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Morgantown firefighters rescue dog trapped at cliff base

A dog was reunited with its owners Wednesday after Morgantown firefighters rescued it from a precarious situation at the Cobun Creek Reservoir Tuesday evening.

Local resident Tina Sager was walking with a friend on the trail in White Park, near the reservoir around 5 p.m. when they heard a gaggle of geese honking close to the water.

“It seemed as if they were honking at something,” Sager said.  “So, we had stopped to figure out what was going on or if something was going on down by the water.  On the other side, we saw where they were honking and then saw something move.  So, we stopped and watched.  At first, I thought it was a deer because it was the same brown color, but in fact it was a dog.”

Sager said they watched for a few minutes to see if anyone was with the dog, but soon realized the dog was in distress.

“He was stuck and was trying to get himself out of the ravine and he had nowhere to go,” she said.  “He kept running back and forth on the probably 20-25 yards of area that he had.  He would give up and cry and then sit down for a while and then try again.”

“We weren’t exactly sure what to do,” Sager said.

That’s when they stopped Robert Cohen and his wife Kathleen Abate who were also walking on the trail.

Cohen and Abate agreed the dog was in clear need of assistance as they watched it pace along the edge at the bottom of a steep, rocky cliff around 40 feet high on the opposite side of the reservoir.

“Clearly the dog tried to get up and couldn’t,” Cohen said.  

Abate called 911, and an operated dispatched two dog wardens to the scene.  After assessing the situation, the wardens determined they would not be able to reach the trapped dog without help.

In the meantime, Cohen said two unknown WVU students happened by and made an effort to rescue the dog by crossing the waterfall on the south side of the reservoir.  Once on the other side, they realized the cliff was much too steep and they were unable to reach the dog.

Soon firefighters from Morgantown’s South Side Station arrived and assessed the situation before calling additional crews to the scene. In all, MFD Captain Gary Freshour said three apparatuses and seven firefighters were called out to assist.

Witnesses said firefighters first attempted to deploy a rescue boat, but were unable to find a suitable access point to the reservoir.

Ultimately, a multiple rope belaying system was set up above the dog at the top of the cliff so someone could rappel down, Freshour said.

By this time it had gotten dark, adding more difficulty to an already challenging rescue.  Firefighters set up multiple lights on the north side of the reservoir, shining them across the ravine to the trapped canine.

Firefighter Michael Close was lowered down the cliff face to the terrified dog, who was, at first, hesitant to trust his would-be rescuer.

“The dog had been there I guess close to a week,” Freshour said. “So it was scared, but he was eventually able to put a piece of webbing on it that resembled a leash and the dog was just as content as could be.”

Freshour said the firefighters had an oversized rope bag they used to put the dog in.

After securing the dog and himself in the ropes, the two were slowly raised up the rocky cliff by the firefighters above, maneuvering around the sharp edges and overhangs. 

“They were on separate lines and we pulled them both up at the same time and he kind of held onto the dog as he climbed up the rock face,” Freshour said. “The dog I guess laid his head on his chest.”

Shortly after 8 p.m., once safely at the top, the dog wardens transported the thankful pup, who appeared to be in good condition, to the Monongalia County Canine Adoption Center.

It is unclear how the dog, described as a larger mixed breed, found its way to the bottom of the cliff, but he is now safely back home.  According to MCCAC, the dog was reunited with the owners who said they recently rescued the dog from outside the county.

Sager, who couldn’t bring herself to leave the scene until the dog was safe, said the whole ordeal took around three and half hours.

“They did a magnificent job,” she said.

Cohen and Abate, who also stayed to see the rescue through, said it may have been another day’s work for the firefighters, but it didn’t seem that way from their standpoint.

“They had to be very skilled in what they were doing and well-trained,” Cohen said.  “They did it very carefully so that nobody would get hurt. They did a hell of a job.”

Freshour said it was good that the concerned citizens called for help.

“It took us a little while to get there,” he said, “but we needed to make sure our guy wasn’t in any jeopardy when he went over the cliff.

“It all went fairly smoothly except for access, but other than that it was a smooth rescue.”