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Blind, deaf pet dog rescued after falling off San Juan Island cliff into sea

A firefighter rescues a nearly blind and deaf golden retriever who toppled off a cliff on San Juan Island. (Photo courtesy of Nick Wainwright, San Juan Island Fire & Rescue)

SAN JUAN ISLAND, Wash. - Rescuers saved a nearly blind and deaf golden retriever after he toppled down a 30-foot cliff and was nearly swept away by the rising tide after dark on the western shoreline of San Juan Island.

Local resident Gretchen Bailey said her dog Cowboy fell over the cliff before she could reach him, so she called for help from San Juan Island Fire & Rescue.

Firefighter Craig McConnell and Lt. Michael Henderson rappelled down the rocky wall to Cowboy using an intricate rope and pulley system set up by several firefighters. The rising tide was beginning to splash onto Cowboy who lay there motionless, tired and scared when the firefighters reached him.

“When we approached Cowboy, we were in six inches of water, and by the time we were secured and ready to go up, we were in 3 1/2 feet of water,” said McConnell.


The dog was brought back up the cliff and taken to the veterinarian to be checked out. At first it was not apparent whether Cowboy would recover, but he is now walking up and down the stairs unassisted.

Assistant Chief Noel Monin said, “Although it seems like we perform more technical rope rescues involving dogs than humans, it’s basically the same method and the more we train, the more proficient we will become under the most challenging of scenarios.”

San Juan Island Fire & Rescue consists of about 45 volunteer firefighters, 17 volunteer support member and six career firefighters.

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