On Feb. 19, Melanie Leonard of Clarksville did what she always does. She took a nap after her midnight shift at WestRock Manufacturing in Coal Center. That day was different, however, because Rocky, her 13-year old pitbull/golden retriever mix, had gotten himself into quite the predicament.
Around 2 p.m., Leonard’s daughter woke her up saying Rocky fell in the gutter. Thinking he was in the open-faced gutter, which he’s gotten in and out of multiple times before, Leonard went back to sleep.
“He had done it just the other day,” Leonard said.
About a half hour later her daughter came back in, saying Rocky was still stuck. Reluctant, Leonard went outside to check on Rocky, only he wasn’t in the gutter. He was trapped, head first, in the storm drain pipe and, because of his bad hips, couldn’t push himself back out. Not only does he have bad hips, Leonard said, but Rocky is deaf. So rescuing him was challenging.
For about 40 minutes, with no luck, the Leonards tried to free the dog. At a quarter past 3 p.m., Leonard called the Clarksville Fire Department and firefighters arrived around 3:30. Rocky wasn’t back in Leonard’s arms until 9 p.m.
“I was scared to death he wasn’t going to make it,” Leonard said. “It was so cold. I was just waiting and waiting.”
The rescue team, comprised of 10 firefighters and good Samaritans, tried everything from tapping the pipe to let Rocky know which way to go, to coaxing him out with Leonard’s other dog. The vibrations from the tapping and dog barking only scared Rocky further back.
Leonard said Rocky traveled 130 feet from where he entered the pipe, crawling the length of her yard and crossing two roads. The drain pipe was visible from the entry point, but Leonard’s yard is slanted so Rocky ended up being 70-80 feet underground.
“If I had went out (initially) we could’ve just pulled him back up,” Leonard said, feeling responsible.
Realizing he wasn’t going to be coaxed out, the rescue team measured the road and started digging. They began with shovel in hand and upgraded to a backhoe, courtesy of the township.
“As cold as it was, I didn’t expect anyone to stand there but they all did,” Leonard said. “They stood there until he was out.”
Once Rocky was visible, they used a crowbar with a hook to catch a loose piece of his skin. After a handful of tries, they snagged it on Rocky and pulled him out, Leonard said a chorus of cheers and crying commenced. She took Rocky in her arms then focused on bathing and warming him inside. Leonard spent the evening making sure he had enough food and warmth.
She said she was frantic the entire time Rocky was stuck, worried this would be his last moments. Leonard and the rescuers could hear Rocky whimpering from the start, but when the whimpering stopped around 7 p.m., Leonard thought the worst.
“As old as he is, I don’t want him to go that way,” she said. “He should be in the house, nice and warm and loved.”
Thankfully Rocky was just taking a nap.
Colten Davidson, 18, of Clarksville was one of the volunteers. He was on his way home from a 10-hour shift at Jack’s excavating in Stringtown when his mother, a Clarksville firefighter, called about the situation. Davidson rushed over and arrived around 4:30. He refused to leave until Rocky was safe.
“They’ve had that dog for 13 years, it’s like a son to them, a family member,” Davidson said. “I wasn’t leaving until this dog was out, I didn’t care. I would’ve sat there all night if I had to.”
Davidson recently lost his 15-year-old dog and thought of him the entire time. In the months leading up to his death, Davidson’s dog would sneak off to try and pass away out of sight, Davidson said. He was worried Rocky was doing the same.
“He was acting like nothing was wrong, (once he got out), just another day for Rocky,” Leonard said.
Unfortunately, Rocky passed away a few days later. Leonard said he went peacefully, sleeping in his bed and believes his death was from old age. He had no visible injuries from being stuck in the drain pipe.
“He was loved by so many people,” she said through tears. “We are going to miss him.”
She said Rocky will be buried on her property, perhaps under her porch where he loved to spend summer days.
“It might not be so bad under there,” she said.
She describes Rocky as “an escape artist with springs for legs.” Years ago she had to line the bottom of her fence with bricks to keep him from pushing through. She recalls how rambunctious he was, biting through medical collars after getting fixed and always getting into something.
She plans to show her appreciating by making a donation to the Clarksville Fire Department.
“(I’m) very very thankful for the fire department, the township, for everybody involved,” Leonard said. “Even if they were just there for support.”