Villagers watched with bated breaths as rescue workers descended down a 50-feet-deep well on Saturday to retrieve a stranded dog and two cats.
No one knew when the animals had fallen down the well in Malir's Old Thana village.
The dog's barks had echoed in the hilly area for months before the villagers deduced that the sounds were coming from the well and alerted the Sindh wildlife department.
"We found the dog," said one of the two rescue workers, who were lowered down the hillside through a crane, on his walkie talkie.
A loud cheer ripped through the crowd as the villagers rejoiced and shouted words of appreciation and encouragement for the rescue workers. "Well done Ilyas [rescue worker]," shouted one villager who was observing the operation from the roof of his house.
"Great work Raju [rescue worker!" yelled another as he wiped beads of sweat - caused as much by anticipation as by the sweltering heat - off his forehead.
The mysterious barks
The villagers had been perplexed by the dog's barks for months as they could not find the animal.
However, eventually they managed to locate the poor animal and a week ago, villager Akhtar Shaheen Kalmati alerted the Sindh wildlife department. Inspector Naeem Khan received the complaint and his team immediately contacted the Ayesha Chundrigar Foundation - an animal welfare organisation - and a joint operation was launched.
Rescue workers visited the site on Thursday to assess the situation. "We spotted the dog and two cats stranded in the well," ACF's Wajiha Ahmed told The Express Tribune.
They appeared to have survived months in the well feeding on the trash thrown by villagers. "The puppy [likely] fell down the well about six months ago," Kalmati told The Express Tribune. The residents near the well were throwing food down the hills and the well hoping that the animal, whose barks they could hear would somehow find sustenance.
When the dog's whereabouts were traced, all the villagers wanted to help recover the dog, he said, beaming. "I could not believe that the people gathered just to recover a dog and two cats," he added.
The rescue operation
Much to Kalmati's surprise, scores of villagers reached the site when they heard of the rescue operation. Young men helped the rescue workers keep the crowd at a safe distance and distributed chilled water bottles to offer respite on a sunny afternoon.
The rescue workers, Ilyas and Raju, brought the dog up first, keeping him safe in a net blue carrier as the crane lifted them out of the well.
They were then lowered down the well a second time to retrieve the cats. "It was dark inside the well but we could see the dog and cats moving about in it," said Ilyas, adding that it was impossible for him and his colleague to bring all three of them up in one go. It took around 30 minutes to retrieve the dog and after a half an hour break the two rescue workers were lowered into the pits of the well again.
The dog was calm but the cats kept running around the well, said Raju, as he and Ilyas brought out the first cat after 45 minutes.
"She was not easy to catch," he explained.
Their third and last trip down the well was the most challenging, however, for it took them nearly an hour to rescue the second cat. It was not possible to leave the trolley that was carrying them as there was garbage and water everywhere, said Ilyas. All's well that ends well Each of the animals were greeted by a resounding applause as they were brought to safety.
"I have never seen such an operation in my life," said Khan once the rescue operation was over. Meanwhile, rescue officials said that the animals were fine but in shock.
"They will be put in quarantine for a few weeks," Mohammad Ali Chundrigar of the ACF told The Express Tribune. According to Sindh Chief Wildlife Conservator Javed Mahar, it was because of perfect communication and coordination on the site that the operation went smoothly.
The dog and cats were shifted to the ACF rehabilitation centre in Memon Goth. "This is a dangerous well," remarked Muhammad Rahim, a villager, speaking to The Express Tribune.
"We request the government to fill it with concrete," he added. Rahim said that the well was constructed nearly 80 years ago and up till two decades ago the villagers would fetch drinking water from it.