Lanes rescues Spencer the spaniel after four-day drain ordeal

Spencer the dog

Wastewater engineers working for Lanes Group used heat generated by the light on their CCTV survey camera to keep a dog warm before digging down to rescue it from a drain.

Spencer the cocker spaniel had been trapped beneath a sports pitch for more than 36 hours when he was released through a hole smashed in the privately-owned clay pipe.

Lanes Group Technical Specialist Paul Edwards said: “The owners were in tears, and there were grown men involved in the rescue who also shed some tears. It was a very emotional moment, and a great result.”

Thames Water called in Lanes Utilities, its wastewater network maintenance partner, after it was alerted to the plight of Spencer after he had already spent nearly three days in the 300mm-diameter pipe.

His owner, Kat Athey, had been taking him for a walk in Tilsey Park, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, when Spencer dashed into the pipe outlet. When he failed to come out, Kat realised he was in trouble.

Over the next 36 hours, Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, a drainage contractor that worked for the landowner, and an expert in freeing ferrets from underground holes all tried to find and rescue Spencer, with no success.

Thames Water was notified late in the evening on Monday 5 February, the third day of Spencer’s disappearance, and immediately mobilised a team from the Lanes Utilities service hub in nearby Kidlington.

Lanes Utilities Regional Manager Matt Hughes said: “We sent a mainline CCTV drainage survey camera unit, and the team located Spencer 103 metres up the drain pipe, and about five feet below ground.

“We could see he was still breathing, but couldn’t get a proper sense of his condition because he was clearly wedged in the pipe, and couldn’t turn around.

“The CCTV crew then kept the camera on Spencer to monitor him as best they could, and keep him warm with the heat from the camera’s light, while we put in place a plan to excavate the pipe and get him out.”

Very early the following day, an excavation team from Lanes Utilities’ civils partner, Cappagh Browne, arrived on site, along with an RSPCA officer called in by Lanes to advise them during the rescue.

An ultra sound device was used to locate the best place to dig. It happened to be just where an artificial grass sports pitch was being laid for a school. So, the first job was for the surfacing contractors to cut a section and, with the help of 20 people, roll it back.

Lanes Utilities Technical Specialist Paul Edwards said: “We wanted to work as quickly as possible, but we were concerned that noise and vibration from digging equipment might badly affect Spencer in his weakened state, so we consulted the RSPCA officer at each step.

“We uncovered the pipe as close to Spencer as we could, then broke into it at a distance from him that we calculated would be safe. As it turned out, we were less than an arm’s length behind him.

“We then invited Mrs Athey to go down and try to coax Spencer out. When it was clear he couldn’t move, a Thames Water colleague, Jason Major, who has long arms, reached in and pulled him back a few inches.

“Spencer was then able to wriggle back himself, and he was lifted out by Jason, and into the arms of Mrs Athey’s partner. He was very quiet and a bit shakey, but under the circumstances he appeared in quite good shape.”

Watched by fire fighters who had returned to the scene after coming of shift to see if Spencer had been rescued safely, Spencer was placed in a blanket and taken straight to a veterinary practice.

He was found to be dehydrated and placed on a fluid drip for a time, but other than that, he was okay to go home.

Paul Edwards said: “Spencer had crawled into an abandoned highway drain, then became snagged on rubble close to where it had been capped off. Luckily, he was a young dog, and very well kept, so he was fit enough to survive his ordeal. But we’re very glad we reached him when we did.”

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