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Ruff rescue: Spelunkers save dog trapped in Missouri cave

Screen shot of Fox 2 St. Louis YouTube video

A routine cave exploration in Missouri turned into a canine rescue mission when spelunkers encountered a missing dog who had somehow gotten trapped deep underground and couldn't get out.

Last weekend, a spelunking team led by experienced cavers Rick Haley and Gerry Keene entered the Tom Moore Cave system, a 24.5-mile underground labyrinth near Cape Girardeau, with the hope of mapping out some of the caves.

While Haley was investigating a sump pump, some of the kids in the group alerted him that they'd found a dog in a pitch-black area full of mud.

"The dog was not in good shape," Haley recalled on Facebook.

The team immediately notified the authorities, but while they waited for help, they snapped a picture of the dog and went door to door throughout the local area, looking for the owner.

"Which is hysterical because I’m wearing my cave gear and all muddy,” Keene said. “I must have looked like a hobo banging on people’s doors.”

The old-fashioned detective work paid off. They identified the owners, whose beloved 13-year-old pet Abby had gone missing on June 9.

“I pretty much knew right away that she probably wasn’t coming back or that she had been injured and couldn’t get back,” said owner Jeff Bohnert.

While the Bohnerts celebrated Abby's pending return, the spelunkers devised a plan to extract Abby from the cave. In order to protect themselves and Abby, they placed a blanket into a duffel bag and zipped Abby inside with her head kept free. Then, they began the rough task of inching her up to a two-foot opening in the cave.

"We moved her 500 feet to a very tight, awkward, vertical climb, handing her hand to hand upward to the surface," Haley wrote.

Though the area where Abby had been found was teeming with fish and crustaceans, it was also completely dark, which may have made finding food difficult. No one is quite sure how Abby survived or even how she wound up there in the first place, though heavy rain had recently pounded the area, leading to speculation that Abby may have been swept into the cave by flooding.

Whatever the cause of her disappearance, the Bohnerts are just grateful that she's been found. They have slowly reintroduced more and more food to Abby, who was "was skin and bones, emaciated," when she was found, according to Haley.

“Abby is recovering well,” Jeff Bohner said. “She’s still very thin, but she’s been eating well. She’s slowly getting back to a regular diet. She’s walking around and friendly. Looks like she’s going to make a full recovery.”

Here is a quick video recap of the "feel good story of survival," courtesy of KTVI-TV:

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