Dog trapped in Florida cave for three weeks, saved by hiker

National

LAND O’LAKES, Fla. (WFLA) – Joe Dunn loves exploring. On any given weekend, you’ll find this Pasco resident out and about in the woods, looking for nuggets of Florida history.

It’s a passion that runs as deep as some of the areas where he hikes, like the Withlacoochee State Forest in Levy County.

And, he never knows what he’ll find when he’s out there. Or, in some cases, what he’ll end up rescuing.

Just last weekend, Joe documented an incredible rescue where a little life was saved, one in serious need of a helping hand.

“It was unbelievable going out there, just a cave in the middle of the wilderness,” Joe told WFLA. “It took several miles to hike out there.”

A dog was trapped in the forest, suffering for three long weeks. Joe discovered the pup deep in a cave, whimpering and scared.

“It’s sound you don’t like to hear,” he described. “Really disturbing, makes you really sad to hear.”​​​​​

The pup was deep in the ground, and Joe couldn’t get to her. 

“She was trying to get our attention, she looked up at us, trying to jump through the cavern, trying her best,” Joe explained. 

Since he didn’t have the tools he needed to facilitate the rescue on his own, Joe called for back-up and got an overwhelming response.

He posted on his social media page, that he needed help. Fast. Luckily, the call was answered quickly, specifically by Steve Pavlik, a friend of Joe’s who follows his adventures online.

“I want to thank these guys. They wanted to help, and they came from all over. Now, we’ve become friends. This dog brought us together,” Joe said, smiling.

Several good Samaritans from Rhino Staging came together to save the pup. The experts in technical stage rigging were thrilled to assist, traveling across Central Florida to help.

One volunteer, John Neal, came from Orlando. 

When the group arrived, they joined Joe and hiked miles back into the woods to rescue the dog from certain death.

“We were on a mission, on autopilot, trying to get this dog out,” Joe said.

The pup was trapped in a cave twenty feet below, wagging its tail, looking up and desperate for help. 

One of the rescuers, Alex Nardone, rappelled into the cave where he was able to fasten the nervous canine to a harness and slowly pulled the pup to safety.

She was thrilled to be safe and began lapping up water provided by the rescue team. 

“The dog was so happy,” Joe recalled. “She just rolled around on the grass, wanting her belly rubbed. She was the happiest animal I’ve ever seen.” 

They learned her name was Sally, after checking her collar and contacting her owner.

“Going through all this, it made me feel really rewarded, helping another life survive,” Joe said. “To help something good happen in this world.”

Rescuers smiled as their new four-legged friend got comfortable with her new surroundings. Then, the most amazing thing happened.

Joe and the team of volunteers made a delightful discovery. They found a phone number on the collar. When they called Sally’s owner, they shared the good news. She was safe and sound.

In the end, man’s best friend made new friends.

All thanks to one curious hiker and a team of good Samaritans.

“It felt so rewarding,” Joe said. “We worked together to help this dog. Just a rewarding experience.”

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