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Lucky dog’s well rescue serves as reminder of importance of sealing unused wells

News Release
Feb. 28, 2023

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When Gannicus the springer spaniel fell into an abandoned well on his family’s new property in Redwood County earlier this month, he may have saved Heather Neid’s 5-year-old son from the same fate – or worse. The dog’s ordeal provides a valuable reminder for property owners all over Minnesota, and especially in rural areas, about the importance of properly sealing wells that are no longer in use.

Gannicus’ day back on Feb. 16 began like any other when Heather let the family’s two dogs out in the morning. A short time later, only the smaller dog returned. Eventually, Heather heard Gannicus barking from a grove of trees down the driveway. She thought maybe he’d been hit by a vehicle and couldn’t make it back to the house.

The dog’s barking led her to discover him down a well hole that was nearly 20 inches wide and 30 feet deep. Heather quickly called for help and within minutes the sheriff and Morgan Fire Department were on the scene.

That’s when Sheriff Jason Jacobson called Robert Nielsen, a district hydrologist with the Minnesota Department of Health’s Well Management Program, to let him know about the abandoned well so he could ensure that it would get sealed. At the time, Jacobson told Nielsen he was not optimistic about getting the dog out.

After a few moments of exploring options, however, the rescue squad dropped a rope down the well shaft, hoping Gannicus would take it. Sure enough, the playful pup bit the rope and never let go as the crew pulled him up those 30 feet to safety.  

While the dog’s story has a happy ending, the risk of abandoned and unsealed wells is worth noting. Neid said the family was unaware of the existence of the well, which had no covering whatsoever, and that it had not been disclosed to them when they bought the property. They had moved into their new home just 10 days before the incident.

“I was heartbroken, not knowing how I was going to get him out,” Neid said. Thoughts of her two small children ran through her head, too.

In a call with Heather following the incident, Nielsen learned that she has a 5-year-old son at home. She also has a 7-month-old son.

“This incident could have been much, much worse,” Nielsen said. “We can all be thankful that it was Gannicus that ‘discovered’ the well, and that he was able to be rescued quickly.”

Incidents of this sort should never happen if all the proper procedures and rules for unused wells had been followed, Nielsen said.

“Our paramount concern with unused wells is the potential physical hazard presented by an open well,” he said. “We’ve had several stories of wildlife or pets falling into wells or well pits, but thankfully none involving a person. Unused wells also pose a threat to groundwater and human health through contamination.”

A well does not need to be extremely large in diameter or depth to pose a physical hazard. For instance, in 1987, 18-month-old Jessica McClure was rescued from a well in Midland, Texas, after 56 hours. That well was just 8 inches in diameter.

The best way to prevent any human, animal or environmental harm from an unused well is for all owners of property with wells to know a few simple rules and steps for ensuring wells are safe:

  • Minnesota statute and rule require that unused, unsealed wells must be sealed by a licensed well contractor.
  • Property owners SHOULD NOT attempt to fill an unused well themselves – it MUST be done by a licensed well contractor.
  • A well owner is always given the option to place an unused well back in service, but often this isn’t feasible because the well’s condition has deteriorated beyond repair.
  • Minnesota law requires the seller of property to provide information to the buyer and the state (MDH) about the location and status of all wells on the property.
  • Status is divided into three categories: In-use, Not-in-use, and Sealed by a licensed well contractor.
  • More information on well disclosures can be found at: Well Disclosure
  • Questions about unused wells can be directed to MDH Well Management staff or a local well contractor. The Well Management main phone number is: 651-201-4600 or 800-383-9808
  • More information on sealing unused wells is available at: Sealing Unused Wells

Neid said her partner covered the well for now and they are in the process of getting it sealed and covered permanently.

Media inquiries:

Doug Schultz
MDH Communications