KINGSPORT, Tenn. -- Cats may have nine lives, but Peanut, a 6-year-old pug/Chihuahua mix, has the Kingsport Life Saving Crew.
Shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday, paramedic Curtis Wininger squirmed his way out of a small cave off Olinger Road. He brought with him a shaken Peanut, tail tucked between his legs, who last saw the light of day Saturday evening.
That's when the dog barked and darted into the side of the hill, chasing some critter that went unseen by his family. Over the past four days Tony Marshall, his wife, Leigh, and their three children have stood sentinel by the narrow cave entrance; their calls always soliciting a bark, but never the emergence of their furry family member.
Upon their Wednesday afternoon reunion, Peanut's tail soon began to whip back and forth. Leigh Marshall nuzzled her face against his snout, garnering a quick reciprocal lick. Family and neighbors gathered at the scene to heap thanks upon the Kingsport Life Saving Crew.
"Brother, I appreciate y'all," Tony Marshall told the men. "I owe you guys a steak dinner."
Wininger's trek to retrieve Peanut lasted more than 20 minutes, squeezing on his stomach through crevices barely wide enough for his body. In some of the tighter spots his tiptoes served as his only propellant, repeatedly extending and retracting against the rocks, allowing Wininger to worm his way through.
Crew member Andrew Jones acted as his rope man, feeding in 120 feet of line before Wininger reached the dog. A disoriented Peanut was located in an approximately 8-foot-wide room that opened beneath the hillside, atop a shelf and apparently afraid to move.
"I don't know what to say," Tony Marshall told Wininger as he emerged wet and covered in mud. "My kids are going to be ecstatic."
The children, ages 6, 10, and 15, were not present for the rescue. Leigh Marshall said that after four days of standing by the narrow cave entrance in vain, they had been sent to their father's to get their minds off the ordeal.
She said she warned them, "don't get your hopes up, you never know what may happen." Moments after the rescue she was clamoring to contact the children and relay the joyful news.
"It's so exciting," she said as she rubbed Peanut's head. "All I can do is cry. We were preparing for him not to come home."