Dogs alert passersby to assist Md. man trapped on C&O Canal trail

Talk about man’s best friend. A Glen Echo, Maryland, man’s dogs helped get him rescued without injury on Sunday from a remote area where he might not have been noticed.

“It’s good the dogs came closer to the trail. That’s the nice part about it. That’s why we saw him,” said Steve Shollenberger, 63, of Damascus, who was one of two cyclists involved in the rescue at the C&O Canal tow path near Little Falls Dam.

“The dogs saved his life,” Capt. Eddie Russell of Montgomery County Fire Station 10 said. “Absent the dogs, there would have not been a trigger to get a cyclist or a hiker to slow down. He was 40 to 50 yards away from the C&O Canal tow path at the water’s edge.”

The 87-year-old hiker became so hopelessly stuck in mud along the edge of the Potomac River, he couldn’t even turn his body away from the river toward the tow path to call for help.

“Unless you really caught my attention, I’m probably not going to be looking at the Potomac. I’m going to be looking at the trail, especially right now because it has all kinds of debris on it,” Shollenberger said about noticing the two dogs who had collars and were on leashes with no owner insight.

After walking down toward the river to investigate, one cyclist stayed with the man, while Shollenberger went back up to the path and called 911.

Units dispatched to search for the hiker’s exact location included Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service swift water rescue teams from fire stations 10 and 30, along with all-terrain vehicles, a four-wheel drive pickup truck and the U.S. Park Police helicopter.

While Shollenberger waited at the path to wave in rescue teams, he said the other cyclist who carefully avoided getting trapped in the mud himself managed to position a small log behind the hiker so he could sit down to rest and begin to try to dig himself out.

The hiker, after being rescued by professionals had no injuries and is expected to be OK. And, both his shoes were recovered from the mud, which anyone who’s been stuck in mud before can tell you is unusual.

“It’s always a great day when you can help somebody, you know. Because he was an older gentleman, so he wasn’t going to get out of the mud by himself,” Shollenberger said.

The hiker was not carrying a cellphone, which might have helped prevent his ordeal from lasting as long as it did — an hour or more.

“Have a charged cellphone and pay attention to your surroundings, know where you are, for example how long it took you to walk from your car to the place where you may be,” Montgomery County Fire and EMS spokesman Pete Piringer advised.

Other tips, from Piringer to help hikers have enjoyable, safe trips:

  • Make sure you’re in good enough shape for the activity; pick an appropriate trail for your physical condition.
  • Have proper equipment for the environment, which usually means a good pair of shoes.
  • Stay hydrated; take water with you.
  • Pay attention to weather conditions.
  • Tell someone where you’re going and when you intend to return.
After being rescued by professionals, not only is the hiker going to be OK, both his shoes were recovered from the mud.

“They were great dogs. Definitely man’s best friend,” Capt. Eddie Russell of Montgomery County Fire Station 10 said.

This all-terrain vehicle was used to carry the elderly hiker away from the river to Lock Five along the C&O Canal, where medics checked on his condition. It assists on every Potomac River Swift water Incident.


Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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