guy, an abandoned pooch seemingly left for dead, was discovered by Anderegg about 350 feet below the earth's surface. He was emaciated, all alone and scared.

    Mr. ANDEREGG: He was completely starved. He was, my best guess would be, 24 to 48 hours from being dead.

    WELKER: Anderegg , an animal lover , knew he had to act fast. He climbed out of the canyon once to get water for the canine, and then a second time to drive nearly an hour to Page, Arizona , for help.

    Mr. ANDEREGG: They told me flat out we're certainly not going to send out, you know, the fire department and the sheriff's department to help you.

    WELKER: So Anderegg took matters into his own hands. Borrowing a cat carrier from a local animal hospital and attaching it to his ropes, Anderegg was able to lift the dog from the depths of the cavern all by himself.

    Mr. ANDEREGG: I took risks, but none above what I do anyway.

    WELKER: Over the next few days, an area vet helped nurse the dog back to health, saying the most likely scenario is that he fell or was thrown into the canyon and that his survival and rescue is just a miracle.

    Ms. MICHELLE ANDEREGG: Yes, sweetheart.

    WELKER: This miracle pooch, affectionately named Puppy for now, has a temporary home with Zak and his wife, Michelle . But they're looking for a permanent place for Puppy to stay. And with a face like this, that shouldn't be too hard. For TODAY, Kristen Welker, NBC News, Los Angeles .

    VIEIRA: Zak and Michelle Anderegg are with us exclusively along with Puppy . Good morning to all of you.

    Mr. ANDEREGG: Good morning.

    Ms. MICHELLE ANDEREGG: Good morning.

    VIEIRA: You know, Zak , when you found Puppy , he was in really rough shape. How is he doing now? He looks pretty good.

    Mr. ANDEREGG: He's doing remarkable. He's probably added five or 10 pounds, and his personality's really starting to come out.

    VIEIRA: That day, Zak , when you were rappelling into the canyon -- it's something that you like to do. You're down about 350 feet, you looked down a little further down, maybe 15 feet below you, you see something walking in circles. But at first you weren't even sure what it was you were looking at, is that right?

    Mr. ANDEREGG: No, I -- it's just the last place in the world you expect to find a dog. So, you know, I looked over the edge and I saw this black thing just walking in circles, and my first thought was perhaps it was a cow because there's a lot of grazing in the area. And he was very bony, so he -- for some reason he struck me as he might be a little calf. And then the longer I looked at him, I realized it was actually a dog.

    VIEIRA: Yeah. And you went and you got water, you gave him the water and then you went back and you realized you needed some help. You go to that local town and you're told by the fire department , `Sorry, we can't help you.' So then you return with this cat carrier. You go back down there again. You know that you're potentially risking your life -- I know you're experienced at doing this, but there's a real risk there -- for a stray dog . Why did you want to do it, Zak ?

    Mr. ANDEREGG: You know what? It just, it was never a question. When I saw him, my heart just absolutely broke. And within about, you know, 10 seconds of realizing what he was, my plan shifted from vacation to, you know, rescue, get him out of here. So I guess I never really questioned it.

    VIEIRA: I know, Michelle , that at one point Zak called you. Did you question what he was going to do at all?

    Ms. ANDEREGG: I didn't question it because, I mean, I just -- he -- I could hear in his voice how sad the situation was. But I was really nervous about it and, you know, I was just standing by the phone to wait to hear, you know, when he got out of the canyon with the dog, and was pacing and -- but I was very confident in his abilities, you know, to get the dog out safely. But it was a little nerve-racking.

    VIEIRA: Yeah, I don't blame you. Zak , how hard was it to pull the dog out to safety?

    Mr. ANDEREGG: I don't remember, I lost consciousness. No, it was -- you know what? It was a -- it was a -- it was a big deal. Getting down there was easy. Getting him ready was not that hard, you know, putting him -- putting him in the crate. But actually ascending with him was about 25 minutes, and I got to the top and I was -- I was pretty much done for the day.

    VIEIRA: Yeah. And I know that you're looking for a good home for him. You have other pets at home, so maybe it would be too much to handle. But is it going to be hard to give him up?

    Ms. ANDEREGG: Oh, my gosh, yeah.

    Mr. ANDEREGG: It depends on who you ask.

    Ms. ANDEREGG: We are so attached.

    VIEIRA: Yeah. I know you call him Shadow, Michelle , right?

    Ms. ANDEREGG: He's just really sweet. Yeah, because he -- I walk and I stop and he bumps into me, he follows me so closely. He comes everywhere with me.

    Mr. ANDEREGG: Yeah, I think he forgot who rescued him.

    VIEIRA: He likes the ladies, Zak , what can I tell you? Well, look...

    Ms. ANDEREGG: He...

    Mr. ANDEREGG: You know what? That was -- that was pretty obvious even at the animal hospital that he favors women, so it might give some indication of his past.

    VIEIRA: Yeah. Well, he's a beautiful baby and he -- I guess he's eight months old at this point. And with that face, I'm sure you'll have no trouble finding a loving home for him. Zak and Michelle Anderegg...

