After falling off a 150-foot cliff, a 2-year-old husky-shepherd mix named Kenny is on the road to recovery, thanks largely to volunteers who work for the Oregon Humane Society’s rescue team.
Mark Winans of Portland, Oregon, told TODAY.com he’s so thankful for the OHS’s recovery efforts that once he can pay off the cost of Kenny’s surgeries — which he says is more than $13,000 — he’ll pass along any additional crowd-sourced donations to the rescue team that saved his dog’s life.
“They were as professional as you could imagine,” Winans said. “I wouldn’t have expected any better treatment if it were a human [in need of rescue].”
The story, which gained traction via Reddit's Uplifting News thread, began the afternoon of Oct. 16, while Winans was at work. That's when he received a frenetic phone call from his roommate, who had been walking the dog along a Columbia River Gorge trail when the leashed dog broke free to chase a squirrel and fell over the cliff ledge, into the river. The roommate had called 911 before contacting Winans.
“My roommate didn’t know if [Kenny] was alive or dead,” added Winans, who neither identified nor blamed his roommate.
Winans drove an hour from his job as a trainer at Adidas to get to the trail, where emergency personnel began to gather. While thinking of his “sweet dog” that’s “extremely mellow, but very much a puppy,” he hoped for the best, despite the odds.
“We were standing up there so long," Winans said. "There was a lot of time to kind of think about it, looking straight down."
John Thoeni led the 10-member OHS Technical Animal Rescue team (OHSTAR) that arrived at the head of the Eagle Creek trail at about 6:30 p.m. He said they hiked 3.3 miles with a “ton of rescue gear” to get to the cliff at about 8:30 p.m., when darkness had fallen and the team continued to discuss rescue strategies.
OHSTAR rescuer Jennifer Stangel agreed to wear flotation gear and be lowered by a mechanical rope system into the canyon to secure Kenny for their ascent back to the trail. She told TODAY.com it was her second rope rescue, and her first successful attempt was in June 2013.
“That was not as difficult, technically, as this one,” she said with a laugh.
After two resets to ensure safety, Stangel successfully descended on the rescue team's third attempt. She said the harnessing process a little more difficult than anticipated “because of the darkness and because [Kenny] was wedged into a little crevice.” Nonetheless, OHSTAR hoisted Stangel and back up the cliff together, allowing for Kenny to reunite with his owner at about 12:30 a.m. Friday.
Stengel said she never felt like she was in danger.
“I never felt at risk,” she added. “I knew that I was securely attached to our safety system. I knew what to do if I slipped. I had him attached to me the whole time once I got down to him. It was more a matter of just trying to get him safely raised, as quickly as possible.”
Although it took about 12 hours to rescue Kenny, Winans said it was worth the wait.
“There’s a lot people who wouldn’t have done it, because of how dangerous the conditions were,” Winans said. “They were extremely courageous to basically put their own lives on the line to get to him. It would have been really easy to say, ‘Let’s wait until morning, and come back when it’s daylight,’ but they did it [that night]. … Everybody was kind of like, ‘There’s no way he should have survived that fall.’ It’s a miracle.”
In the days that followed, Kenny underwent hours of surgery at DoveLewis Hospital in Portland to address the broken bones in his front legs and a punctured lung, but he’s on the road to recovery, Winans said.
“It was really detailed and difficult surgery,” Winans added. “It wasn’t just like a single break that they could set.”
Kenny is expected to make a nearly full recovery, although he may have to change his gait because the bones in one of his front legs had to be fused, Winans said.
“I took the week off work, because he needs 24-hour care,” Winans added. “I’ve been giving him a lot of TLC.”
OHS spokesman David Lytle emphasized that, despite a dog walker’s best intentions, even a leashed dog can escape a person’s grasp. He encouraged people not only to tie leashes to their belts as a precautionary measure, but also to train canines to learn a “recall command” that can be even more powerful than a dog's natural instincts.
As of Thursday afternoon, Winans' Give Forward fundraising page for Kenny's medical expenses had collected more than $12,000 in donations. Stating intentions to donate surplus cash to OHS, Winans said he’s incredibly grateful for the volunteer rescue workers’ efforts, especially since they’re funded entirely by donations.
“I really want to give credit to them and help with their fundraising efforts,” Winans said.
It’s just all in a day’s work for Thoeni, who said his crew would be content if donations only covered Kenny's medical expenses.
“Mark is one of those guys who makes us feel really, really good about what we do,” Thoeni said.
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