The call came at 4pm on a cold afternoon. Fire system auditor Russell Ashley was finishing up for the week. Over the hill at the SPCA, Jennifer Rizzi was doing about the same.
Yet they were soon amid a life-saving rescue on a dark night on a cliff-edge deep inside in the Rimutaka hills.
It had been midday on Friday when Sarah Jackson and Kevan Roberts went out for a walk on the trail.
Lily, a rescued former racing greyhound, and labrador Alligin were ahead when a long squeal – a sound they were about to realise was Lily tumbling down a near-vertical 60-metre bank – pierced the foliage.
They rounded the corner and saw Alligin staring down the bank. There was no sign of Lily. For more than an hour, they searched but, apart from the occasional yelp, there was no sign of Lily on the steep bank that plunged to a river below.
To know she was dead would have been manageable but to know she was alive and unreachable would have been far worse, Roberts said.
It was not until they got to the Wairarapa township of Featherston that Jackson could get phone reception to call police, though she was doubtful anyone would be willing to help. She was put through to Wellington SPCA National Rescue Unit (NRU). This weekend NRU was supposed to be doing a training session on cliff rescues but the real thing took over.
In Featherston, Jackson heard the great news 30 minutes later: "They were getting the team together and coming to get her. We couldn't believe anybody would actually want to."
It was 7.30pm when the team reached the scene. No sounds could be heard from Lily, until – eventually – a faint yelp came through the blackness.
Jen our community engagement team leader by day, put on a harness and was lowered down the bank. "It was dark; it was sloping, loose gravelly soil. Even with a rope, it was hard to get a footing."
Ten metres down, she spotted Lily perched on a small area where a bush root had stopped her fall almost 10 hours earlier. "She was not happy at all. It was a stressful situation for her and for us."
With difficulty, Jen got Lily, whose front left leg was broken in two places, into a harness and the team above hauled them up.
Jackson was in tears as Lily emerged. The seasoned rescuer felt the same way as her patient's owner: "For me, every rescue is very emotional ... there is nobody else to do this. If we didn't get her out she wasn't coming out alive."
Lily is now making a good recovery after treatment. Well done to the National Rescue Unit!