An Epic Dog Rescue

Eli Beck

This January, an incredible rescue went down in Monument Valley. It is a tale of patience, effort, community, and trace of good luck.

It started when Jessica Holiday looked at the cliff south of her house and saw a black dot. At first, she thought it was a bird, then a cat, and as looked closer, she realized it was a dog. It was on a narrow, steep area of slickrock, with an even steeper slope above and a sheer drop below.

Half an hour passed. The dog still hadn’t found it’s way up. Jessica’s dad, who did not want his name used in this story, recalled another dog getting trapped in the same area years before, but it had made its way up and out by the next morning.

The next day though, the dog was still in the same spot.

Building Trust, and a Ladder

Jessica and her dad recounted the next several days of building trust with the dog.

Jessica’s dad climbed up to the dog the next day, with dog food, water, and a bowl. The journey required climbing up a sandstone wall elsewhere on the mesa to get to the top.

“I climbed up there a couple of times but it was kind of iffy because it’s a sandstone,” said Jessica’s dad. “So I knew if I went up and down it multiple times in that same area, it’d get really slippery.” He rigged a tow strap to help with future ascents, shown below.

Jessica’s dad at the start of the ascent to reach the dog. Photo by Paul Martini

After the climb came the traverse across the top of the mesa, then the treacherous downclimb to the dog’s narrow strip of rock. A slip so close to the edge could’ve been fatal. Jessica and her dad estimated the cliff below the dog was around 270 feet tall.

To get down to the dog, Jessica’s dad tied some tow-straps together and tied the makeshift rope around a rock and used it to descend.

“And when he climbed to the first time to give the dog food and water, my mom and I were watching from down below, and we could see the dog go to the very edge into this crevice,” Jessica said. And when my dad came down, he couldn’t see the dog and he was scared that the dog had gone over.”

The dog ran away from Jessica’s dad that day, foreshadowing a long process.

“So I left the water there and the food there and made my way back out and I thought ‘well it still can find its way out and at least it’s got food and water,’” he said.

Making the descent, it was easy to see how the dog had gotten stuck. Jessica’s dad saw dog tracks going back and forth across the top of the mesa. He suspected that the dog tried to get down after wandering for a while, then reached the area where it couldn’t get back up.

“When you’re coming down from the top, you can’t see the bottom and you can’t see the cliff until you’re right up on it,” he said.

He brought food and water to the dog every day for several days, hoping the dog would find its way out. “also during that time I thought, ‘I would like to gain its trust if I have to, you know, help it find its way out,’” he said. Each visit took about two hours from start to finish.

On the third day, Jessica’s dad brought blankets, and built a windbreak of rocks.  He also left three of his sweaters so the dog could get used to his scent. On the fifth day, the dog came all the way up to him to accept food.

The dog sheltering from the wind. Photo by Jessica Holiday.

The period had its share of harrowing moments. One happened when Jessica got a call from her mom, upset, on her way from work. Jessica’s dad was up on the cliff trying to get close to the dog to allow it to follow his scent up the slope, and from below it looked like he was about to fall off the edge.

“I mean, he knew what he was doing. But it’s just really scary when you’re watching someone hike on the sandstone because from down below it just looks very steep,” Jessica said. 

Another hair-raising moment came from the dog.

“One day I decided I was going to try to push and try to get his friendship even faster,” Jessica’s dad said. He brought some beef short ribs up to him, only to watch crows come to try to take the dog’s bone later. “He was jumping at them, you know, trying to scare them off and it just gave me a heart attack almost…I thought he might run off the cliff.”

“I quit doing that,” he added.

Jessica and her family considered faster options of getting the dog up the slope but decided against them all, given the precarious situation. A live trap from the Bluff Animal Rescue Committee (BARC) was offered, but they determined it was too heavy and made the process even more dangerous. Jessica’s dad worried that drugging the dog would not reduce its fear, but leave it disoriented and raise the risk of the dog falling off the cliff. With the forecast clear, patience was the answer.

Jessica’s dad decided to build a rope ladder down the steepest portion of the slope, to either lead the dog up or for the dog to walk out on its own. He bought climbing rope in Moab for the project.

“My wife told me that dogs can see the colors yellow and blue,” he said. “So as I was cutting and creating the rope ladder, I painted it all blue so the dog could see it.”

