Written by Brenda Bryden
Professional photography by @Strike a Pose Photo / Video
On the 29th of July, Sushi, a 14-year-old black Labrador belonging to “Dobbie” Dobronic from Fairlands in Johannesburg, was rescued from a stormwater pipe some 1.5m below ground. He’d been trapped underground from late the previous night. A rescue operation was launched at 6am, and about six hours later, Sushi was retrieved unharmed except for a slight limp and exhaustion. Here is Sushi’s story.
According to Dobbie, Sushi had somehow got out of his property in Kessel Street, Fairlands, the night before, but his absence was only noticed early the following morning when Dobbie went to feed the dogs. He immediately turned to social media, and upon reading the Kessel Street WhatsApp Group, saw that someone had posted on the group about a dog stuck in the stormwater drain; a jogger had heard a dog barking in the drain early that morning. Dobbie promptly went out to look and confirmed it was Sushi.
Emergency services were alerted, and very shortly afterwards, 15 rescue vehicles from various emergency services and 30–40 people were on hand to help rescue Sushi. The local vet and SPCA were also on standby to assist with emergency treatment if needed. The situation was assessed, and it was thought that Sushi had fallen into the pipe through a coverless manhole. Dobbie says that there are two covered manholes on each side of the street, but on this fateful evening, one cover was missing, despite it having been seen in place a few days before by locals.
Piecing things together, rescuers believed that Sushi had backed into the coverless manhole and fallen into the stormwater pipe then weaselled and wriggled through the pipe until he was about halfway in and some 1.5 metres below the road. Emergency service personnel opened up the manholes and lifted the cement but couldn’t gain wide enough access. A grader was used to lift parts of the road, and then an angle grinder was used to cut through the pipe. But when that was deemed to be too dangerous, creating smoke and sparks, it was aborted.
THE ONLY WAY OUT WAS IN
The joint opinion of the various rescue service providers was that the only way to retrieve Sushi was to get into the stormwater pipe and bring him out and up. Armed with a torch, Dobbie stuck his head into the pipe and was able to catch sight of Sushi, but the stormwater pipe was too narrow for him or even an average-built person. Many petite women offered to go down while other residents and helpers offered to send their children down, but that was deemed too dangerous and not in the public interest.
Eventually, the hero of the day, Pako Mondleke (21), a very slightly-built rescuer from Fire Ops Services, went down into the pipe to retrieve Sushi. He went down twice – the first two times he could reach the dog but there was too much sand in the drain to pull him up. Once the sand was cleared, Pako, attached to a rope held by his colleagues, entered the drain face first. He reached Sushi, reassured and encouraged him and tried to fit a harness, but there was insufficient room to manoeuvre in the confined space. So Pako began to exit the pipe, slowly and gently pulling Sushi with him, while the rescue team above ground used the rope to help haul them in. Eventually, Sushi emerged, dirty, cold and with a bit of a limp, but, says Dobbie, “surprisingly calm and very happy to see his dad”.
The local vet examined Sushi immediately after he exited the drain and administered a cortisone injection and said there’d be no need for any further treatment. Dobbie says: “Although hungry and thirsty, it took Sushi some time to eat despite the generous offerings of chicken and other yummy food brought to the site by caring community members. He was just so tired, but my other two dogs – Sashimi and Soya – didn’t give Sushi a chance to rest and reflect on his somewhat traumatic adventure. Within a short time, Sushi was running around, clearly 100%.”
UNITED IN CRISIS
Dobbie says the way the community came together was amazing. “I got to meet my neighbours. I’ve been in the area for 18 years. Some people have been here for even longer, but we never knew one another until we met up in the road, united in concern for Sushi. I’m so grateful to everyone for their assistance. Thank you to Fairlands community police forum, the SPCA, local vet Robin Linder, SAPS K9 Search & Rescue, ER24, Renico Construction, Johannesburg Road Agency, Beagle Watch, whose MD phoned me personally to say not to worry about the street, they’d ensure it was repaired, SCP Security, Fairland VSU and a canine dog group whose members came out in full force to assist. Thank you!”
Dobbie reports that Sushi is fine, happy, active and acting as though nothing traumatic had happened. “It actually turned out to be a very happy story,” he concludes.
So, all’s well that ends well, as stated in the title of a well-known Shakespearean comedy.