At about 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28, Lisa Van Valkenburgh let her 11½ year old German shepherd, Maverick, out of their home in the Forest Lake subdivision to use the bathroom. Partially blind and semi-deaf, he didn’t return as usual, somehow slipping through the boundaries of his owners’ invisible fence to go wandering.
The dog ended up sliding into a small sinkhole near the intersection of NW 76th Street and Nevada Avenue in a residential area south of Highway 152, east of Interstate 435 and north of 45 Highway.
According to Van Valkenburgh, the 100-pound dog apparently slipped, tail-first, into the open space. Van Valkenburgh kept an eye out for the rest of the night, getting up often to check if Maverick had returned.
Early Friday morning, the family started searching, an effort that continued without luck throughout the day and into Saturday. Three of Maverick’s canine companions assisted in the search, which proved fruitless until early Saturday afternoon.
With hope of finding the wayward dog fading, Van Valkenburgh went for a walk along Nevada.
“I was walking home, and I was just resigned that he was gone. Then I heard a moan and a low bark,” Van Valkenburgh said.
Mired in mud and with his back legs pinned up by his ears, Maverick was stuck in the small sinkhole.
Van Valkenburgh started looking around, believing the dog was somewhere in the drainage ditch. A neighbor noticed her and joined in, locating Maverick trapped 5 feet underground.
According to Platte County director of public works Greg Sager, a corrugated metal storm pipe under Nevada Ave. rusted, causing a hole to form at the bottom of the pipe and allowing water to run along the pipe’s exterior. This caused erosion that led to the formation of the small sinkhole.
The Van Valkenburgh family tried to free Maverick themselves, digging at the ground with shovels, but soon relented and called the Platte County Sheriff’s Office.
Maverick knew his family had found him, and they heard his whimpers from the ground as deputies and then the fire department and road district crews arrived. Digging by hand so the earth would not collapse and suffocate the dog, members of the South Platte Fire Department worked for about two hours to free Maverick, who was badly dehydrated and lethargic when they pulled him free.
“Those guys were amazing — the sheriff’s department and fire district guys were just phenomenal,” Van Valkenburgh said, “and you could tell they were really legitimately concerned and they went out of their way to help Maverick and to reassure me.”
Maverick was taken to an emergency veterinary clinic, where he underwent testing before being transferred to a Liberty animal hospital. He remained under care as of press time.
Van Valkenburgh said the dog’s kidney function was low, but he was showing improvement with IV treatment. She expected him to be released on Wednesday.
“We’ll be happy to bring him home,” she said. “I think it will really help his recovery to be back with his family.”
The story was featured on two Kansas City television stations on Monday, and has circulated widely on Facebook. Van Valkenburgh showed her appreciation to fire district personnel Monday night by taking dinner to the workers.
“I can’t thank them enough for what they did for us,” Van Valkenburgh said of the crew that rescued her dog. “It was a great community effort and it made me proud to live here in Platte County.”
Sager said the area has been secured to prevent any other animals — or anything else — from crawling into the hole. A new pipe has been ordered and he expects county crews will get it replaced within the next couple of weeks.
Maverick came to Van Valkenburgh as a foster dog, rescued after he was struck by a car. Described as mischievous, Maverick has also survived getting caught in a raccoon trap and bringing home questionable deer parts from the nearby woods.