Getting off a highway ramp can be scary for motorists. For a black dog named Sweet Pea, it was a matter of life or death. On Friday morning, the dog, which had wandered onto Interstate 295, plunged 30 feet off a ramp leading to the 11th Street Bridge and landed atop a tractor-trailer parked at a business. Miraculously, the 3-year-old, mixed-breed Labrador retriever suffered nothing more than an abrasion on the chin and a temporary limp.
A commuter, Lora Muchmore, was driving north on the ramp at 8:45 a.m. when she saw the dog jump, but she did not see where the dog landed. She used her cellular phone to call police, who alerted D.C. animal control officers.
"I saw a black Lab running around in traffic. She was terrified," Muchmore said. "She just turned around and jumped. She could not have looked because there was a barrier. I felt for sure she was a goner."
Using Muchmore's directions, Scotlund Haisley, an animal control officer, drove to the area below the ramp, unsure whether he would find the dog alive.
But there, in a commercial parking lot on Good Hope Road SE, was the 20-foot-tall tractor-trailer. "I looked into a lot and saw a dog laying [on the truck] with her head up. I got a little choked up seeing her actually alive," Haisley said.
The distance from the bridge to the ground was about 50 feet, Haisley said. "I've never seen a dog intentionally take a leap. I assume the dog was avoiding being hit by a car."
If the truck had not been there, "the dog would have hit the pavement and been killed or seriously injured," Haisley said.
Haisley said about five inches of snow had collected on top of the truck, helping to break Sweet Pea's fall. A forklift at the business hoisted Haisley to the top, where he retrieved the shivering dog. When he walked the dog in the parking lot, he noticed that she was limping.
"Her gums were extremely pale from being in shock," he said. But by the time he took Sweet Pea to Friendship Animal Hospital in Northwest, Sweet Pea was "wagging her tail, her gums were pink and she was no longer limping."
She was kept overnight at the D.C. Animal Shelter and was returned home Saturday.
Sweet Pea was reported missing 24 hours before the incident after she and another dog, Princess, escaped from their home in the 2000 block of 36th Street SE. Princess's owner, Bernice Turnipseed, said Sweet Pea, followed by Princess, pushed past her when she opened the door of her house.
"I ran after them, but by the time I turned the corner I realized I wasn't going to catch them." A neighbor found Princess a few hours later, but Sweet Pea remained missing in the bitter cold until the fateful plunge the next day, roughly three miles from home.
Turnipseed has been caring for Sweet Pea for two months because the dog's owner, Turnipseed's nephew, is a Marine on duty in Panama. "I wondered if she would find her way. She didn't know the neighborhood," Turnipseed said. "That night turned cold, probably the coldest this winter. We all had a hard time sleeping."
When Sweet Pea returned home Friday, she lapped up a treat of hamburger instead of the usual canned food. Then "she laid around, not very responsive for a day-and-a-half" before returning to normal.
"They are really spoiled dogs. They are always underfoot. If you get up to move, they move," Turnipseed said.
Turnipseed is considering taking Sweet Pea to obedience class, to train her to stay inside when the door is opened, and to ensure that Sweet Pea's action-adventure days are over.