A drone flew over the wreckage, using an infrared camera to try to identify heat – a sign of possible life hidden amid the rubble.
It had been a month since Hurricane Dorian decimated the Bahamas with Category 5 strength, killing at least 50 people. Search-and-rescue missions had long ago given way to stoic efforts to recover the bodies of the dead.
Then, the drone operated by Florida-based shelter Big Dog Ranch Rescue sensed heat. A volunteer trudged more than half a mile over debris to where an air conditioning unit and piles of metal had trapped the survivor: a 1-year-old mixed-breed puppy.
“It’s a miracle this little dog had the will to live and to survive in the conditions he was in,” Lauree Simmons, president and founder of Big Dog Ranch Rescue, said Monday.
The discovery Friday in Marsh Harbour, formerly the most densely populated neighborhood on Great Abaco Island, was among more than 150 animals the rescue group has flown to the United States from the Bahamas since the hurricane. Often, Simmons said, the organization finds the pets on the spots where their homes once stood. They’ve reunited some animals with their owners, while other pets wait for new homes.
Rescuers had been looking for specific dogs with known owners when they stumbled upon the trapped puppy. Volunteer Sean Irion sat with him for a few minutes, letting him lick dog food out of a can, to gain his trust. His ribs showed through his light brown fur.
“Look at that tail wagging!” Irion said to the dog, according to a video of the rescue. “We’ve got you.”
Irion and another volunteer then heaved debris out of the way and gently placed a leash around the dog’s neck. Irion picked up the dog, silent and unmoving, and carried him out of the wreckage.
Simmons’s phone rang around 9:30 a.m. that day with a plea for help: Her volunteers had found an anemic dog – barely alive – and needed to fly him back to Florida immediately. She called the pilot whose planes Big Dog Ranch had been chartering, and her volunteers prepared the puppy for the flight.
The dog had survived only on rain water that filled a hole in front of him after the hurricane, so rescuers gave him some fluids to stabilize him before the hour-long flight. When he arrived at Big Dog Ranch, Simmons said, his muscles had wasted away from a month of immobility and his body weight had plummeted from about 45 pounds to 22 pounds.
His care now includes antibiotics, gradual feeding and physical therapy to help him regain his muscle tone. The road ahead of him is long, but Simmons said her organization expects the dog to make a full recovery.
Big Dog Ranch plans to post the puppy’s details on missing-dog websites that will give his owners 30 days to claim him. If no one comes forward, Simmons said, the organization will put him up for adoption.
Another dog found alongside the rescued mix-breed had not been as lucky and was dead when rescuers arrived. To Simmons, it’s incredible that any dogs survived the disaster. The recovering puppy, she said, is a sign to families displaced by the tragedy that “there’s hope for rebuilding and a new beginning.”
Rescuers have named him “Miracle.”