Cocker Spaniel rescued by firefighters during cliff ledge drama

John and Fiona Preston at home with Daisy and Olive their beloved dogs

Dog owners John and Fiona Preston got the best early Christmas present when their inquisitive Cocker Spaniel was saved by firefighters during a dramatic two-hour cliff rescue.

Grateful pooch Olive owes the crews from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) a bowlful of treats after the recent paw-some recovery.

The 20-month-old Cocker was enjoying a winter walk in Chopwell Woods with her mam, dad and Cocker Spaniel sister Daisy when her adventure began.

John, 63, and wife Fiona, 55, were left panicked when, midway through their afternoon walk, Olive suddenly disappeared.

After a frantic search of the area, John and Fiona were suddenly alerted to a faint whining and, identifying it as Olive, attempted to follow her calls.

The noise was coming from over the side of a cliff edge and, after descending 30ft to the river bank, they looked up to find Olive precariously balanced on a ledge.

Retired GP John said: “We knew something was wrong when Daisy returned alone without Olive as they are normally inseparable.

“Our fears were confirmed when Olive didn’t respond to the dog whistle. We looked at each-other and said ‘where is she’?

“We followed the whining along the river bank but were extra careful as the water was fast-flowing and waste deep if we were to fall in.

“Then as the whining got louder we looked up and could see Olive precariously perched on a cliff ledge.”

As the worried couple desperately tried to find Olive, a kind passer-by who was also out walking his own dog came to their aid and helped with the desperate search, something they were grateful for.

It soon became clear it wasn’t safe to climb up to the ledge, or edge themselves down from above, so they decided it was time to call for help.

Fiona called 999 and the Fire Control team at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service agreed to deploy a crew for the rescue mission on Saturday, December 3rd.

John said: “At one point we were so scared that the reality could be that we’d be going home without our Olive. With the constant whining we didn’t know if she was seriously injured from the fall.”

Fiona added: “We were running on autopilot and the adrenaline of the situation. We totally lost track of time.

“The firefighters were amazing. They kept John and myself in the loop and reassured us at every opportunity. We found out that most of them were dog lovers and could appreciate our concern.”

Firefighters from Swalwell Community Fire Station were later joined by a crew from Hebburn and the specialist rope rescue team from South Shields Community Fire Station.

A TWFRS firefighter during the rope rescue of Olive the Cocker Spaniel

In a freak stroke of luck the rope rescue team had been training in the same spot only two weeks previous to the incident, which meant that they knew how to approach the terrain.

The actual rope rescue itself took 45 minutes, which allowed the crew time to descend the cliff-face and find the terrified pooch.

John added: “When the rope rescue team arrived we felt a massive sense of relief. We just wanted to know that Olive was alright and safe.

“Daisy also knew that something was wrong and that her best buddy was in distress. We were so grateful to the firefighters and relieved in the knowledge that Olive was safe.

“She was cold and muddy but back in our arms. Her heart was pounding out of her little chest. Daisy was also pleased to see her partner in crime!”

Station Manager Terry Griffin, of TWFRS, said: “On the evening of Olive’s rescue it was already very dark and the ground under foot was quite slippery so the firefighters had to be careful.

“Crews managed to pinpoint her location by using a thermal imaging camera, which then allowed a member of the rope rescue team to go over the ledge where the anxious animal was perched.

“Thankfully Olive was found unscathed and she was happily reunited with her owner. It was a successful rescue operation by our crews.

“We would always urge dog owners to use well-lit paths and grassland areas when embarking on their walking route especially in the winter months when weather conditions can be unpredictable.”

When they got home John and Fiona spoilt Olive rotten with a plate of her favourite meaty treats…Daisy didn’t miss out and also shared the snacks.

For further information about the work of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service please visit