Tippy the Shih Tzu went for a rather unusual walk Tuesday morning near his southwest Omaha home, a journey that left his family shaking their heads.
The owner, Albert Armendariz, said he “absolutely couldn't believe” his eyes when 14-year-old Tippy disappeared down a storm sewer drain in front of their house at 7906 S. 136th St. during his morning bathroom break. Armendariz said he was with the dog outside about 8 a.m. when it suddenly slipped into a sewer opening on the street.
“Every morning Tippy goes out and does his business, but because of the snow — everything was white — he probably couldn't see the (sewer) opening,” he said. “I could see his two little front paws grabbing the street, but he couldn't catch himself and just fell in.”
Armendariz said Tippy has trouble seeing because he has cataracts and also is “about half deaf.” He and his wife, Kim, have had the dog since it was a puppy, even before their two sons were born.
The dog landed about 5-feet below street level, just out of reach. At first, Tippy stayed right by the sewer opening while Armendariz talked to him and waited for help.
He had called 911. A dispatcher called the Nebraska Humane Society. They suggested Armendariz speak with the engineers for his SID, or sewer improvement district. The engineers advised him to call Utility Service Group, an Omaha sewer cleaning company.
Tippy, meanwhile, decided to try and find his own way out and began wandering along a 24-inch sewer pipe that runs down 136th Street. The dog was nowhere in sight when a crew from the utility company arrived about 9:30 a.m.
Jason Nelson of Utility Service Group said he and his co-workers began lifting manhole covers and going underground to look for the 15-pound dog. After finding Tippy with a spotlight, the crew snaked a special camera underground.
“We could see him, so we used the camera to try and nudge him toward an opening,” Nelson said, “but he was just sitting there scared and wouldn't budge.”
Nelson, at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, climbed into the sewer pipe. He estimates Tippy had wandered 300 to 400 feet from the spot where he entered the sewer.
“It's lucky the pipe is 24 inches around or I don't know what we would've done,” he said. “I had to crawl about 25 feet (through the pipe) to get him. I just grabbed it and was hoping he wouldn't bite me.
“It's not the easiest thing to crawl backwards 25 feet out of a 24-inch pipe, but we made it.”
Armendariz said he was “very grateful” when Nelson emerged with his dog. His 11-year-old son, Kyle, boarded a school bus not knowing the dog's fate.
“I didn't know what I'd say to the family,” Armendariz said. “I thought we'd lost Tippy because he'd been down there a couple of hours, and I thought he would just fall asleep and freeze to death.”
Armendariz said the dog came out in unexpectedly good shape with no injuries, not even wet. By noon, Tippy was in his bed and resting comfortably with some dog biscuits.
And his owner had decided to let Tippy do his business in the backyard.
“I had to email my boss and say my dog was lost in the sewer and I was taking the morning off,” Armendariz said. “He's probably never heard that one before.”
Nelson and the crew refused to bill Tippy's family for the rescue.
“Because of the snow, we weren't really doing anything but working around the shop anyway,” Nelson said. “We're just glad we could help.”
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