Nick Cardillo and four other animal shelter volunteers weren't expecting to be declared heros as they headed to work at the county's animal shelter in Gold Beach Sunday morning.
But they were.
Pennies for Pooches, the non-profit organization that operates the facility, received a call from a man about 7 miles east of Humbug Mountain saying his two dogs had fallen into a ravine on Friday; he'd tried to retrieve them himself, but fell down a smaller ravine and ended up in the hospital.
"They were on a walk with the owner, and one of the two fell and the other tried to help it, and both ended up falling hundreds and hundreds of feet," Cardillo said. "It was a really slippery slope."
He and shelter volunteers Cody and Crystal Chenoweth, Jake VanProoyen and Dana Miller headed out to the area. County Search and Rescue volunteers arrived, as well, but were less inclined to rescue dogs.
"We don't want to let a dog die," Cardillo said, explaining the different priorities of the two volunteer organizations. "If we can hear it barking, we know it's there. If it keeps barking, we're going to keep searching."
The group sought the dog for about six hours, but soon the barking stopped, leaving them no direction to follow. And it was pouring rain, Cardillo said. The five decided to quit for the day.
They reconvened Monday morning - this time armed with topographical maps, a GPS, climbing equipment and, after consulting google.com/earth/.com, determined the best location from which to resume the search.
"We were searching and searching and searching, and about 2 or 3 in the afternoon, I saw a little head staring back at me, barking," Cardillo said.
That dog, a 2-year-old female collie named Tayla, was on a vertical incline with nowhere to go, he said. She was fairly easy to reach from above.
But her littermate, Ronan, was stuck on a ledge measuring about 2 by 4 feet.
"The one area he could have tried to get out, there was no luck," Cardillo said. "You could see his pawmarks."
The rescue crew, all experienced rock climbers, began a tenuous operation using climbing ropes on sheer terrain, in the rain, to get to the second dog.
"It was very, very scary," Cardillo said, adding that the male dog weighed about 100 pounds.
The female suffered torn pads paws; the male had a couple of his pads ripped off, had a scraped nose and eye and required surgery Tuesday for a torn rectum.
The owners, a Port Orford couple whose names Cardillo didn't have, were camping near China Mountain. The dogs were returned to them.
"We got it done," he said. "Normally, we don't go on calls - ever. We don't have the manpower. But I could tell this was a call we should go on."
Cardillo said the group is proud of their work.
"The hell we went through? It's nice to hear (people think we're heroes)," he said. "It was so horribly cold. It was literally the middle of nowhere. We were lucky. It was a good outcome."