Wash. Team Saves Man, Man's Best Friend

Aug. 26--WASHOUGAL -- Having taken in a golden retriever with a cleft nose and jaw, a Shih Tzu that is deaf and blind and two unwanted St. Bernards, Lyle Nelson has a reputation for rescuing dogs.

But on Sunday, when he tried to help one of his dogs out of a steep and muddy ravine, he had to call on professionals to help him with a different kind of rescue.

Nelson, 57, lives in Washougal and maintains a 50-acre ranch about 5 miles east of town near the Clark-Skamania county line.

When he went out to the property Saturday to check on his dozen cattle, he brought along all four of his four-legged friends.

"I take them two to three times a week to let them run off some energy," he said. "I try to keep a pretty close eye on them but every once in a while they make a break for it."

Before he knew it, his two St. Bernards, Lucy and Greta, had taken off. He drove the large property five times, then went up and down the streets in the area, but couldn't find either of them.

He took his other two dogs home to feed them but then returned later that evening with his significant other, Diane Leasure, to search again. This time, they found Lucy.

"We went to where we'd seen (Lucy) and started calling over the edge of the ravine for Greta," he said. "I thought I heard whimpering, then I heard a bark."

But it was late, and dark, and Greta wasn't coming when they called. So Nelson and Leasure went home for the night and woke up early Sunday to bring their dog home.

Instead of descending the ravine's 60 to 70 percent slope, Nelson hiked around the canyon and reached his dog about an hour later. Greta, however, wouldn't move.

"I couldn't get her to go down, I couldn't get her to go up ... She was pretty shook up," he said. "I brought a bottle of water for me which I immediately gave to her."

Not able to get his 130-pound dog to safety, the couple called for help.

Crews from four fire agencies and the Clark County Sheriff's Office responded to the ranch and immediately got to work on the technical rescue. Nelson and Greta were both about 190 feet down the ravine, so rescuers put Nelson in a harness and Greta onto a wire stretcher basket and brought them both back up to safety.

"I probably could have gotten out of there, but I thought, 'I'm going to stay here with her,' " he said.

Aside from scratches on his legs and arms from blackberry bushes, Nelson was uninjured. Greta, too, was OK except for having raw paws from trying to climb the hillside.

All four of his dogs spent most of Monday sleeping, with Greta occasionally licking at her paws.

Nelson said he never had children but thinks that owning dogs has given him a glimpse into how parents must feel sometimes.

"You're kind of irritated at them, but at the same time you're thinking, 'Thank God they're OK,' " he said. "I told Greta when I found her, 'You're grounded for life.' "

Copyright 2014 - The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.