By
TODAY contributor
updated 7/2/2010 10:42:17 AM ET 2010-07-02T14:42:17

If there’s a doggy heaven, this had to be it: a black pup lying with his head on his favorite human’s lap, looking blissful as he’s petted and cuddled.

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The dog had reason to be happy: Less than two weeks ago, he was waiting to die at the bottom of a 350-foot-deep canyon on the Utah-Arizona border. That’s when a miracle dropped out of the sky to save him.

The deliverer of the miracle was Zak Anderegg, who enjoys rappelling into the narrow canyons and holes that perforate the rocky desert landscape. Zak sat next to the dog on Friday, but the pooch took no notice, more interested in being comforted by Zak’s wife, Michelle, who sat to Zak’s left on a couch in their Holladay, Utah, home as they told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira the extraordinary story of how Zak risked life and limb to rescue the dying animal.

“I think he forgot who rescued him,” Zak quipped, as the dog continued to happily ignore him.

At death’s door
It was early last week and Zak was on vacation alone in the area near Page, Ariz., where he planned to pursue his passion for what’s called canyoneering. He picked a spot, rigged his ropes, and dropped into a slot in the rocks so deep and narrow that little light penetrated to the bottom.

TODAY
Zak and Michelle Anderegg and the very lucky dog Zak rescued appeared on TODAY via satellite from Utah.

After working his way down some 350 feet, Zak noticed something moving in the gloom in a deep pothole in the rock. At first, he had no idea what it could be.

“It’s just the last place in the world you’d expect to find a dog,” he said. “I looked over the edge, and I saw this black thing just walking in circles. My first thought was perhaps it was a cow, because there’s a lot of grazing in the area. He was very bony, and for some reason it struck me that he might be a little calf. And then the longer I looked at him, I realized he’s actually a dog.”

Seeing the animal’s desperate condition, Zak climbed back out of the canyon, got some water and food, and rappelled back down. He poured water on the floor of the pothole and left the food, which the dog seemed unable to eat, climbed out again and went for help.

“He was completely starved,” Zak said. “He was, my best guess, 24-48 hours away from death.”

Risky rescue
Zak had to find a way to save the dog’s life.

“It was never a question,” he told Vieira. “When I saw him, my heart just absolutely broke. Within about 10 seconds of realizing what he was, my plan shifted from vacation to rescue — get him out of here.”

Zak managed to record video of the canyon and the dog on a flip camera he’d brought along because Michelle said he never took pictures during his expeditions. He called Michelle on his cell phone and told her about finding the animal, and his intentions to attempt to save its life.

Zak drove into Page and went to the local fire department to ask for help. He was told that neither firemen nor police had the resources or the ability to help: He was on his own.

So he went next to the Page Animal Hospital, where he was given a red, plastic cat carrier big enough to hold the dog, as well as dog food and dishes for food and water.

TODAY
Zak Anderegg’s first move was to bring food and water to the trapped dog, which appeared to be starving.

The next morning, Zak was back at the slot canyon. He first took food and water down to the dog, which drank and tried to eat, but immediately started dry-heaving. Then he brought the pet carrier.

What he was doing was risky — canyoneering is not a sport for the faint of heart. But, Zak said, he took no undue risks in saving the dog.

Six hours away in the Salt Lake City suburbs, there was nothing Michelle could do to help. But she said she did not try to talk Zak out of his rescue mission.

“I could hear his voice, how sad the situation was, but I was really nervous about it,” she admitted. “I was standing by the phone to wait to hear when he got out of the canyon with the dog. I was pacing. I was very confident in his ability to get the dog out safely, but it was a little nerve-racking.”

One lucky dog
Zak said he got to the bottom with the carrier easily enough and had no trouble getting the dog into the carrier. Then the hard part began — getting himself and the animal out safely.

TODAY
Zak has called the rescued dog “Puppy” to avoid getting too attached to him — but for Michelle, who calls the dog “Shadow,” it may already be too late.

He did that by rigging up a rope and pulley to haul up the dog after he got up himself. “Ascending with him was about 25 minutes,” he said. “I got to the top, I was pretty much done for the day.”

He took the dog to the animal hospital, where veterinarians said the pooch was doubly lucky: Not only had Zak saved him from certain death, but the dog also showed signs of having survived canine distemper, which is fatal to 95 percent of the animals it infects.

No one knows how the dog came to be trapped in the canyon, but his lack of other injuries or broken bones suggest someone put him there rather than the dog falling down such a great distance.

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When the dog was discharged from the hospital, Zak brought him back home with him. He calls the dog Puppy because he and Michelle already have a dog and two cats. Zak doesn’t want to get attached by giving the dog a name; his hope is that they can find a good home for the dog.

But Michelle calls the dog Shadow because it has become totally attached to her — like a shadow.

She’s kind of hooked on the dog, too.

“We‘re so attached,” Michelle admitted as the dog rested contentedly with his head on her lap. “I walk and I stop and he bumps into me. He follows me so closely, he comes everywhere with me.”

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