A Pig Hunter's worst nightmare: Dog disappeared into a tomo

What was supposed to be a casual farm hunt for fallow deer and pigs quickly turned into a dramatic rescue mission to recover the pig dog Red from an underground cave in Waitomo.

The squeal of a pig. A barking dog, sounds of branches snapping and then complete silence.

– ****! Boys, get up now, it’s not safe down here!

Ohaupo pig hunter Byron yells from 200 meters within a pocket of bush bordering the Waitomo farm we have been hunting on since six am this morning.

Up the bush-covered bank comes Hendrix, Byron’s eight-year-old son, and his friend Lachie who had followed Red in the chase after a big boar.

– Red is in a tomo! Nothing that falls into a tomo ever comes out again.

Says Hendrix, as the two boys make their way back up to the farmland on Byron’s order.

At the bottom of the steep bank a worried Byron is trying to get his dog to respond to his call.

“Hey Red, hey Red!”, he yells followed by a couple of whistles.

Nothing but silence comes back in return from the big dark hole at the bottom of the bank.

– He was chasing the boar through the bush and then suddenly they both ended up sliding down the bank and into the tomo. I have no idea how deep it is.

– He is my best dog. Pig season is just about to start. I need him.

Byron explains as the two Chiefs players, Tyler Ardron and Luke Jacobson, who are also part of the hunting party, make their way down the bank.

Underground grunting

Not knowing how deep the tomo is, it could be anything from 5-100-meters-deep, and how safe the underground is, we stay right back from the edge of the hole.

After five minutes of waiting by the edge of the tomo, a deep grunt makes its way out of the deep. Then a squeal and then another grunt. The pig is alive. But what about Red?

Byron climbs back up to the farm area to make a few calls while Luke and Tyler call the Chiefs to explain the situation, and that they may not make it for the team meeting later this afternoon – “we’re trying to get a pig dog out of a hole”, were the words.

After a couple of minutes, the grunting and squealing intensifies and then a deep bark echoes out of the tomo. Red is alive!


We make our way out of the bush, back to the farmland to deliver the good news about Red to a clearly distraught Byron.

– I’ve called Charly. He has found me a caver called Weasel who apparently is ”keen as ****”. I guess, if you want someone to go into a tomo to save a dog, a guy called Weasel sounds like the right man for the job.

Byron laughs as he is relieved to hear that Red is alive and barking.

Meanwhile the local farmer has come across to see if he can help. He finds a safe way down to the tomo and reckons that the vertical part of the drop is only 5-7 meters. Phew.

Just Google it?

The discussion then starts whether we just try and go down ourselves or wait for Weasel to get here. It could be hours though.

– Why don’t you just Google how to get a dog out of a tomo?

Hendrix, 8, adds to the conversation after explaining that he wants hubba bubba and a medium Fanta, not coke, from the local dairy, when we are done with all this.

Meanwhile the local farmer receives a call from the cave adventure company, Waitomo Adventures. They are happy to come out and help Byron get his dog out of the tomo.

The rescue

A couple of hours later, Gareth Owen and Brad Smith from the Waitomo Adventures team rock up to help us out.

It’s been two hours since we last heard life-sign from Red. Byron calls for his dog, but there is no response. The two young boys start calling for Red but still no response.

Is he still alive? Could he have died from internal bleeding?

“Hey Red, hey Red,” Byron desperately yells out to hear from his dog.

Gareth and Brad have set up their gear and are ready to descend into the tomo.

After disappearing into the tomo, Gareth the caver is now at the bottom. He starts yelling out for Red as well, but he hears nothing.

– I can see where they have been running, but I can’t see them, Gareth yells.

Good boy

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 long minutes pass with everyone yelling out for Red, but still nothing.

The hope of getting Red out alive is hanging by a thin thread. He could have continued into the cave with no way of us finding him. Things are not looking good. We are waiting for a sign of life.

30 seconds of complete silence is then broken by Gareth’s voice: “Good boy, aye, Red. Good boy”, followed by a low dog whimper.

At the top of the tomo, the depressed air is suddenly filled with relief and smiles. Red is alive.

As we start pulling Gareth and Red up the vertical bit of the drop, having two Chiefs players suddenly comes in handy.

On the steep bank at the top of the drop, Red manages to walk himself up to an extremely happy Byron for a big cuddle and a check-over for injury.

Apart from having put the canines in the upper left side of his mouth through his lip, and looking a bit cold and scruffy, Red is not looking too bad.

Not all heroes wear capes: today they wore white rubber boots, blue overalls, a harness and a Waitomo Adventure badge on their left chest.

Thanks to Gareth Owen and Brad Smith from Waitomo Adventures.