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Firefighters save dog from sinkhole

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A German shepherd is back on solid ground after being rescued from a sinkhole that opened up in a Buffalo park.

The 3-year-old dog named Mack dropped more than 10 feet to the bottom of the watery hole during a Sunday morning walk with his owner, Mattie Moore, who nearly fell in herself.

Moore’s 911 call brought the fire department’s technical rescue team to Martin Luther King Jr. Park, where a broken underground water pipe had eroded the soil and created an opening about 2 feet across on the surface but wider below.

“She was crying,” firefighter Michael Paveljack said, describing the frightened dog owner in the snowy park where she walks Mack every morning before sunrise.

Rescuers put plywood around the hole to stabilize the ground, and then widened the gap enough for a person to fit through.

Paveljack climbed down a ladder, uncertain of how the 100-pound animal would react to him after standing in 18 inches of cold water for an hour.

“He was intimidating. He was a big dog,” said the firefighter, who once owned a German shepherd. “If he was mad, he could have attacked me. But he was just scared. He knew he was in trouble and he wanted to get out of that hole as fast as possible.”

The plan was for Paveljack to lift the dog and bring him up the ladder, but the firefighter found himself sinking in mud under the weight of the squirming, wet dog.

“I had water rolling over the top of my boots,” he said.

The firefighters up top lowered down the dog’s leash and rope for a makeshift harness and hoisted the dog up while Paveljack followed up the ladder, pushing from below.

“It was a beautiful thing,” a grateful Moore told The Buffalo News. “He was wagging his tail, looking at all the people.”

Moore, who couldn’t be reached by phone Monday, told the newspaper that her leg had sunk into the hole but that she caught herself and crawled to safety. Her dog, she said, had run up from behind and toppled in.

Mack, she said, initially appeared to suffer only from a sore hip but on Monday was moving slowly and throwing up. She hoped to take him to a vet.

Meanwhile, a news photo of Mack showing his appreciation with a canine kiss to Paveljack’s face has brought some heat from the rest of the firehouse.

“I’m catching a lot of stuff for the picture right now,” the firefighter said, laughing. “I just love dogs. I wanted to check him out, and he just happened to lick me.”

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