Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dogs and Ice Don't Mix

Yesterday, I wanted to take Karma to the dog park on the river. As we often do for Saturday walks, I invited Karma’s best friend Eddy and Eddy’s mom, L. to join us. Karma and Eddy met mid-summer on the beach on the river and were a perfect match. Karma is just a little older at 20 months than Eddy (1 year), and is maybe five pounds heavier at 51 lbs. They have the same energy level and enjoy the same kind of play. They were so well matched that L. and I exchanged phone numbers and routinely get Karma and Eddy together for dog park trips.

On the phone, L. and I pondered whether the dogs would have the sense to stay off the ice that’s forming at the edge of the river or whether we had secure enough command of them that we could keep them safe, and decided, no, we’d best not go to the river; instead, we’d go to a public golf course and risk getting tickets for letting the dogs off leash.

We met at the course. L. had both Eddy (Australian cattle dog/blue heeler mix) and H., her neighbor dog. The three dogs were getting along great. They were having a blast frolicking and wrestling and running as fast as they could on the wide open fairways, tumbling head over heals when they ran into deep snow going at top speed. We encountered a woman walking a huge young lab mix, Samson, off-leash. Samson insisted on joining our pack, so we introduced ourselves to the woman, V., and invited her to walk with us and the seven of us made our way down the fairway.

As we came up a hill, the dogs were running ahead of us and disappeared over the top of the hill. When we got sight of what was over the hill, my heart stopped. There was a huge pond. One end was iced over, but the other end was open water and covered with ducks. Of course the dogs, hunters and herders that they are, had run onto the ice to get to the ducks. Karma had slid or slipped into or cracked through the ice and was in the water and the water was too deep for her to touch, so she’d gone under before bobbing right back up. In the instant it took me to take in the scene, she was able to climb out of the water and get back on the ice. I don’t know how she did it: one part athleticism to be able to get a back paw onto the ice and get leverage to pull herself up and one part luck that she picked a spot on the ice that could hold her.

But just as soon as Karma was out, the ice under H. broke and she was in. H. tried to climb out but couldn’t do it. She just hung onto the edge of the ice with her front paws. I’ll never forget the look on her face. She was terrified. L. commanded us to run to the opposite side of the pond and try to coax H. to us, because there was a spot on the opposite shore where there was no ice adjacent the shore, so that if H could have gotten to the spot, she could have climbed out on the bank. It took us an age to get there, running through deep snow in snowboots, and when we got there and I looked back to call to H., I saw that L. hadn’t come with us, and was now sliding out onto the ice on her stomach. We yelled at L. to STOP until we could run back around to the shore near her, but she didn’t think H. could hold on much longer and L. was probably right about that. H. had been in the icy water for two minutes by then.

When L., on her stomach, got close to H., the ice broke and L. went in. We learned the water was over L’s head. L got behind H. and boosted her onto the ice and H. ran to land, but L. wasn’t able to pull herself onto the slippery ice.

In complete terror, V. and I tried to get back to the first side of the pond, hanging onto Karma, Eddy and Samson on leashes, so as to not lose dogs back into the pond. In hindsight, that attention to the dogs slowed us down and was pretty stupid. It took us what felt like forever to run back, lungs burning from the exertion of running in the snow, tripping and falling over dogs who thought we were having the best time. (To add to the misery and slowing me down, I was running for the first time since August when I broke and sprained an ankle – a story for another time.) I think it took us about two minutes to get back to our original spot on shore near L., though it felt like an eternity.

V. got to L. first and threw one end of a leash to her and was able to pull her onto the ice. (Yes, that’s right, I was useless.) We used L’s cell phone (maybe I need to get one of those things) to call H.’s mom who was just a mile away, and gave her a location to pick us up. V. was familiar with the golf course and knew of an open spot in the perimeter fence where we could get off the course and out to the street, so we only had to walk about a quarter mile from the pond. H.’s mom arrived with a minivan just as we got to the street, and she carted Eddy, H., Karma, L. and me to safety. (V. and Samson live just a block away so we left them to walk home.)

All is well. Everyone made it. No injuries or frostbite. I can’t stop thinking about how, if we hadn’t gotten to L. when we did, she’d be dead. (I’ve since read that people have 2-5 minutes in icy water before they drown. They can’t hold onto the ice with their arms because there’s no blood flow to the extremities, so arm/leg muscles stop working.) And I would be wondering why we hung onto the dogs as we ran around the pond. And I’d be furious and miserable that L went onto the ice before we were in a position to help her quickly. And our story would be in the Star Tribune instead of on this blog. And all the joy of life would be over forever.

You know in your head with complete certainty that the life of a dog isn’t worth the life of a human, and that a human shouldn’t risk their life to save a dog. And yet, when the dog is staring at you and expecting you to help, paws holding onto the edge of the ice, ears down as pitifully as they can be, is it really possible to just watch her sink to the icy depths? I don’t think you can make yourself do it.

Later yesterday, I was reading the Strib online and noticed a story from a couple days ago about a woman who drowned in the Mississippi River, apparently trying to save the dog she was walking.


Scooter said...

I'll have more on this but I'm thrilled that all are ok.

Teaser: Grace, my first rough collie spent some time beneath the ice, too.

love johnson said...

This is what scares me about the north - how do you now when the ice is thick enough to walk on?

Glaeveryone is OK.

Anonymous said...

"L." is my sister...Thank You, Thank You!! OMG I just can't imagine...