FORT GIBSON, Okla. — As volunteers cradled a 6-day-old puppy, newly rescued from a dank, dark space under an Oklahoma building, Gina Wilson tried to keep herself together.
"I am trying not to cry right now," she said as she helped check over the pup. "I am so emotionally invested in this."
Heavy rain pummeled the small town of Fort Gibson Sunday morning, sweeping the puppy — along with 11 of its siblings — into maze-like ductwork below a Fort Gibson building.
Wilson helped rescue four of the puppies Sunday afternoon, but found six did not survive. She and other volunteers could hear the last puppy, but not see or reach it and the mother never returned for her pups.
Wilson had been there most of the three days using Facebook to keep people updated and making phone calls to plead for help.
The building owner, Neal Boatright of Fort Gibson, was reached Tuesday afternoon and gave his permission for rescuers to enter the building to cut a hole in the 4-inch concrete floor to reach the trapped animal.
Wilson said the male puppy has been given the name "Wylin" for the rescuers who brought the life-saving equipment and pulled him to safety - Wyly Acres Company and Mullin Plumbing.
Bryan Underwood from Mullin Plumbing said the all-day work is a donation, and there will be no charge. In addition, he said Mullin Plumbing would cover the cost of the floor repairs, and many people on Facebook have been pledging monetary donations to help with the repairs.
Boatright said he appreciates the offer, but will take care of the repairs himself, if needed.
"So glad the little guy was able to be saved. Thank you to all the volunteers, and those who want to donate for repairs can give to the Fort Gibson Animal Shelter," he said.
Boatright had been out the night before to try and help, and had even begun tearing up some flooring with a sledgehammer — however, the puppy couldn't be located and rescuers went home for the night, feeling dejected.
Underwood said he's had to rescue cats from attics and crawlspaces before, but "nothing this intense."
"I'm glad it turned out the way it did," he said. "We got down there for a little bit, but as soon as we got permission to cut the floor, we knew we had him."
Since being rescued, Wylin has been placed with Leigh Brown, a volunteer from Checotah, Oklahoma, and a new mother cat who has taken Wylin in and is cleaning and nursing him as her own.
"He was having trouble keeping warm," Wilson said. "It may be an unorthodox momma, but she is taking great care of him and he is nursing like a champ."
Wilson plans to keep Wylin with her family, but the other puppies will be put up for adoption through either the Fort Gibson Animal Shelter or the Checotah Animal Shelter when they are healthy, strong and fully-weaned from bottle feeding.
Wilson said the puppies' forever homes will be with special people, but they will always be part of the community who helped save them.
"These babies have pulled at the heartstrings of many, and no matter who gets one, they are the puppies of the community," she said. "Without the community and the outpouring of support, this could have had a very different ending."
Burton writes for the Muskogee, Oklahoma Phoenix.