Rescuing Romeo

David Hanley, left, rescued his golden retriever Romeo, dog on right, from the Dungeness River last week after the dog spent three hours clinging to a wooden board. Sam James, on right, called 9-1-1 and helped with the rescue attempt before Romeo let go and Hanley pulled him out of the water. Paisley, dog on left, is Romeo’s mother and witnessed the three-hour ordeal. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

David Hanley almost lost a puppy pal to the quick waters of the Dungeness River.
On Saturday, July 10, Hanley was playing fetch with his golden retrievers Romeo, 5, and Paisley, 9, near the Dungeness Schoolhouse. He threw a stick five feet into the river with unnerving results.
Romeo, who Hanley raised and describes as a great swimmer, was swept away.  "I was amazed at how fast he disappeared," Hanley said.
He tried to go after Romeo but thick brush and high waters kept him from rescuing the dog. Hanley hacked his way through the brush with a machete to make a path with Paisley, Romeo's mother following. He whistled and yelled for Romeo with no reply.


Forty minutes passed before Hanley found Romeo less than a quarter of a mile downstream, clinging to a board. Romeo was 25 feet from a barge that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife uses for counting wild salmon.
Hanley went up to his shoulders a few times to try and rescue Romeo but couldn't get close enough. "My courage outweighed my physical ability," he said. After getting out of the water, Hanley tried calling 9-1-1 but his cell phone was ruined.
Hanley didn't want to leave Romeo because he was afraid he'd never see the dog again, but he felt there was no chance to rescue the dog on his own.

Help on a high road

Hanley ran to a nearby dirt road looking for help and found Sam James, a resident who stopped and called 9-1-1 for Hanley.  Clallam County Sheriff's deputies and Clallam County Fire District 3 emergency response came to the scene. James put on a wet suit and tried to get to Romeo with ropes and swimming but the water was too fast and deep.

The rescue team turned off the fish counter, which had a spinning turbine. "If he had drifted into there, he would have died for sure," Hanley said. Rescue crews decided it wasn't safe to go into the water and it would be better for Romeo to drift toward the barge and be rescued there.

Holding strong

Romeo was barely holding on after nearly three hours in the water. "It was life or death for my dog," Hanley said. "I wasn't going to let him drown. I've been with him since he was born."

So he prayed.

His hope was that Romeo would float right to him so he positioned himself on the fish counter, lying on his stomach. Romeo let go from exhaustion.

Got him

"In that split second, God was able to answer my prayer," Hanley said. "By some miracle, I got my hand under (Romeo's) collar." Romeo was completely under water and couldn't swim, but Hanley pulled him out. Rescue crews put blankets on Romeo and monitored him.
"He didn't move," Hanley said. "He was so cold, he just moaned."

Road to recovery

More than a week later, Romeo is back up to speed.
Sunny Hanley, David Hanley's wife, said the dog is doing well. "(Romeo) is doing well - lots of bruises and scratches, but our brave dog is home and being overwhelmed with love - if that's possible with a golden retriever," she said.

The Hanleys are thankful for the efforts of James and the rescue crews. "The thing about Sam is that to have someone call rescue and spend time with me while we searched meant a lot," Hanley said. "He's like an angel."

James said he was glad he could help. "In the end, David is the one who saved his dog," James said.

Hanley still seems in awe of the whole experience and says he'll never forget it.  "While out there, I realized Romeo's more than a dog," Hanley said. "He's my friend.

Reach Matthew Nash at
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