Gerry Keene was about 20 minutes into his caving adventure in the Tom Moore cave system near Perryville, Missouri, when one of the kids with him mentioned a dog ahead of them.
Dogs don’t usually live in caves, but there was one curled up on the mud floor.
“She didn’t look real good,” Keene said. “I mean, she had 11 people walk by her with lights and she just basically lifted her head, but she wouldn’t move at all.”
The dog was clearly not in the right place, so Keene left the cave and began visiting nearby houses with a photo of the dog to try to find its owner. The dog’s owner recognized Keene at the cave’s entrance and identified her as his dog Abby, who had been missing since June 9.
The owner was surprised to learn that his dog was still alive. Because Abby had been missing for so long, he told the rescuers that he assumed she had died.
Keene summoned a friend, an assistant fire chief, to assist with the rescue mission. Rick Haley, another experienced caver, emerged from the cave system just as they were about to return. They quickly enlisted his assistance.
“We didn’t want to leave Abby down there any longer than we had to,” Keene said.
But, because the rescue equipment on hand was designed for humans, figuring out how to get the dog out of the cave took some thought. Haley had the brilliant idea of transporting the dog in a duffle bag and a blanket.
They then started their descent.
“It is an entrance to the cave that is a little technical,” Haley said. “It’s vertical in places. It’s windy. It’s very tight.”
The assistant fire chief remained at the first constriction, while Keene and Haley proceeded. Haley estimates they were 500 feet from the entrance by the time they arrived at Abby’s location.
“Once we reached her, I did a quick assessment to see what kind of injuries she had. It was evident she had been there a long time,” Haley said.
Abby was malnourished and lethargic, and Haley reported that she didn’t show much emotion when approached by strangers.
“She was just trying to stay as comfortable as she could, which was hard down there because it’s very wet and it’s 58 degrees or so,” Haley said.
Haley and Keene attempted to see if Abby would walk toward the entrance, but when that proved impossible, they decided to put her in the duffle bag. They placed the bag and blanket on the ground, and Abby jumped right on top of it.
According to Haley, she was probably relieved to have something soft and warm to sit on and was probably aware that she was being assisted. She laid down and appeared to fall asleep.
“You could tell that the blanket was a big comfort to her as she sat in the duffle bag,” he said.
The newly formed trio then resumed their journey together, with Keene and Haley moving Abby step by step and handing her over to each other until they exited the cave.
The rescue mission took about an hour and a half in total.
Abby needed some time to adjust to the light after they emerged from the cave. While they waited for her owner to return, they gave Abby a beef stick, which seemed to revive her and make her “ready to go up for another adventure,” according to Keene.
Abby, who had been missing for nearly two months, was reunited with her owner on August 6 and is recovering. Haley has maintained contact with her family, who report that she is still weak and wobbly when walking, but her spirits are much higher.
Haley stated that while the weekend’s cave project did not go exactly as planned, and the project cavers will have more work to do next time, “if it weren’t for the project weekend, we’d have never found the dog.”