Jim Devaney often takes his dog Carson for a walk in the open space behind their Wading River home that abuts the former Great Rock Golf Course’s 18th fairway. Carson, a black Labrador retriever, never strays too far from his owner.
Shortly after noon on Sunday, Carson headed toward the edge of the pond on the golf course. The dog, who just turned 6, loves to swim. Mr. Devaney will even take him to the beach on cold days like Sunday.
“Doesn’t bother him a bit,” he said.
As Carson neared the edge of the pond, he stumbled into a steep ravine that was covered with leaves. He started to slide down and the front half of his body splashed into the water. Mr. Devaney could see Carson’s head go under water. He assumed the Lab would just jump in all the way and start to swim. Instead, Carson began to back up, unaware of an 18-inch drainage pipe behind him that runs horizontally underground to route rain water runoff from higher elevations into the pond.
Carson backed up and squeezed his way directly into the drainage pipe. Mr. Devaney was about 20 feet away and began to yell Carson’s name. The dog kept backing farther and farther into the pipe. He quickly ended up about 20-30 feet into the pipe with no way to move forward.
“I kind of panicked at first,” Mr. Devaney said. “I ran down and jumped into the water to see if I could get him. By that point, he was already in the pipe and backing up even farther.”
Mr. Devaney raced back toward his house and got his 16-year-old son, Jimmy, who had two friends at the house.
When they got back toward the pond, they couldn’t see or hear Carson.
They tried to figure out what to do next.
“It was just too dangerous for even my son, as skinny as he is, to slither into this pipe,” Mr. Devaney said.
After about 20-30 minutes, they realized they needed help. So Mr. Devaney dialed 911.
Just before 1 p.m., the Wading River Fire Department was activated. Members of the department were escorting Santa through the community and collecting food for its annual “Stuff-a-Bus” food drive when the call came over.
Chief Anthony Bitalvo and Riverhead Town police officer Kaley Castantine, who was the Riverhead PBA’s Officer of the Year in 2018, arrived on scene first.
The response was swift as about 15 firefighters and EMS personnel arrived with every type of equipment they thought might be useful. A heavy rescue truck, engine and other support vehicles arrived on scene as did members of North Fork Animal Welfare League, which operates as the town’s animal control department.
First Assistant Chief Branden Heller was one of four chiefs at the scene.
“We determined that it was going to be a pretty intense kind of situation to try to get the dog out,” he said. “The dog was basically four feet underground in a drainage pipe that started 50 feet from the entrance.”
Time was critical. Carson was wet from falling into the water and the air temperature was barely above freezing. If he was stuck for too long, hypothermia could set in.
The first responders began to dig an access hole approximately 50 feet back from the open end of the pipe where Carson entered. They used a narrow vertical vent pipe, midway between the pond’s edge and the rescue hole, to see if they could hear Carson. An EMT dropped in dog treats.
“We could hear him crying and whimpering,” Mr. Devaney said. “He just couldn’t move forward as much as we called him. We knew he was OK, but he was just stuck in there.”
Mr. Heller said Mr. Devaney was critical in helping the first responders pinpoint where the dog was stuck.
“One way or another, we were going to get the dog out,” Mr. Heller said.
They were able to quickly dig and reach the top surface of the pipe. As they prepared to cut into the pipe, the first responders hoped the dog hadn’t backed up past the point of the rescue hole.
As they stood in the pond, up to their knees in water, they could shine a flashlight and see Carson’s blinking green eyes.
A large portion of the top section of the drainage pipe was removed and Carson was about a foot or two away from the newly opened rescue hole.
Mr. Devaney was able to guide Carson out of the hole. The first responders wanted to make sure the dog saw someone he knew in case he was scared.
Carson was “ecstatic” to be free.
“He’s a lab full of energy and just always happy to see people,” Mr. Devaney said. “When he got out of the pipe and he was surrounded by 30 or so people, he was just super excited.”
Carson emerged out of the pipe in good health.
“I think we were kind of shocked to see a 110-pound dog come out of the little pipe,” Mr. Heller said.
Mr. Devaney, who’s a pilot for United Airlines, posed with his family members, Carson and the first responders for a photo once the rescue was complete.
“It was very impressive to think the amount of care that both Riverhead police and Wading River Fire Department put in,” he said.
Mr. Heller said they went back later in the afternoon to check on Carson. “The whole family was relieved,” he said.
The next day, Carson was back to normal.
“The end result is he got a bath out of it and got to meet a whole bunch of new people,” Mr. Devaney said.
Top photo caption: The Devaney family poses with Carson and the first responders who worked to free the dog from a drainage pipe Sunday. (Credit: Wading River Fire Department)