Daring Cliff Rescue
by Carie Broecker
Caltrans workers spotted the dog straight down the cliff in the bushes. It was a sheer, jagged, sloping hill 350 feet above the sea. They were working near the community of Lucia, 25 miles south of Big Sur, on narrow, winding Highway 1. For two days, the workers tried to coax the dog up the hill with food, but he wasn’t budging. They weren’t sure who to call for help, but after several phone calls, they were directed to the SPCA for Monterey County.
An SPCA rescue team was mobilized and sent to assess the situation. The team consisted of SPCA pet behavior specialist Amanda Moussiet; SPCA shelter manager Jenny Sherwood; and two humane department officers.
It took several minutes of scouring the cliff side before spotting the dog almost 20 feet below. He was a young Shepherd mix, cowering in the bushes, barely visible except for eyes that were filled with fear. They began calling him Billy.
There was no way this dog was walking up that cliff on his own. He wasn’t budging. But neither was his rescue team. All four of them knew instantly, there was no way they were leaving without Billy.
When Amanda woke up that morning and went to work, she had no idea she’d be rapelling down the side of a cliff to rescue a dog. But it wouldn’t be the first time she put herself in harm's way to rescue animals. In the eight years Amanda had worked with the SPCA, she had been involved with many harrowing rescues including cockfight seizures, the Big Sur fires, and the Watsonville fires.
Amanda volunteered to rapel down the side of the cliff to rescue Billy. She had never done anything like that before, but her hobby was rock climbing in indoor gyms, so she was the most qualified for the task. She had total trust in her equipment and the co-workers who would be her spotters. Once she got down the side of the cliff, she approached the stranded dog. He was traumatized and not comfortable being handled. Spooking him could be disastrous. She slowly got ropes fastened around his body and then used a catchpole to secure him. Her spotters pulled her and Billy up the hill.
Billy was very thin, covered in ticks and the pads on his paws were severely red and worn. He was wearing a black leather collar and a red harness.
The SPCA and the Lucia/Big Sur community made every effort to locate Billy’s guardian. There were rumors in the small community that Billy’s guardian had moved out of the area and left him behind to fend for himself.
Anna Torres had been looking for a dog for months. She was looking forward to having a running companion. Just two weeks after Billy had been rescued, Anna saw Billy on the SPCA website, and she knew he was her dog. She told her family she had found THE dog, and they were all on board for going to meet him.
When they got to the SPCA, Anna took Billy into the play yard and sat down to get to know him. He jumped in her lap, started licking her face and wanted to play. Anna stood up and walked him around and asked him to sit, which he did very politely. Next, she walked him past the kennels of other barking dogs. He paid no attention to them. He walked calmly on leash by her side. She asked him to sit and stay. He sat quietly for three minutes, intently focused on Anna, ignoring the commotion around him. She looked at him and said, “We’re going home!”
Anna renamed Billy, “Ajax”, for no other reason than she thought it’d be a cute name. Ajax and Anna run together just like she dreamed they would.
He loves the rest of the family members and they adore him, but he is most attached to Anna.
It is horrifying to consider what would have become of Ajax if he hadn’t been spotted on the side of that cliff and if the brave, committed SPCA team hadn’t plucked him out of his dangerous predicament. Whew!