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Beyond cats in a tree: 13 incredible animal rescues in 2023

First responders went beyond the call of duty, pulling animals from sinkholes, frozen ponds and bear dens

While animal rescues are a common request of first responders, this year’s batch of trapped, stuck or stranded animals stands out as truly incredible. From a submerged donkey in a sinkhole to a dog trapped by a bear in a cave, responders went above and beyond to extend their skills and abilities to our furry, feathered and scaled friends.

Check out our list of the top 13 animal rescues in 2023, and share how your department assisted the animal kindgom in the comments.

1. Video: N.C. firefighters rescue donkey trapped in a sinkhole

Dora the donkey was rescued by the Wake Forest Fire Department after falling into a sinkhole. Rescue units responded and created a rig system to pull the animal from the hole, according to the Raleigh Professional Firefighters Association.


Wake Forest Fire Department/Facebook

2. Tenn. horse rescued after barn collapse

After a horse became trapped in a barn collapse, Tennessee first responders came to the rescue.

When the crews arrived, they saw a pile of wooden beams and roofing. There was a small space within the collapsed structure where a horse, Cody, was trapped, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

The crews used struts to stabilize the structure and then began removing pieces of the barn to create an opening.

When there was a large enough opening for Cody to slip through, two members led the horse out of the barn and into a field.


Photo/Dickson County EMS, James Allen

3. Ohio firefighters rescue deer in dumpster sludge

Upon arriving at a wastewater treatment plant, first responders were surprised to find a deer not only stuck in a dumpster but also submerged neck-deep in thick sludge.

Firefighters used shovels and hoes to remove some of the sludge surrounding the animal before opening the dumpster door.

“We were able to move the deer over into the woods where she can hopefully take a break and recover from all the work she did trying to get out,” firefighters said.


Campbell Fire Fighters Local 2998/Facebook

4. Ky. first responders rescue horse stuck in mud

Stanford Fire Department units were contacted by the Lincoln County Fire District to assist with moving a horse in distress up to its neck in mud.

The SFD called for additional help from the Bluegrass Emergency Response Team, which is a specialized team for large animal rescues.

Utilizing special tools and the prompt assistance of a backhoe from the Lincoln County Road Department, the 24-year-old mare was successfully extricated.


Stanford Fire Department

5. Tenn. first responders rescue dog trapped for days with bear inside cave

A dog trapped in a Tennessee cave for days needed to be rescued — but a 200-pound bear made it complicated, officials said.

Charlie the dog was stuck about 40 feet down “an extremely narrow cave shaft.” But as crews used ropes to descend into the cave, one firefighter saw an unexpected creature below her feet, according to the Waldens Creek Volunteer Fire Department.

“I could see two little bear feet and a quite large claw grasping onto the wall beside him,” firefighter Tori Downing told WVLT.

In addition to seeing the bear, first responders discovered that the dog was deeper in the cave than expected. That’s when they hatched a plan to save him.

“The team exited the cave and trail cameras were set up to monitor the cave exit to signal when the bear left,” crews wrote.

When firefighters learned that the bear was gone, crews used ropes to get into the cave and a harness to pull Charlie to safety, photos and video show. Then it was time for the dog to reunite with his owner after three days apart.

“He was dehydrated and hungry, but in otherwise good condition,” officials said.

6. N.C. firefighters and tow truck rescue horse stuck in pool


Wesley Chapel Fire Department/Facebook

A North Carolina homeowner woke up to a horse standing in their swimming pool and chief among the many questions was how to get it out.

Firefighters “arrived to find a 1,200-pound horse in a 6-foot pool,” officials said.

The horse, named Ms. Lexi, is believed to have become frightened during a severe storm and somehow fell, jumped or galloped into the below-ground pool, officials said. There she stood through the night, calmly waiting for someone to notice.

“Crews ended up making a mechanical advantage rope system, pulling the horse out of the pool on a large slide board,” the Wesley Chapel Volunteer Fire Department reported. “Crews then used a tow truck and large animal straps to stand the horse upright. Ms. Lexi was finally on her feet 3 hours after initial dispatch. A vet was standing by on scene to render aid to Ms. Lexi.”

