Sometimes it takes a near tragedy in a family to serve as a reminder of the hidden dangers that can exist on our property. Case in point, Heather Neid's recent experience at a home she recently moved into in Minnesota's Redwood County.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, Heather has two dogs, one of which is a springer spaniel named Gannicus. On February 16, 2023, she let the family’s 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 feared he'd been struck by a vehicle and was unable to walk.

As she followed the barking noise, she was led to an abandoned well on his family’s new property, a well she wasn't aware existed. Gannicus was found trapped in a well that measures 20 inches wide and 30 feet deep. Heather immediately called for help and both the sheriff and Morgan Fire Department were quick to respond.

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After observing the scene, 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.

However, Jacobson was not optimistic about getting the dog out. Incredibly, after exploring several options, the rescue squad dropped a rope down the well shaft, hoping Gannicus would take it. In an amazing turn of events, the playful pup bit the rope and never let go as the crew pulled him up those 30 feet to safety.

While the story has a happy ending, it does serve as a sobering reminder. Heather Neid has a 5-year-old son who very well could have fallen into the unsealed well and been seriously hurt or worse. Their dog’s ordeal ultimately provided 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.

Robert Nielsen says incidents of this sort would never happen if all the proper procedures and rules for unused wells had been followed.

“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.”

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 the 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 on their Well Disclosure website.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety says that 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

Additional information can be found on the Minnesota Department of Health's Sealing Unused Wells page.

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