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A smart dog leads to companion’s rescue

Urbanna firefighter Joanna Forrer shares a happy moment with Gracie (left), who was rescued from an old well on Saturday, and Santrue (right), who led his owner to the stranded dog. (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

“Where’s Gracie?” Barbara Lieba repeatedly asked her toy poodle Santrue.

Santrue had come home on Friday afternoon without Gracie, a 2-year-old standard poodle. “Santrue looked at me and looked kind of sad,” said Lieba.

When it started to get dark, Lieba knew something was wrong. “Santrue doesn’t do anything without Gracie.”

The next morning, Lieba and Santrue looked for Gracie. “Where’s Gracie?” she continued to ask Santrue. “Show me where Gracie is.”

Santrue led Lieba behind a vacant house near her home and to the well into which Gracie had fallen. “I could see her head and I could see the water moving. It was really amazing,” said Lieba.

“If Santrue hadn’t shown me the well, I would have never looked in there,” said Lieba. “Santrue was standing there and didn’t want me to go.”

Gracie had fallen through a rotten plywood cover into the well.

Firefighters from the Middlesex Volunteer Fire Department of Urbanna responded as did the Central Middlesex Volunteer Rescue Squad of Urbanna. The firefighters tried lowering a big net down the well, hoping Gracie would climb in, but it didn’t work.

The firefighters then called for a wrecker truck from By-Pass Auto of Saluda to lower firefighter Joanna Forrer into the well.

Water in the well was about 4 feet deep. Gracie was standing in the water on her hind legs with her front paws on the wall and her head stretched up so she could breathe, said Forrer. “The water was right under her jaw.”

Forrer talked to Gracie as she was slowly lowered into the 3-foot wide well.

“The dog was calm and a little in shock,” said Forrer, who tried to hold Gracie in her arms as the winch pulled them up, but the dog was too heavy. They were lowered back down to the water. Gracie wimpered a little.

The firemen made a loop with a rope that was placed around Gracie’s shoulder. They pulled the dog up with the rope as Forrer held Gracie’s body to take off the strain.

Brandon Taylor of By-Pass Auto used the winch on his roll-back wrecker to slowly lower Forrer down into the well and pull her back up. “I have extracted a lot of things, but never a dog out of a well,” he said.

For safety, the winch hook was also tied with rope to the harness. Joanna’s dad, John Forrer of Stormont, tied the bowline knot. “They didn’t tell me that until later,” said Joanna. “He said it was the best one he ever tied, and he was in the Coast Guard and has tied a lot of them.”

Joanna Forrer, who has been a firefighter for 22 months, was a little nervous at first, but soon got over it. “I felt safe. I knew if something happened the firemen wouldn’t let anything happen to me. I knew the dog had to come out.”

Forrer has three dogs of her own.

Dr. Adine Jones of Countryside Animal Hospital in Saluda checked Gracie and determined that her only injuries were worn-down front claws from scratching the well side, and a slight temperature loss due to exposure.

“I’m so glad she’s okay,” said Lieba. “So many people came to help and I want to thank every one of them.”

posted 02.04.2009

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