The rope ladder ended up being 52 feet long. Getting it in place involved assembling it below the mesa to test it, then disassembling it and taking it up the cliff in five or six trips.

Jessica’s dad put two metal poles in the sandstone just above the steepest part of the slope, and he and Jessica reassembled the ladder on a flat section above that spot. They then had to drag it down to attach it to the poles.

“That was a little dangerous because that rope ladder was heavy,” Jessica said. 

Jessica’s dad adjusting the rope ladder. Photo by Jessica Holiday.

The Rescue

One day, Jessica’s cousin Arnold was in town from Flagstaff, and went up with Jessica’s dad to help with the dog. “The dog actually came up to him,” Jessica’s dad said.

“He was just so natural with animals,” he added.

The next day, Arnold put the pressure on to rescue the dog. He wanted to get the job done before he had to go to back to Flagstaff. Jessica’s dad wanted to wait another two days, since the forecast said the weather would hold and the dog needed more time. Arnold persisted, and Jessica’s dad eventually dropped everything and went with him.

They climbed the mesa and descended to the dog. The dog was skittish but they were able to get a leash and harness on it.

They made it to the bottom of the ladder and tied an extra rope to the dog for safety.

“He was kind of really pulling back on us and holding, wanting to get away,” Jessica’s dad said.

“And we just kept encouraging him,” he said. “Up until maybe a quarter of the way up the stairs. I think he realized that he was able to step on those stairs and he started going up with us. As we were walking he was going with us and then about three quarters of the way he just got out in front of us and started climbing on his own.”

Down below, the celebration was loud and rowdy; Jessica heard her dogs barking in the background while she was on the phone with her mom.

“I think our own animals just kind of knew what was going on.” she said.

But the rescue was far from over. The original plan involved lowering the dog down the cliff that Jessica’s dad has been climbing daily. Realizing that would be too dangerous with the dog pulling on the leash, they decided to take the dog to the end of the mesa and walk down.

That walk took around two and a half hours. The dog was scared of every edge going downhill, slowing down the process.

“But when we hit the ground, it’s like he knew he was on the ground and he just really calmed down,” Jessica’s dad said.

Now What?

Of course, the next step was to decide whether or not to keep the dog. Jessica’s parents discussed. Their dogs also deliberated in their own way.

Jessica had been calling around trying to find a placement for the dog. She said that many animal rescues have been maxed out during the pandemic.

In the end, Jessica’s parents delivered the dog to Yavapai Humane Trappers Animal Search and Rescue, located in Prescott, AZ.

The rescue was in the nick of time.

“We were actually on our way back from Flagstaff and it started snowing and it actually snowed that whole night…” Jessica’s dad said. “…Where the animal was it actually faces to the north and so that snow and ice on that cliff face on that side of the mesa didn’t melt for another week and I wouldn’t have been able to even get up there for a week after that. The forecast had been clear.

They also stumbled across a puppy on their way back from dropping off the dog, which they also rescued. That’s another story, which Underdog Animal Rescue & Rehab tells here and here.

The dog, later named Knight, breaking the fourth wall after the rescue. Photo by Jessica Holiday.

Words of Gratitude

“I’m just grateful that Underdog and BARC and Katrina Karr [with Yavapai Humane Trappers]…people like that help in this situation,” Jessica said.

Her dad echoed the note of gratitude. “If it wasn’t for everybody that that came and pitched in, it would have been impossible,” he said.

“My eyes were opened up to see the amount of people and the amount of help that’s out there for these animals,” he added.

“I know he was doing it in his heart to help the animal, you know?” Jessica said of her dad. “Like, what are you gonna do? It’s right there, it needs help. It’s a beautiful soul, you can’t just not do anything to help rescue it.”

The dog, named Knight, was on the mesa for 11 days from Jan. 9 to Jan. 20. He was fostered through Yavapai Humane Trappers and quickly adopted.

The family is keeping the rope ladder.

The family would like to thank Dudley Beck with the Bluff Animal Rescue Committee, Amy Guthmiller, Underdog Animal Rescue & Rehab, Vernan Kee with @rezroadsrescue, Katrina Karr with Yavapai Humane Trappers Animal Search and Rescue, and Kurt Landau with Sedona Trappers. Follow any of the links to support these organizations.

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