- Associated Press - Sunday, September 21, 2014

CLARENDON, Texas (AP) - They are dogs, but these two are more than pets. Sophie and Abbie are Yorkshire terriers, running at their feet, sleeping in the bed of Jim and Sue Whitlock for the last 11 years.

It’s hard to explain, but those two fill a void more than most dogs. Maybe it’s because Jim has been a lifelong dog lover, even a dog trainer for a while. Maybe it’s also because their only child, daughter Joni, 16, was killed by a drunken driver on the edge of Canyon in 1980.

Both dogs are now 15, but when the Whitlocks bought them from a lady when they were 4 years old, she cried and then the new owners cried. Later that night the dogs cried, but the next day, it was one big happy furry family and has been ever since.

Abbie sort of gravitated to Sue. Sophie saw herself as some rugged outdoor dog, jumping into the truck with Jim at any chance. She didn’t act her age or her 14-pound size. A little more than a month ago, they were on Jim’s 260 acres, 8 miles southwest of Clarendon near the JA Ranch.

The two were near an old windmill. Jim spread maize for quail and dove, and corn for deer. Sophie went poking around as usual. Just before noon, Jim was ready to leave. He hollered for Sophie. No Sophie. He hollered some more. Nothing.

He called his wife in Amarillo. Sue said if he didn’t find Sophie in an hour, call her and she would drive the 65 miles. An hour passed and still nothing. Sue arrived with a friend. They looked all over, and Sue said surely the dog couldn’t have strayed too far. They looked for three hours, focusing around the windmill area.

“I then saw this hole, and I thought, ‘Surely not,’” Whitlock told the Amarillo Globe-News (https://bit.ly/1r6Xs1H). “I yelled, ‘Sophie!’ and that’s when I heard this faint whining and barking.”

It was an old irrigation test hole, one that had been closed, accidentally reopened and had yet to be closed again. It was 10 inches in diameter at the opening, and 14 feet down below was a scared dog.

Thus began the saving of Sophie.

Friends began to arrive, some from Amarillo, a few farm and ranch neighbors from Groom and Clarendon, even Clarendon veterinarian Matt Halsey. How in the world to get a dog out of a narrow, deep hole?

For most of the day and into the evening, they were willing to try anything, most of it homemade concoctions including a rope, a snare, a noose. At the most, they could get her up a few feet, but that noose could slip from her back to neck and choke her.

John Morrow of Morrow Drilling in Clarendon soon arrived. He had the idea to pipe in some gravel, thinking maybe if enough were in there Sophie could climb out. But the hole widened at the bottom, and there was a good chance Sophie would back down where it widened and get buried.

Morrow ran a camera to the bottom, and they could see Sophie, shaking and scared.

“I thought that was it, that we could not get her,” Whitlock said. “I’m an emotional guy. I used to be pretty tough, but I lost it when I could see her shaking down there.”

At one point, there were as many as 20 people there. Whitlock led a group prayer. Finally, he called the rescue off at 2:30 a.m., saying all were tired. They would try again the next day. They covered the hole with some tree branches.

“I could hardly sleep. All I could think of was Baby Jessica,” said Morrow, referring to the famous 1987 rescue of Jessica McClure, who had fallen down a similar hole near Midland.

Rescuers dug a hole through solid rock parallel to the hole the baby was in to eventually save her. This was nothing but clay and soil.

“I called Jim about 6 in the morning, and of course he was awake,” Morrow said. “I got an idea. Forget the snares. If we can keep her alive, I know we can get her out.”

Morrow brought in a backhoe. He dug next to the test hole as deep as he could, 8½ feet. He then enlisted Chris Schollenbarger of Clarendon, who owns an underground fiber optics business.

Schollenbarger’s excavator, or trackhoe, was able to go to 12 feet. They were able to add another 2 feet with a hydrovac pressure hose, and then tunnel across to Sophie.

Kelly Hill, a Clarendon highway patrolman, was one of 20 who had been around to help. With the new adjacent opening, he had a bar with a hook on the end to corral Sophie. Finally, it bumped her in the back and she jumped right to him. In a few moments, she was back in Whitlock’s welcoming arms, with only a few eye scratches from debris.

“You would not believe the whooping and hollering when we got her out of there,” Morrow said.

It had been 27 hours, but failure was not an option.

“My gosh, those people in Donley County are first class,” Whitlock said. “I tried to pay them, and none would take a dime. It just made your heart sing that many people wanted to rescue our dog.”

Morrow, who has Sparky, a Yorkshire terrier of his own, would say it was almost like one of his kids was down there. He didn’t want money, of course, but did have one request.

“I couldn’t wait to get her and hold her in my arms,” Morrow said. “I told Jim that I’d like to hold her. He said, ‘Sure,’ and handed her to me. It felt like a miracle.”


Information from: Amarillo Globe-News, https://www.amarillo.com

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