UPDATE, Friday, 2:25 p.m.

Kneeland Volunteer Fire Department Chief Rick Hardin got back to the Outpost this morning and filled us in on his firefighters’ efforts to rescue Bo, the massive Neapolitan Mastiff/St. Bernard, late Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

Hardin said the dog’s owner, Trevor Vansell, first sought help from both the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and CalFire, but neither agency was able to provide the personnel for an animal rescue after hours, so eventually it got referred to the Kneeland Fire Protection District. Vansell called twice to ask for help, Hardin said, and after calling off the first rescue request he again phoned the department seeking assistance.

Hardin was immediately concerned. “I said, ‘This is out of our league. We’re not animal rescuers, and it’s the middle of the night.’ … However, nobody else would respond. Obviously, the dog owner was pretty shaken up by this. I called the dog owner, I explained, ‘We will do our very best. We’ll do everything we can.’”

According to the fire department’s official incident reports, supplied by Hardin [pdfs here and here], six Kneeland volunteer firefighters, including Hardin, a captain and four firefighters, were dispatched at 10:45 p.m. and arrived at Vansell’s property 11 minutes later. It was dark and windy with intermittent rain.

Over the next three hours, the firefighters struggled in the dark to find Bo and try to get him harnessed in the rescue basket and up the hill, Hardin said. But the slippery and dark conditions were dangerous. With the steep hillside, characterized by dramatic changes in elevation and slippery slopes, it took close to an hour just to find the dog. (Hardin said Bo was actually much further down the hill than the quarter-mile Vansell reported.)

Hardin instructed his crew to be safe.

“I told my captain, ‘If this gets too risky, where people will become injured or it’s too treacherous, I want you to call it,’ the chief recalled. “We don’t want to be going down after somebody with a broken leg.”

In the cold and dark they tried different paths and investigated alternate rescue routes. Hardin insists that none of his firefighters suggested euthanizing Bo. He theorized that perhaps Vansell overheard a conversation about taking the dog down the hill and misinterpreted it as “putting the dog down.”

Vansell, reached again this afternoon, stands by his account, though he also expressed appreciation for the department’s assistance.

Ultimately, after hours of effort, Hardin decided to call it. The firefighters had managed to move Bo about 150 feet, Hardin said, and they set up a tent to make the dog as comfortable as possible overnight. Vansell told the firefighters that friends would be available to help extricate Bo, but not until morning. 

“Our position,” Hardin said, “was there was no way you could put this dog in our equipment and get uphill without possibly causing injury to this animal. Our recommendation was for the dog to stay overnight, and when his friends come [in the daylight] they would have enough people.”

Hardin commended his firefighters for going above and beyond the call of duty that night. He said his department is among the best-trained in Humboldt County: “You can take that to the bank.” But this situation was outside their normal purview, and the variables were stacked against them.

“Here we had volunteers, people who didn’t even know this guy, and they’re willing to sacrifice their well-being … . But the elements and time of day just weren’t going to allow [the rescue] to happen without somebody being hurt,” Hardin said.

The Kneeland Volunteer Fire Department left behind the rescue sled that Vansell and his friends used the next morning to finally rescue Bo. Hardin said he’s happy the story worked out the way it did.

“I applaud these guys,” he said of Bo’s rescuers. “I think it was absolutely great that these friends showed up.”

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Original post:

Photos courtesy of Trevor Vansell and Trenton Pruitt.

On Tuesday afternoon, Kneeland resident Trevor Vansell took his big, beloved dog Bo for a hike. The terrain was steep, but Bo had been down this hill before. It had been quite a while, however, and Bo, now nine years old and close to 150 pounds, started to get tired — so tired that eventually his hips gave out. He simply couldn’t go any farther.

This was a problem because Vansell and Bo were roughly a quarter of a mile down a very steep hill. The terrain was rugged and slick with mud, and Bo, who’s half Neapolitan Mastiff and half St. Bernard, is not the kind of dog you can just pick up and carry.

Vansell got Bo as a puppy, part of a litter advertised on the Co-op message board. According to the original owner, Bo and his litter-mates are the second-generation offspring of Fang, Hagrid’s dog in the Harry Potter movies. Or, rather, they’re the offspring of one of the Neapolitan Mastiffs who played Fang.

But now Bo was incapacitated and exhausted on a steep hillside. Vansell and a couple of his friends tried to drag the big dog up the hill, but the ground was too steep and slick. And with no sled or harness they could make no progress. Eventually, Vansell called the Kneeland Volunteer Fire Department looking for help, and late Tuesday evening a few volunteer firefighters showed up and hiked down to Bo’s position, Vansell said. 

But they too were unable to get Bo up the hill. According to Vansell, one volunteer suggested it might be better just to put Bo down. “He said, ‘He’s older, he’s a big dog,’ and [the volunteer] implied he’s maybe not worth the effort. They just were really quick to give up.” The firefighters managed to get Bo about 20 feet closer to home before giving up, saying they couldn’t rescue the big dog without ropes and some sort of pulley system, Vansell said.

A call to the Kneeland Volunteer Fire Department was not immediately returned.

Around 2 a.m. Wednesday, Arcata resident Trenton Pruitt got a text from his friend Heath telling him about the situation up in Kneeland. A dog had collapsed on a steep hill, and his owner needed help rescuing him. Later that morning, Pruitt, his friend Heath and another guy went up to the property in Kneeland where they met up with four other guys who were there to help.

Pruitt is a wildland firefighter himself, a member of a hotshot crew. He and his friends carried a Sked-style rescue basket down to Bo. He’d been covered with a space blanket provided by the Kneeland firefighters, and Vansell and friends had been bringing him food. But Bo was still in bad shape.

“The dog was scared, wet and cold,” Pruitt said. “He couldn’t stand.”

The seven men loaded him into the basket, tied him down and took turns hauling him, step by step, up the steep hill.

They finally got him to the top, roughly 22 hours after he’d collapsed. With the help of some ibuprofen Bo managed to stand, but he was still very shaky, Pruitt said.

His rescuers decided to put him in bed near a fire, and take him to see a vet the next day, just to be safe.

Bo is feeling better now, Vansell said. The big dog was fast asleep during our phone interview, but Vansell soon sent the picture below showing Bo alive and well after his harrowing ordeal.