For nearly three weeks, employees spent hours unsuccessfully trying to locate a dog they heard yelping from somewhere in the mountains above the Hawaii Nature Center in Iao Valley.

On Wednesday, persistence paid off when Steven Fischer found the emaciated female heeler mix on an 8-foot ledge above a 400-foot cliff.

“I knew there was a dog up there crying for help,” Fischer, a cook at the Nature Cafe, told The Maui News. “I couldn’t handle letting the dog die on the mountain.”

Fischer, Hawaii Nature Center Director of Operations J.D. Wyatt and Programs Manager Jay Franey brought the dog to safety Wednesday afternoon. Using ropes to rappel down the sheer cliff, the three men first slid the dog to each other in a blanket before Franey carried the 20-pound animal in a backpack much of the way.

They turned the dog over to Maui Humane Society animal control officer Marty Davis so the young animal could be examined by a veterinarian.

“That dog did touch a lot of hearts,” said Dee Dee Santos-Ai, Hawaii Nature Center gift shop manager.

Employees had called police, the Fire Department and state Department of Land and Natural Resources to try to get help for the dog that sounded like it was in distress.

“It would have been unrealistic to ask the Police Department or Fire Department to go search,” Wyatt said.

But a DLNR officer gave employees an idea of where the dog might be, Santos-Ai said.

“It was almost like the dog was saying help,” she said. “It’s a life to us. That’s why these guys didn’t stop.”

Fischer, 30, who moved to Maui from the Longview-Kelso area of Washington state in December, had hiked up the mountain every day, waiting for hours at a time to see if the dog would bark so he could get a fix on its location.

The dog wouldn’t bark while he was on the mountain, Fischer said, only to start barking again once he was off the ridge.

At times, visitors could hear the dog barking, especially when children were at the center.

Fischer and his uncle Jody Sparks, who owns the Nature Cafe, would show up at 7:30 in the morning, well before the cafe opened, to listen for the dog’s bark.

“We even closed the cafe a couple of days to look for that dog,” Sparks said.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, Fischer again climbed up to the ridge. About an hour and a half later, he spotted the dog, who was 20 feet away under a large tree. “She was light brown, blended into the tree,” said Fischer, who first noticed her ears. “She heard me and poked her head up. She’s staring right at me.”

He was prepared for the possibility that the dog might be aggressive, but she didn’t move when he walked up to her and she drank water from a container he held in his hand.

Fischer also had food for the dog, who was on a dirt ledge that was 6 to 8 inches wide.

Unable to bring the dog down himself, he called his uncle for help. Because Sparks was busy serving lunches, Wyatt and Franey climbed up instead.

Wyatt said the three “inch-wormed” their way down one at a time, moving sideways at times while anchoring ropes on trees before reaching the bottom at about 3 p.m.

“There was no going fast,” Fischer said.

Wyatt, 41, had to put off a business call when his cellular telephone rang about halfway up the ridge. He did use the phone to call the Maui Humane Society as the climbers and dog were descending.

Because the dog was sliding out of the blanket, the men decided to see if she would fit in the backpack, which she did.

“By the end, she trusted us enough to put her in the backpack. She didn’t even bark once,” said Franey, 37. “The best thing was just to know we got to go and take care of her.”

While the men may have taken some unnecessary risks to rescue the dog, Wyatt said the result was worth the effort.

“Everyone on staff has really been concerned about the dog,” said Wyatt, 41. “We do some great things for kids here, but that’s got to be one of the best feelings.”

“Since I have been on island, it’s been the best feeling I’ve gotten,” Fischer said.