7. Va. firefighters rescue kitten trapped on interstate pillar

An emaciated cat was in danger, stuck on the ledge of a cement column that supports an interstate overpass, in need of first responder assistance.


Newport News Animal Welfare/Facebook

Firefighters, state police, animal shelter, animal referral and animal welfare center staff as well as the dispatchers would all contribute to the life-saving measures that ultimately ensured the feline’s survival.

Firefighters discovered the cat’s front paw was pinned inside her non-breakaway collar which had embedded into her leg, which was cut and infected. They found several burns on her paws and additional lacerations.

8. Conn. FFs rescue dog after 34-ft. plunge off park tower

A dog had to be rescued after jumping 34 feet from a tower in a Connecticut state park.

A rescue crew made its way up to the location of the dog and his owner, officials said. It “was stable but needed to be carried to the bottom.”

Litchfield Fire personnel provided a stretcher with wheels to help rescue the dog, according to a Facebook post by the department.


Litchfield Fire Department, CT/Facebook

9. Video: Colo. firefighters rescue submerged elk from frozen pond

A curious elk “ignored warnings” and fell through an iced-over pond in Colorado, rescuers said.

The Evergreen Fire and Rescue Department got calls of an elk needing to be rescued as neighbors called 911, according to a Facebook post by the department.

Video shows five fire personnel working together to pull the big elk out of the frigid water.

Two of the men used wooden sticks to help push the elk out of the pond while the other three men pulled on the animal’s front legs.


Photo/Evergreen Fire and Rescue

10. Seattle firefighters rescue 115 dogs from pet daycare fire

The Seattle Fire Department responded to The Dog Resort on Lake City Way in northeastern Seattle on Feb. 1 and found multiple dogs trying to escape the smoke-filled building, according to the department.


Photo/Seattle Fire Department

The fire department called Seattle police and animal control to help corral loose dogs and prevent them from running into the road, the department said in a statement. Nearby businesses helped provide temporary shelter for the dogs.

11. Conn. firefighters adopt kitten rescued from blaze

After rescuing a kitten during a structure fire, members of the East Haddam Fire Department adopted the animal, aptly naming him Soot.

Firefighters and EMTs from the department performed pet CPR and administration of oxygen before rushing the kitten to Piper-Olsen Veterinarian clinic.

“Outstanding job to all! I’m proud of all of you,” Chief of Department Brian J. Auld said in a Facebook post.

East Haddam Kitten

The East Haddam Fire Department adopted a kitten after firefighters and EMTs performed pet CPR after finding him in a fire.

East Haddam Fire Department/Facebook

12. Photos: Ga. firefighter-EMT rescues wounded owl

A very observant first responder recently found herself with an opportunity to rescue a different species.


Photo/Milton Fire Department

Milton Fire Department Firefighter-EMT Agata Sarkis had just completed her shift when she happened upon a wounded barred owl that was unable to fly due to a wing injury.

“I’ve always joked that I consider myself a new-age Steve Irwin because I’m always rescuing animals of all sorts,” said Sarkis in an MFD social media post.

13. Photos: Fla. firefighters rescue lucky ducklings

Several ducklings were rescued after a good Samaritan heard quacking and attempted to extricate the fowl from inside a storm drain. Eventually, the bystander called the St. Lucie County Fire District for help.

Emergency crews removed the birds and showed off a handful of pictures documenting the rescue. In one, a first responder is seen climbing into the drain. Another shows a smiling firefighter holding an adorable duckling in her gloved hand.

Happy ending: The fuzzballs were “safely reunited” with their mother in a nearby pond, the post said.


Photo/St. Lucie County Fire District

Rachel Engel is an award-winning journalist and the senior editor of and In addition to her regular editing duties, Engel seeks to tell the heroic, human stories of first responders and the importance of their work. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, and began her career as a freelance writer, focusing on government and military issues. Engel joined Lexipol in 2015 and has since reported on issues related to public safety. Engel lives in Wichita, Kansas. She can be reached via email.