Photo taken by Nick Ashby
Left to Right: Yonatan, Ryan, Vasen, Josh (holding Holly), Michelle and Nicole
Written by Domestic Animal Rescue Group (DARG) Team and Michelle Hoch
New Year’s Day celebrations took a terrifying turn for the worse when Holly vanished on the busy Lion’s Head trail path on Table Mountain, Cape Town...
She disappeared into the bush
Michelle Hoch and her fiancée, Josh Hayman, had been walking their tricolour dog, Holly, adopted from DARG five months previously, along a well-known trail. Suddenly, Holly got away from them and dashed on ahead, disappearing into the dense bush that covers the mountainside.
Despite their desperate calls and frantic searching in the immediate area, Holly was gone. The couple were beside themselves and Michelle immediately alerted DARG, and posted to various “lost and found” online pages.
They barely slept that night
DARG team member Nicole J Nel took the urgent call and headed off to aid their initial search. Michelle and Josh had been searching for Holly for several hours and asking other hikers if they’d seen her, but to no avail. That evening, posters were put up at the base of Lion’s Head and Josh used his drone along the steep slopes.
Soon, darkness fell and they were forced to leave the mountain empty-handed. The couple were devastated; says Michelle: “We barely slept that night and were incredibly upset. The next morning, early, we were back on the mountain vowing we wouldn’t go back home without our Holly.”
The search continues
On Tuesday morning, the search was back on. Josh and Michelle headed straight for the spot where Holly had last been seen; they hiked along the top and the pathways below. Meanwhile, DARG coordinated a search party with Nick Ashby, an experienced trail guide, volunteer Christy Quibell and DARG team member Nicole J Nel.
Michelle recalls: “We took along her favourite squeaky toy and anxiously walked the trails, squeaking the toy and calling her by all her nicknames.
“There were volunteers and remarkable people from DARG helping us. We’d shared the post on some lost pets pages on Facebook and the word spread; we started getting supportive messages and strangers offering to help us. We were completely overwhelmed by their help and care.”
The tiniest whine
“We were searching all of the paths that ran parallel to the spot where we’d lost sight of her,” explains Josh. “About two hours in, Michelle heard the quietest little whine.
“We immediately stopped walking and anxiously scanned the cliffs above us.
“Then I saw something peeping out over a small ledge near the Wally’s Cave area: Holly’s little black-and-tan head! She started crying and howling when we saw her. She could hardly move without falling – and she was about three storeys up! We tried to talk to her calmly but we were both in tears.
“She’d been on the ledge all night! We assumed that she must’ve chased some dassies and lost her footing.”
Nobody could reach her
Josh and Michelle alerted the search party that she’d been found – but now came the tough part: it was a 150-metre drop or climb. Nobody could reach her from above or below without the aid of trained rock climbers or professional rescue assistance.
SANParks ranger Vasen had already been assisting the team on site by calling in the emergency services and guiding them along the tricky pathways.
Hours went by while emergency teams were attending to other rescues on Table Mountain’s Twelve Apostles side.
Through DARG’s continuous updates on their Facebook page, the public were kept up to date by the minute. An appeal was put out for professional rock climbers to assist in the rescue along with SANPARKS.
Scooped up to safety
Everyone was blown away by the response. Says Josh, “Ryan Sandes, the ultra-marathon runner and animal lover – who also happens to volunteer with DARG – got wind of the situation and ran up to us in record time.
“Ryan met trail-guide Nick up top and then managed to lower himself down to Holly. He saw that she was okay! He tried to check if she was injured and yelled down to us that she seemed unharmed. He gave her water and stayed with her until our volunteer climbers arrived.
“Climbers Maghiel van Dorssen and Yonatan Wolowelsky arrived with their climbing gear and abseiled down from the top. They scooped up Holly from Ryan, who was still with her, and lowered her down to safety in a harness.”
Safe at last
After 31 hours of being stuck on a small ledge on the side of the mountain, Holly was saved.
The moment was filled with emotion and a round of applause and lots of happy tears from her family, and Nicole told Holly: “The whole of Cape Town was looking for you, Holly!” DARG’s social media erupted with praise for the rescue team and relief that Holly had been found and was safe.
Michelle says: “We were overcome with joy! I ran out of tears. We simply couldn’t believe what was happening; we were so relieved. Holly just licked us and rolled on her back for a tummy rub, as if nothing had happened.
“The fact that Holly hung on up there – on a tiny little ledge – for 31 hours is a miracle. But the real miracle was the human hearts that put their holidays on pause to help us find and rescue Holly.
“The people from DARG were nothing short of phenomenal throughout the adoption process and afterwards… it’s always amazed me how much they love their dogs. They do such incredible work and we are both just so grateful to them.
“I have so much hope for us now. Us, as people on this earth.”
Holly was given a once-over by the family’s vet and received the all-clear. It was with the help of a great group of Capetonians that this sweet, friendly little dog was saved and got to go home safe and sound.
Thank you to everyone for their support and assistance as we couldn’t have done this without the help of some very special and brave people. To the guys who climbed: you are absolute legends and we can’t believe you got Holly to safety so efficiently – you are incredible and selfless.
Big thanks go to Ryan Sandes, Yonatan Wolowelsky and Maghiel van Dorssen (aka MJ) who arrived to assist with Holly’s rescue. Ryan saw to her drinking water and secured her in a harness for safety, and Yonatan and MJ abseiled down the tricky rock face and got her to safety on the pathways below.
To all the kind emergency service representatives who helped and showed such concern – Gal from NSRI, Vasen from SANParks and Inspector Visser from the K-9 unit – thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
We love you Holly!