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Oregon Humane Society Rescue Team Saves Dogs Who Have Fallen Off Cliffs

Thanks to the state's steep terrain, these brave volunteers must complete about seven cliff rescues a year, reuniting beloved pets with their families.

Lisa Cohn  |  Jul 21st 2015


Ranger, an 80-pound Great DaneMastiff mix, fell more than 200 feet from a cliff after wandering away from his owner during a hike in Oregon’s Santiam State Forest. A two-year-old Husky-Shepherd mix named Kenny dropped off a 150-foot cliff in the state’s Columbia River Gorge. And Gracie the Goldendoodle tumbled off a 200-foot cliff in the same area.

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All three dogs survived, thanks to the Oregon Humane Society’s technical animal rescue team, whose members often risk their lives performing high-angle cliff rescues, many times in darkness.

The 18-member volunteer team — made up of 14 women and four men, including a firefighter, a police officer, a realtor, home builders, and veterinary technicians — completes up to seven high-angle rescues a year and trains year-round for these emergencies, says Ulli Neitch, a team member and spokesperson.

OHS’s rescue team is just one of the reasons I’m committed to supporting OHS and participating in its fundraisers. My six-year-old, Michael, and I donate a portion of the sales of our book, Bash and Lucy Fetch Confidence, to the organization. In addition, we recently filmed ourselves eating dog biscuits for the its Biscuit Challenge, during which OHS supporters eat dog biscuits on camera and nominate friends to do the same or to make a donation. For the fundraiser, TV personalities, well-known business owners, local entertainers, and other pet lovers joined in the fun.

However, eating dog biscuits is a breeze compared to the heroics of the animal rescuers.

The team not only focuses on dogs who fall from cliffs. Team members have transported injured owls to vets, kayaked to a local island to care for ill pelicans, picked up ailing snakes, and assisted in animal hoarding investigations. The rescuers even lend a helping hand during disasters such as Superstorm Sandy, assisting pet owners whose homes are destroyed, says Neitch.

Kenny during his rescue. (Photo courtesy Oregon Humane Society)

Kenny during his rescue. (Photo courtesy Oregon Humane Society)

In rescue efforts like Gracie’s and Kenny’s, the team must hike for two to three hours, spend at least 1.5 hours setting up equipment, then use a rope-and-pulley system, harnesses, and rescue ropes to lower and raise a team member to the injured dog. By that time, it’s often dark, says Neitch.

Generally, the team carefully puts the dog in a rescue harness and attaches the dog to a rescue rope along with the rescuer. In the case of Kenny, volunteers spent an hour lowering a team member and then had to hike with Kenny back to the trailhead, arriving at the parking lot at 2 a.m.

People often ask Neitch why she risks her life to participate in such heroic feats.

“They’re part of someone’s family. They’re important,” she says.

Ranger, also shown at top of story, during his rescue. (Photo courtesy Oregon Humane Society)

Ranger, also shown at top of story, during his rescue. (Photo courtesy Oregon Humane Society)

That kind of dedication abounds in OHS volunteers — for good reason. Last year, the organization rescued more than 11,000 pets for the fifth year in a row, more than any other single shelter in Oregon, Washington, or California, according to its annual report. In addition, the organization investigated more than 1,000 reports of animal cruelty.

When animal lovers aren’t eating dog biscuits for OHS, they’re lining up to volunteer there. OHS has 1,516 adult and 218 youth volunteers, says Barbara Baugnon, OHS marketing communications director.

The youth program is so popular that teens must enter a lottery to volunteer at OHS. In fact, my 16-year-old animal lover has applied twice, and has been disappointed because her name was not drawn.

“Because we are working with animals, we have to provide plenty of oversight to ensure youth and animal safety,” says Baugnon. “We have specific shifts with capacity caps since they must be supervised while volunteering by staff. The lottery ensures an equal chance for anyone to enter the program.”

The organization offers volunteer opportunities that don't involved scaling cliffs, such as dog walking. (Photo courtesy Oregon Humane Society)

The organization offers volunteer opportunities that don’t involved scaling cliffs, such as dog walking. (Photo courtesy Oregon Humane Society)

Volunteers include veterinarians, writers, editors, photographers, investigation legal interns, and corporate relations volunteers.

Not all these volunteers risk their lives in the way the members of the rescue team do. But for those who do put their lives on the line, it’s all about understanding just how special it is to bond with a pet.

“Since we appreciate having pets in our own lives, we understand how close and important that relationship is,” says Neitch.

While I’m not trained to dangle off steep cliffs or hike miles with injured dogs, I can eat dog biscuits and help raise funds for OHS and, like Neitch, do it with enthusiasm for OHS and love for our four-legged friends.

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About the author: Lisa Cohn and her son, Michael, age six, are co-authors of the award-winning “Bash and Lucy” kids’ dog book series, and have donated more than $700 to OHS via book sales. Visit them at www.BashAndLucy.com.