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A caving project became a rescue mission after a dog was found 500 feet down

After the project cavers found Abby, they left a light for her while Gerry Keene went to get help to get the dog out.
Gerry Keene
After the project cavers found Abby, they left a light for her while Gerry Keene went to get help to get the dog out.

Gerry Keene was about 20 minutes into his caving excursion in the Tom Moore cave system near Perryville, Mo., when one of the kids with him said there was a dog ahead of them.

Dogs don't usually dwell in caves, but sure enough, there was a dog 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."

It was clear the dog was not in the right place, so Keene left the cave and started going to nearby houses with a photo of the dog to try and find its owner. Word got around and the dog's owner met Keene at the entrance to the cave and identified her as his dog Abby, who had been missing since June 9.

The owner was shocked to hear his dog was alive. Since Abby had been missing for so long, he told the rescuers that he assumed she was likely gone forever.

Keene called one of his friends, an assistant fire chief, to come help with the rescue mission. As they were about to go back into the cave system, Rick Haley, another experienced caver, came out of it. They quickly recruited him to help.

"We didn't want to leave Abby down there any longer than we had to," Keene said.

It wasn't clear how to get the dog out of the cave

But figuring out how best to get the dog out of the cave took a bit of brainstorming since the rescue equipment on hand was really meant for humans. Haley had the idea of using a duffle bag and a blanket to move the dog like a package.

Then, they began the 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 stayed at the first constriction and Keene and Haley continued on. By the time they got to where Abby was, Haley estimates they were 500 feet from the entrance.

"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 said she didn't show much emotion as she was approached by people.

"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 tried to see if Abby would walk toward the entrance, but once it was clear that was not feasible, they decided to put her in the duffle bag. They put out the bag and the blanket and Abby moved right on top of it

She was probably glad to have something soft and warm to sit on and likely knew that she was being helped, Haley said. She laid down and seemed to go to sleep.

"You could tell that the blanket was a big comfort to her as she sat in the duffle bag," he said.

The newly-minted trio then began the journey back together, with Keene and Haley moving Abby foot by foot and handing her over to each other until they got out of the cave.

In total, the rescue mission took about an hour and a half.

A reunion and a beef stick

Once they were out of the cave, it took some time for Abby to adjust to the light. While they were waiting for her owner to return, they gave Abby a beef stick, which seemed to rejuvenate her a bit, and she appeared "ready to go up for another adventure," Keene said.

After she was missing for almost two months, Abby was reunited with her owner on Aug. 6 and is recuperating. Haley has kept in contact with the family, who said she's still weak and a bit wobbly when she walks around, but her spirits are much better.

Haley said the cave project for the weekend didn't go exactly as planned and the project cavers will have more to do next time, but "if it weren't for the project weekend, we'd have never found the dog."

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Wynne Davis is a digital reporter and producer for NPR's All Things Considered.