Beware of your dog on thin ice

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 3/14/10
By: Gail T. Fisher


A frightening story in the paper this week got me thinking. A man in Kingston, NH jumped into a partially frozen pond to rescue his dog that had fallen through the ice. Wearing nothing but pajamas and socks (his “lucky” Red Socks PJs) Ryan Jamison “dove into the water and swam out to the large sheet of ice where [his German Shepherd] Hennessey had fallen through.”

Jamison was able to pull himself into a damaged canoe that his girlfriend hurled toward him across the ice, and somehow got Hennessey into it too, but the canoe was sinking when, fortunately, firefighters arrived with a rescue sled to pull the pair to safety. This story had a happy ending, but it could have ended tragically with the deaths of both Jamison and Hennessy.

It’s astonishing to me that Jamison was able to swim 50 yards through the icy water. I will never forget how I felt as a child attending summer camp, when I had to take a swimming test in a cold lake at the beginning of the camping season. I was a good swimmer, but I well-remember the exact moment I dove in and hit the water. I thought I was going to die. My breath was literally taken away by the extreme cold, and as I gasped to catch my breath, I inhaled water. Somehow I made it the required distance, but I was nearly incapacitated in the frigid water. I have never been as frightened in the water as I was during those few minutes of that swimming test—and I still remember how it felt many decades later.

Perhaps Ryan Jamison’s ability to swim to his drowning dog in a partially frozen pond is comparable to a mother having the strength to lift a car off her child—he had superhuman abilities because his dog was in danger, but he might have drowned. The lesson to be learned from Jamison’s experience is to consider what you would do if your worst nightmare becomes a reality and your dog falls through thin ice. As awful as it will be for any dog owner, do not try to save your dog yourself. Call 911 for help. You can’t save your dog if you die, and help is not far away.

A few years ago, I had a conversation with the Deputy Chief of the Manchester Fire Department to learn about the ice-rescue training that all Manchester Fire Fighters receive. Manchester, as many towns and cities, has a Rescue Response Team. In Manchester, this team is stationed in the center of the city so it is able to be on-site in just three or four minutes. In some locations, a local fire engine will arrive even faster, and those firefighters will most likely be kept busy restraining you from doing anything that would endanger you. As the Rescue Response Team is on their way to your location, they will be suiting up in their cold water immersion suits so by the time they arrive, they are ready for action to save your dog.

In my conversation with the Chief, he stressed that while the firefighter’s main mission is protecting human life, they have a proud and successful record saving animals, too. They take their mission seriously, knowing that if they aren’t committed to saving dogs, loving owners will try to do it themselves. To learn about your local Fire Department’s rescue response plan, give them a call to see what they recommend for your preparation.

Whatever their recommendations, the most important thing for all dog owners at this time of year, as ice is thinning and the danger is greatest, is to keep your dog on leash around any partially frozen body of water. If you do let your dog off-leash, be sure you have sufficiently trained your dog so you can call him or her away from danger before it’s too late.

Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2010. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this article or suggestions for future topics, please contact us.