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Yakutat dog survives fall, 24 hours in well

Photo courtesy of Ron Buller

A Yakutat family is counting its blessings after nearly losing one of its own during the Jan. 4 earthquake.


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On the afternoon of Friday, January 4th, nine-year old Tinaa went on a walk in Yakutat, like she did most days. When she didn’t come home that evening, the family wasn’t really worried.

Tinaa is a dog — a Pitbull/Blue Heeler mix — and her name means “copper” in Tlingit. Her owner, Ron Buller, says she often visits apartments around the town’s community center. Hours later, she always returns home, sometimes even too full to eat her own dinner.

“I went out that night looking for her and I didn’t find her anywhere,” said Buller. “I figured she was just visiting someone, you know?”

A little before midnight, a 7.5-magnitude earthquake shook Southeast Alaska. Tinaa was still nowhere to be found. Buller thought that she might have sensed the temblor and went to hide someplace. So, the family waited, hoping she’d turn up after the excitement died down.

Tinaa has a special place in Buller’s heart. After his mother died, his son gave him the dog to help him heal from the devastating loss. He says Tinaa was the one who helped him recover from his deep depression.

The next evening when Tinaa was still missing, Buller became really worried. He thought maybe the worst had happened — she’d been attacked by wolves or hit by a car and left on the side of the road.

But at 8 o’clock that night, a neighbor called Buller and told him another person heard distant barking by her house under a building.

“So my son ran down there and there was a door open underneath the building, and he called the dog and she barked,” Buller said. “It sounded like it was coming from the corner, so he flashed the light over there and there was nothing there. He called her name and she barked again and it sounded like it was coming from the other corner…and he looked over there and nothing was there.”

Then he saw an old, abandoned well — about 4 feet across and 35 feet deep.

“…and my son looked down there, and there was our dog.”

Within minutes, they had a 12-person rescue team on the job. The crew lowered Buller’s son, JP, down into the well to fetch the family dog.

“When he got down there, he was standing in water that was waist-deep,” Buller said. “So, the poor dog had been standing in water for at least 24 hours in that well, trying to keep herself alive.”

After they raised Tinaa up, they heaped blankets on her and huddled around her to keep her warm. Her nails were scraped down and bloody, and she caught a case of Giardia, an infection caused by a parasite found in dirty water. But all in all, she’s in good shape now.

“Oh, I was totally relieved,” said Buller. “It’s a wonderful feeling. I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh man, I hope this isn’t the way the new year is starting out.’ What does it tell me? It tells me that if you’re good people and you live a good, honest life, good things happen for you. My wife said a lot of prayers, and she said it was the prayers, so I’ll have to give the prayers some credit too.”

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