Ten-year-old saves dog trapped in culvert

By Ryan Fitzmaurice

Derek Hedges had crawled through jagged rocks, mouse nests and more than a few spiderwebs. He was terrified to enter the pipe in the first place, but Derek, 10, was not going to leave Ace behind. 

Ace, a Treeing Walker Coonhound, had been in the family for five years. Derek said Ace has always been protective of him and his siblings. He recalled when a horse began grunting and making motions toward charging at him and his brother, Ace quickly stepped in between and kept the horse at bay.

But this time, on the weekend of August 20, Ace had gotten himself into quite a lot of trouble. 

Sara Welling, a neighbor on Road 5 near Cowley, heard it first, and she didn’t stop hearing it — a strange yelping out of nowhere,
and it didn’t stop.

‘We had noticed in the evening time Friday night that there was a dog barking repetitively, and we had to shut our windows,” Welling said. “Finally, on Sunday, we determined that it sounded like a hurt dog. I headed down toward the canal thinking that’s where I heard the noise, and as soon as I got down there and shut off the Ranger, the barking would stop.”

Welling would shrug her shoulders, return to her home and hear the insistent barking all over again. 

Welling returned to look four times, but the same mystery persisted. When on Road 5, the barking stopped, when back home, the barking continued. 

Ace had been missing from the Hedges’ household for the duration of the weekend, but this was no unusual thing. It wasn’t unusual for the dog take off on his adventures and return a few days later.

But it finally struck Welling as she listened to the barking from her home.

“I called Stan and said, ‘That sounds like Ace’,” Welling said.

So, the Hedges and Welling families walked the road and finally found where the yelping came from - a culvert on the west side of the road. More than three-quarters of the pipe was blocked off with dirt, and 15 to 20 feet in was Ace, yelping. 

It was not an easy puzzle to solve. Judging by the yelping Ace had been in the culvert for days. It was 9:30 at night and already dark. One more night in the culvert would likely result in his death. The pipe itself was only two feet wide, not accounting for the dirt packed within it. 

So, the Hedges and Wellings went to the other side of the road. The pipe wasn’t packed with dirt and rocks, which was an improvement, but now Ace was 30 to 40 feet in.

“We didn’t know what to do,” Stan Hedges said. 

Finally, Stan had an idea. It wasn’t a great one, but it could work.

“What if we put one of the kids in there?” Stan said.

Derek was selected due to Ace’s comfort with him. But, it wasn’t an easy pitch.

“When we posed the idea to Derek of being the hero, he was pretty nervous,” Stan said. “He was emotional. He went back and forth between wanting to do it and being scared.”

Finally, with the promise of a free week of McDonald’s, Derek settled his nerves and committed to the task.

To further complicate matters, the two families could only find one piece of rope and a lasso. So, with the lasso around him and the rope in hand, Derek crawled in.

“When I climbed in, I could still hear (Ace through my ear plugs). It was all rusty, with mouse nests in the pipe. There were big holes and they would just build their nests in there,” Derek said. “It was kind of hard, because there were rocks rubbing against my stomach.”

It took Derek over 10 minutes to get to Ace, who was facing away from him, but that was not the
end of the operation. With Ace panicked, it was no easy task to tie the rope around him.

“He was kind of heavy and I couldn’t pull him forward a lot,” Derek sad. “I tried pulling him super hard to get him close enough. And then I tried to tie the rope around his foot somewhere, but he kept kicking it off.”

Derek, 40 feet into the culvert, couldn’t do it, as Ace continued to squirm out of any attempt to tie him. Finally, Stan called for Derek, telling him that it was time to get back out.

But Derek hadn’t climbed into the culvert to give up.

“I’m not done yet,” Derek called back. “I’m not getting out. I’m finishing this job.”

“It was a proud Dad moment,” Stan said. 

Soon after, Derek had finally secured the rope around Ace’s foot and Derek guided the dog out. 

Ace quickly made a full recovery, drinking multiple full bowls of water upon his return home. Derek, himself, learned an important lesson in completing the rescue mission.

“It’s ok to be scared sometimes,” Derek said. 

Despite his heroic actions, Derek complained that the promise of a free week of McDonald’s has, as of yet, gone unfulfilled.