The “Underdog” is Doubly Blessed
A cross-breed dog which mysteriously landed up fighting for survival at the bottom of Kimberley’s famous Big Hole, was wittily dubbed “Underdog” on social media and became a media sensation and media darling worldwide.
First reports of the dog, which had been spotted swimming around aimlessly in the water pooled at the bottom of the Big Hole, surfaced on Friday, 22 November 2013, although it was reported that the dog had already been down there for about a week. How she survived a drop equivalent to a 50- storey building – and how she made her way into the area in the first place – will remain Underdog’s secret.
A group of good Samaritans from the South African Police Service, De Beers mine and ER24 teamed up that Friday and resolved to rescue the dog. After a bit of head scratching (among the rescue team, that is) it was decided that a call to the South African Police Service’s search-and-rescue team from the Kimberley K9 Unit would be in order.
Cue Warrant Officer John Seeley and his team.
Going to great lengths to save a dog
Those who enjoy hanging from a rope and descending long distances into sinkholes, caves and other caverns know that there are two levels down into the Big Hole. Between the two levels is “the ring”. Seeley and his teammates had abseiled down to the ring before, but never further, mainly due to the length of the ropes and, well, because they’d never had a need to do so before.
And so, on Friday, 22 November 2013, Seeley descended from the top of the hole to the ring and there he looked for an anchor point from which he could then make the second drop into the water to save Underdog. Unfortunately he could not find an anchor point at the time and, as darkness was falling and he did not want to do the same, the rescue had to be postponed until the following day.
Seeley admitted that he did not sleep too well that Friday night as he was planning the rescue. His wife, Brenda, said that this was the first time John had ever told her that he was scared about a rescue the following day. Seeley himself admitted that he was worried, but at the same time he was determined to rescue the dog.
The Seeley family, needless to say, are ardent animal lovers and already had three dogs and three cats at home. “Sometimes I become irritated because John is always leaving home to rescue sheep that have fallen into sinkholes,” said Brenda. Seeley just laughed her off: “They’re animals that need rescuing and that’s what I do.” He also has his police dog Rex, a Belgian Shepherd, and the bond between the two of them is very close.
When the rescue mission resumed the following morning at about 07:00, it seemed as if the thousands of prayers that had been said all night, along with the #Underdog tweets and Facebook posts, had created a miracle. Everything fell into place smoothly and the rescue operation went like clockwork.
Making it happen...
Firstly, a De Beers winch with steel cables was examined and found to be in perfect working order and strong enough to play a vital role in the rescue.
Warrant Officer Seeley abseiled to the ring and there he found a perfect spot to use as an anchor point, which he said looked as if it had been specially cleaned for the rescue. He then set off from the ring and descended into the water.
Brenda, who at first regarded this as just another rescue, decided to join the crowd at the top of the Big Hole after seeing so much activity and excitement on Facebook. She stood on the platform, praying as her husband abseiled down into the water. She did not have to pray for too long as, from top to bottom, the descent took only about five minutes. John said, “I just told myself: Put on the life jacket and go, or you will never go.”
“I was really glad for the water and the swim because it is incredibly hot in that hole,” said Seeley.
Once in the water, he swam to the ledge where Underdog periodically rested and where she was standing. When he got to the ledge, the anxious and exhausted animal tried to attack him and then swam away. As he wanted her back on the ledge, he swam away from it, swimming around until she returned to it. Seeley then swam back to the ledge and, although Underdog stayed there, she crept into a crevice to hide away from him. He spent about 40 minutes talking to her, telling her what a beautiful dog she was, before she eventually approached him.
“As soon as I was able to touch her head, she relaxed and it seemed like she gave herself over to me,” said Seeley. He managed to put Rex’s life jacket and harness on her and set out swimming with her to the ropes to get back up to the top. Underdog swam for about five metres, then gave up swimming and rested against his hip, trusting Seeley to get her to safety. The team at the top then pulled the two up to safety to great applause and a nationwide sigh of relief.
Teamwork wins every time
Warrant Officer Seeley is truly overwhelmed by the publicity which the rescue has evoked, both in South Africa and in many other countries across the world. He shook his head and said, “I don’t want to be given all the credit. This was a team effort and each person involved played a vital role. I trusted my team completely – they had to ensure that the ropes were safe and that I got down and up again without falling, without a rope snapping or getting cut.” He is very pleased, though, with the thought that he is possibly the first person to have swum in the Big Hole.
A few days after the rescue, when no one had come forward to claim Underdog, John and Brenda Seeley decided to apply to the SPCA to adopt her and welcome her to their family. This was the idyllic end to the perfect rescue. The South African Police Service tweeted the news and good wishes and congratulatory messages poured in.
But then Pastor Chris Baadjies came forward and claimed that the dog was in fact his. Her name was GiGi, and he wanted her back. After a few stressful days, with several consultations between attorneys representing the Pastor and those representing the Kimberley SPCA, an amicable solution was reached. He decided to donate the dog to the SPCA, thereby reopening the door for adoption by the Seeley family.
Another collective sigh of relief was heaved.
The “Underdog” becomes Kimberleigh
The SPCA conducted a house visit at the Seeley home and, after all the paperwork and procedures had been concluded, Underdog was sterilised and sent home. She has now been officially adopted by John (in his private capacity) and Brenda, renamed “Kimberleigh”, and is settling down with her new human and animal family. The bond that was established with the touch of a human hand on the head of an animal fighting to survive has grown into a lifelong, loving relationship.
Kimberleigh went from underdog to top dog in less than two weeks.
Warrant Officer Seeley has been a SAPS dog handler since 1993. In 1995 he trained to become the handler of explosives dogs, and in 2008 underwent the strenuous six-month course to specialise in search-and-rescue operations. His dog, Rex, has been trained to detect living persons or dead bodies on land, in water or underground. The Northern Cape, he says, is a very busy province for the search-and-rescue team, with its many dams, canals and rivers, sinkholes and mineshafts. They sometimes also perform search-and-rescue missions in the Free State, and occasionally in the Western Cape.
“Rex and I found the body of a young Stellenbosch student who had been murdered and buried in the dunes. That is one of our retrievals which stands out for me as it brought closure for her family,” said Seeley. It remains his ambition for him and Rex to be part of a big search-and-rescue mission at the site of a natural disaster, such as the recent typhoon in the Philippines.
The best of luck to John, Brenda, their sons and Kimberleigh, the doubly-blessed underdog.