A Cincinnati family was thinking the worst when their dog went missing for a week.
So imagine their horror — and joy — when they found he had been stuck in a drainage pipe the whole time, frightened, hungry and whimpering.
Edgar, a 4-year-old black retriever mix, is now in good health, but his tale can serve as a cautionary one for pet owners everywhere.
His owner, Sean Ryan, wasn't initially worried when Edgar and his other dog, Oscar, bolted from the garage while he worked on his car.
While the Ryans use an electric fence (and leashes when they leave the yard), they sometimes allow the dogs to run free during supervised hang-outs. When the dogs have occasionally gotten loose, they always — always — returned, sometimes covered with mud after a night of frolicking in the nearby woods.
"They are good boys, but they love to sneak out,” he told TODAY. “They’ll get loose and come home on their own within a night or two.”
This time was different: Oscar slinked home the next morning without his buddy, which was a red flag. He and Edgar were rescue dogs adopted by the Ryans and typically inseparable.
At first, the family wasn't too worried.
"We figured if he was on our street, he wasn’t lost,” said Ryan. “He would just come home.”
But he didn't.
A whole week went by. No Edgar. And then, while out for his morning walk with Oscar and feeling sad at the prospect of a life without his missing dog, Ryan heard a familiar high-pitched whine.
“We call Ed ‘The Whistler,’” he said. “It’s easy to hear birds chirping and think you’re hearing him whine … I was looking at a lawn and there was no dog in sight. I thought I might be imagining things, but I said, 'OK, I’ll wait until I know what that sound is.'”
The whining persisted and got louder as Ryan moved toward the lawn.
He fell to his hands and knees and peered into a vertical pipe that bisected a drainage ditch that ran under the length of a neighbor's lawn.
There was Edgar.
“All I can see are his eyes glowing back at me,” Ryan said, tearing up at the memory. “He became frantic. He was happy to see me, but so desperate for me to get him out.”
“I was filled so many emotions — joy that I found him, horror that he’s stuck in this pipe,” Ryan continued. “I was literally walking in circles trying to figure out what to do.
“He was cramped up — he couldn’t really stand or move,” recalled Ryan.
It was 6:30 in the morning and after knocking on the neighbor's door, Ryan called the fire department.
The drainage pipe was about a foot underground, and a rescue team was able to quickly dig and expose it. They cut a hole a few feet from the cross-pipe that marked where Edgar was located and gently coaxed him out.
“He was starving, of course …he had been lying in water, so he had something to drink, but he was covered in sores that were probably aggravated by all that fluid," said Ryan.
Luckily, a trip to the vet indicated that there would be no lasting damage. Edgar got an IV bag, a blood test, a round of antibiotics, and a shave to expose his wounds for healing.
“He’s bounced back quickly,” said Ryan. “In fact, he’s already returned to the scene!”
Ryan has struggled with guilt since the incident, but he’s thankful for the story’s happy ending — as are his wife, Juli, and 20-year-old son Lucas, who was the mastermind behind a popular Imgur gallery that shared Edgar’s story with the world.
The family plans to invest in GPS trackers for both of their dogs so they can let them indulge their feral side without fear.
For Ryan, the lesson goes deeper than responsible pet ownership.
“I can’t believe how close I was to giving up,” said Ryan. “We walk that loop every day … I walked by him, I don’t know how many times. That’s what I hope people take from this. Don’t assume, and don’t ever give up.”
So how did Edgar get stuck in the pipe?
“We think the reason he went in there was because he’s afraid of thunder,” Ryan said. “At home, he’ll wedge himself into a gap under the bed to escape … There was a storm and we think he crawled in, then ran into that vertical pipe, couldn't go backwards and couldn’t escape.”
He also offers this advice for fellow dog owners: "You should always have tags on your dogs as well as micro chips. And as I've now learned, if your dogs are 'runners' like Edgar, you should also use a GPS locating device."