Harps Not Lyres

Rescue Ranger: How to Save a Dog Trapped in a Mud Cave

Guys. Have you ever been a mile deep in a mud cave, posing for a photo in a circle of headlamp light, when a giant Cave Yeti tumbled across you and scared the ever-living life out of you? Have you ever pawed the air with such impassioned fear that you fell backwards, fumbling in the dirt like a wind-up toy that’s fallen off a high shelf? I have (please reference the photo above, which was taken mid-tumble), except that the Cave Yeti turned out to be a very lost and very scared dog named Ranger. Here’s what went down:

This winter, I decided to go mud caving in Anza Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County. I’ll be honest, I had never heard of mud caving and didn’t even know what a mud cave was until two of my best friends, who are awesome photographers at Sireno Photography, told me that they had discovered a few of them when they were, oh you know, doing a little off-road photography.

Mud caves are formed when water flows over and through thick deposits of silt, resulting in twist-y, turn-y tunnels that wind through dried mud. As it turns out, some human beings (like me) enjoy stuffing themselves into these tunnels for fun! Inside, it’s blissfully cool, quiet, and exciting, because you don’t know what kind of rock formation or majestic display will be around the next corner. It’s also the perfect setting for a grisly murder scene or cave monster attack, so when Ranger the dog jumped on me, I swear my heart stopped for a second.

Ranger was in good spirits, although visibly anxious and confused. He actually looked familiar; I think we had seen him frolicking around the campsite, but how he got trapped so far in a mud cave is beyond me. At one point, we had repelled down from one level of the cave to another, so my best guess is that he jumped down, but couldn’t climb back out. Once we realized that we were not, in fact, about to be gobbled up by a Cave Yeti, we set to figuring out how to actually rescue Ranger.

He wasn’t a big dog, but he wasn’t exactly a small dog either and there wasn’t a lot of room in the cave to carry him. Despite our efforts, Ranger kept running off into the maze of tunnels, only to return minutes later. He must have been a pretty brave dog because once you are inside of a cave without a light, you experience complete darkness. At times, we formed an assembly line to pass him down over a series of dips or up over a series of steep hills. At last, we made it to the other side and Ranger rocketed into the sunlight, a free dog again!

We found Ranger’s family and delivered him unscathed, but only after a strong reminder to please keep your dog on a leash, especially if you are visiting such an expansive and complicated geological wonder.

To rescue a dog from a mud cave you will need:

  • Headlamps
  • 3 friends
  • A sense of humor
  • A dog to rescue
  • Madonna arms

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