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Bainbridge firefighters rescue celebrity canine from cliff

Firefighters Carol Mezen and Mike Finley stand with Shaman shortly after rescuing him from the side of a north island bluff. - Photo courtesy of Madhi Al-Bassam
Firefighters Carol Mezen and Mike Finley stand with Shaman shortly after rescuing him from the side of a north island bluff.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Madhi Al-Bassam

Firefighters have long been famous for plucking cats out of trees.

But the Bainbridge Island Fire Department recently had to face a steeper challenge to save one of man’s best friends.

Firefighters rescued a pooch in a pinch last week when a local dog was found trapped on the side of an island bluff. It was a happy ending to a two-day search for the dog.

Shaman was celebrating his 12th birthday on Tuesday, May 7, which for a dog is somewhere in the realm of 60 years old. Now retired, the Irish terrier had come off a career in the film industry, notably as one of six dogs that starred as Rex in the 2007 film “Firehouse Dog.”

But Shaman’s life these days is more apt for exploring around his north island home than acting.

On his birthday, however, Shaman went too far.

“I think he saw an otter and followed it,” said John Fox, Shaman’s family member.

Fox speculates that Shaman went too close to the edge of the bluff near the family’s home and went over.

“Before he knew it he was like Wile E. Coyote and found himself in the middle of the air and fell down,” Fox said.

It wasn’t long before Shaman’s family noticed that he was missing. Searches for the dog yielded no results, so Fox’s north island community and neighbors were notified about Shaman’s disappearance through their email tree.

“After looking for him for two days — all the neighbors did — we finally ended up thinking the coyotes took him,” said Fox’s neighbor Mahdi Al-Bassam, a retired cardiologist.

“We had given up,” Fox said. “He was a great guy and we had gone through the seven stages of mourning. We had given up.”

But Shaman hadn’t given up.

“I was out on my balcony when I heard a dog cry,” Al-Bassam said.

It was Thursday afternoon. Al-Bassam followed the cries and determined that the dog was likely over the edge. The Fox family was quickly notified.

Al-Bassam walked along the beach below and began climbing up toward the whimpering but Shaman was a tough find.

“It’s a very steep cliff,” he said. “If I hadn’t heard the animal cry I would never go down that thing, but we felt somebody had to help him.”

Al-Bassam was soon joined by Fox, and the two used ropes to climb higher, but it soon became evident that professionals were needed.

When firefighters arrived, they too found it difficult to locate Shaman.

“It made a good opportunity for us to test our skills,” said Assistant Fire Chief Luke Carpenter. “We actually made four trips over the bank, each time in a different place. You could only go straight up and down.”

Crews searched where Shaman was last heard, but the dog had gone silent, Al-Bassam said.

Time was running out as the sun was close to setting.

“Around 8 o’clock it was starting to get dark,” Al-Bassam said. “Captain Dave Hannon said they were going to try one last time.”

Locating Shaman among the brush on the cliff was difficult. Firefighters could hear Shaman whimpering, but could not see him.

“I started to cry and (the firefighter) went over the side and she said she heard him,” Fox said. “She got closer and closer and then she said, ‘I got him.’”

When firefighter Carol Mezen finally did locate Shaman on the fourth and final trip over the edge, the dog was nearly three feet away from her and she still didn’t see him. Mezen was able to find Shaman using the fire department’s thermal camera.

“It detects thermal images, heat signatures,” Carpenter said. “You’re a different temperature than the room temperature so it picks up your heat. Normally we use them in fires.”

Shaman was soon back up top. The dog was rushed to a veterinary hospital where he was given a clean bill of health, aside from a little dehydration.

“They rehydrated him and he’s just fine,” Fox said.

Both Al-Bassam and Fox noted how impressed they were with Bainbridge Island’s fire department.

“They did a great job,” Al-Bassam said. “They were very professional and excellent.”

“They were much better than an old doctor trying to go down and get the dog,” he joked.

When the job was done, firefighters learned of Shaman’s stint as an actor and laughed at the coincidence.

“How appropriate the movie was called ‘Firehouse Dog,’” Carpenter said. “We got to rescue a dog that starred in a firehouse movie.”

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