Dogs survive being trapped in West Virginia cavern with bear

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Dogs survive being trapped in West Virginia cavern with bear
Caverns descend for thousands of feet beneath the surface of West Virginia. (Photo: Robert Thiemann)

A labyrinth of uncharted caverns extends for hundreds of feet beneath much of the scenic farmland in eastern West Virginia, and while some of the state's show caves are well known to visitors, this secret world goes largely overlooked.

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The subterranean world beneath Monroe County came into focus earlier this winter when two dogs that had been tracking a bear went missing, according to the W.Va. Division of Natural Resources.

It turned out that the dogs had chased the bear onto a property near Zenith owned by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, an avid outdoorsman who encouraged law enforcement officers with the division to act fast to rescue the dogs.

What follows is a narrative of the report posted by the division on its Facebook page:

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Rescuers hoist a dog out of the mouth of the cavern.
Rescuers hoist a dog out of the mouth of the cavern. (Photo: W.Va. Division of Natural Resources)

"On Thursday, December 30th, 2021, a pack of bear dogs chased a bear from Zenith onto property owned by Justice Family Farms. The hunters lost track of the dogs and after arriving at their last know location, they realized the dogs had fallen into a cave while chasing the bear.

"After discussing the situation and the magnitude of the solutions, the hunters called for assistance. After being brought up to speed on the dilemma, Governor Justice was adamant about doing what was necessary to rescue the bear dogs. Monroe County VFD, State EMS, and the Natural Resource Police were called to the scene.

"The fire department deployed the equipment needed to repel into the shaft, which included a series of ropes, carabiners, and a tripod. Chief Jameson rappelled down approx. 70 feet when he encountered the bear sitting on a cave ledge 15 feet below him. The problem here was that the dogs were 15 feet below the bear. After a few scary minutes, the bear jumped off the ledge and continued down another shaft of the cave.

"Finally, Chief Jameson was able to get to the bottom of the cave and both dogs were located alive. The dogs were then rigged with a harness and hoisted one by one back to the surface. During this time, the bear kept coming back into the cave room to see if its unwanted guest had left. After both dogs were safe on the surface, Chief Jameson was then hoisted back up to complete the rescue.

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"Chief Jameson spent approximately 45 minutes in the cave while performing the rescue.  The dogs, Wyatt and Minnie, had fallen 100 feet to the floor of the cave. Minnie sustained some tissue damage around her eye and Wyatt broke his pelvis, but both dogs will recover in a few weeks.

"The dog’s owner, 8-year-old Conner, was excited to have his dogs back safe and sound.  Governor Justice, who has hunting dogs of his own, was very glad of the outcome and that Conner will be able to get his dogs back afield before long."


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