There’s a section of Mud Mountain Dam trail, just north of Mount Rainier, that’s basically a dog trap. As the route passes above a cliff, a wood rail keeps humans from the edge, but dogs can’t resist the mix of smells wafting up from the ravine. Every year, a few tumble down the 300-foot drop.
That’s where the Washington State Animal Response Team comes in: The crew of volunteers performs crucial tasks that rangers, sheriffs, and other search and rescuers do for humans. WASART deploys teams of its 50-some-odd rescue experts with ropes, litters, and harnesses to retrieve rogue pups.
“Most dogs from urban environments have no reason to think there won’t be ground on the other side of something. They’ll follow a squirrel off a cliff,” says Michaela Eaves, public information officer for the 11-year-old WASART. Volunteers recover any domestic animal—in winter that’s a lot of horses stuck in mud—and do about 20 dog rescues every year.
There are a few quirks to rescuing canines rather than people; for one, the victims don’t always realize they’re being rescued, so each one gets muzzled out of precaution. Humans don’t try to wriggle out of a rescue litter, but panicky pups need to be tethered down.
WASART volunteers are animal lovers, of course. But according to Eaves, they exist to stop tragedies like the Tacoma woman who fell to her death in 2005 while trying to retrieve her stranded dog on the Mud Mountain Trail. “We’re an animal organization,” she says, “but at the end of the day we’re here to help people and save human lives as well.”