Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 8:34 PM on Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dog rescued; how he got in storm drain a mystery

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Homer Volunteer Fire Department firefighters Chris Cushman, left, and Dan Miotke, right, pull Sketcher, a 13-year-old male dog, out of a storm drain on Main Street near Pioneer Avenue.

Public Works officials don't know exactly how a 13-year-old dog got lost in the storm drain system underneath Main Street near Pioneer Avenue. Firefighters pulled Sketcher, a 60-pound Australian cattle dog, out alive and uninjured from a storm drain the afternoon of June 1.

Muddy, wet, cold and in need of a long, warm bath, Sketcher's first treat after his rescue were some hot dogs donated by Robin Daugherty, manager of the nearby Homer Theatre.

"I don't really know what to say," his owner, Hollyn Smith, said last Thursday morning. "I'm happy he's home."

Grates over catch basins and drains and covers over manholes keep animals from getting into the storm drains in downtown Homer. Public Works Director Carey Meyer said it's possible Sketcher got in at the upper end of the drain system, where water from ditches flows into open pipes. The pipes are 18-inches to 24-inches wide.

"I think it's just an unusual circumstance," Meyer said.

Homer Public Works equipment operator Rusty Cheney, who was at the scene last week, said in his 28 years working for the city, he'd never seen a dog in the storm drain system.

Smith said Sketcher ran away from her home near South Peninsula Hospital about 12:30 a.m. last Wednesday. Smith kept looking through the night and reported him missing to Animal Control later in the morning.

A woman walking by on Pioneer Avenue heard Sketcher barking. A visiting tourist, she reported the barking dog to Barb Scalzi, owner of North Wind Home Collection on Pioneer Avenue. Scalzi then called Animal Control, who called Public Works and the Homer Volunteer Fire Department about 1:30 p.m.

Animal Control officer Sherry Bess said Sketcher sounded strong and healthy when she first heard him barking below Main Street.

It took longer for firefighters to set up safety gear than to pull Sketcher out of the storm drain system.

Police and firefighters blocked off Main Street for the rescue. Coincidentally, HVFD had held confined space rescue training last month, said Chris Cushman, one of the firefighters who went down into the storm drains to search for Sketcher.

Firefighters monitored gases in the drains before climbing down to make sure the air was safe to breathe. It was the first confined space rescue that he knew of done by HVFD, Cushman said.


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Sketcher, a 13-year-old male dog, looks out of a storm drain on Main Street near Pioneer Avenue right before Homer Volunteer Fire Department firefighters rescued him on June 1.

"It was perfect timing," he said.

Suited up in a climbing harness, dry suit and miner's helmet, HVFD rescuer Tom Applehanz went into a manhole on Main Street. A tripod with a hand winch was used to lower him down.

Within moments Applehanz saw Sketcher in a pipe running southeast toward Pioneer Avenue. Firefighters opened two more manholes and found Sketcher in a pipe below a manhole between Pioneer Avenue and Main Street.

Using a dog catching pole, Cushman snared Sketcher gently around the neck. Sketcher looked up from the hole alert but scared. As Cushman held on to the pole, firefighter Dan Miotke reached down and pulled Sketcher out — safe and standing on his own four feet.

No one was injured in the rescue.

A small crowd cheered firefighters as they brought Sketcher out. After Sketcher's rescue, Bess took him to the Animal Shelter for a warm bath and to be reunited with Smith.

Smith said Sketcher was sore and tired but otherwise fine. She said she sent flowers to the fire department last Thursday.

"I'm very thankful for him to be home. It sounds like it was a mess," Smith said.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.