Cavers exploring in western Virginia rescue ‘miracle’ dog found 40 to 50 feet down in cave

Jul 10, 2024, 2:08 PM

In this image provided by Skylar Sojka, shelter manager at Giles County, Va., Animal Shelter, Jesse...

In this image provided by Skylar Sojka, shelter manager at Giles County, Va., Animal Shelter, Jesse Rochette poses with Sparsy at the shelter in Pearisburg, Va. A group of cavers, including Rochette, who were exploring in western Virginia over the weekend rescued the dog that the Giles County shelter is calling a “living miracle” after she was found 40 to 50 feet down in a cave. (Skylar Sojka/Giles County Animal Shelter via AP)

(Skylar Sojka/Giles County Animal Shelter via AP)

NARROWS, Va. (AP) — One very lucky dog is recovering at a shelter after a group of cavers said their excursion into a western Virginia cave over the weekend turned into a rescue mission when they found her 40 to 50 feet underground.

Dave Jackson and Jesse Rochette of Colorado-based educational cave simulator company CaveSim on Sunday headed to Narrows in Giles County to explore Giant Caverns with a local couple, Jackson said by telephone on Wednesday. The first member of their party started down into the funnel-shaped cave and spotted something unusual — a dog.

“He said, ‘Whoa! There’s a dog down here!’” Rochette said. “And I asked if it was alive and he said ‘Yes!’”

A self-described “dog-guy,” Rochette repelled down next with a piece of salami.

“She instantly came over and sucked up the salami and she loved that,” Rochette said. The dog was shivering, so they wrapped her up in space blankets, foam pads and whatever else they could find, including the hood from an old jacket they found in the cave, he said. Next they got her to drink water by first getting her to lick water off his fingers, then lowering his hand until she was drinking from the bowl.

Jackson said he had taken rescue training classes and participated in rescues before, but never a rescue involving an animal.

“We all carry a little rescue gear with us,” Jackson said, and they pooled what they had. The cavers improvised a dog harness from a tarp and webbing and rigged up a system to haul out the dog strapped to Rochette, he said.

The whole rescue took about three hours, Rochette said.

“As the two of us cleared the edge of the pit and made it to fresh air, she instantly perked up,” he said. “She lifted her head up and started sniffing the air.”

The property owner said he didn’t recognize the dog, so Rochette said they took her to a nearby veterinary hospital and she was then taken to the Giles County Animal Shelter, where she was recuperating well and getting lots of treats when he visited her on Monday.

While he had never rescued an animal from a cave, Rochette said other cavers he has spoken to have told him of other rescues. The cave they were in Sunday was littered with animal skulls and bones, Rochette said.

“It felt nice that the cave didn’t get to keep another one,” he said.

Initially, they dubbed her “Cave Dog” but then settled on SPAR-C, an acronym for small party assisted rescue with a C added for canine, Rochette said.

In a Facebook post on Monday, the shelter called the dog “a living miracle,” saying they didn’t know what to expect when they first heard of her plight.

“Yesterday, we received a call about a dog who had fallen into a cave in Narrows,” the shelter said. “To be honest, we didn’t know what the next hours or even minutes would look like.”

But the dog the shelter is calling Sparsy had no broken bones. She couldn’t use her back legs well without assistance, but they expected her to be up and moving within days with medication, rest and good nutrition.

On Wednesday, the shelter posted an update saying she was up and moving and her medical expenses have been covered. The shelter was still seeking her owner, but said that if she continued healing at this pace, she would be ready for a new home soon.

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Cavers exploring in western Virginia rescue ‘miracle’ dog found 40 to 50 feet down in cave