April 24, 2013 - Everybody needs a guardian angel, especially a three-legged dog who likes to go wandering across a frozen lake.
Addison resident Katie Skyles and Cooper. (click for larger version)
Fortunately, Cooper, a 5-year-old Border Collie, had a whole bunch of guardian angels when she fell through the ice on Lakeville Lake in Addison Township March 29.
Her owner, Tim Wilkins, is extremely grateful to them and wanted to make sure everybody knew about the heroic efforts of Katie Skyles, 18, and the Addison Twp. Fire Dept.
"It's just a neat story," he said. "The lengths they went to save my dog were unbelievable."
It seems Cooper decided to go exploring the lake while the icy surface was beginning to thaw. "That was one of those days where it was just starting to warm up," Wilkins said. "The ice was just starting to break up, but there was still a good amount out there."
Skyles, who's a senior at Rochester Hills Christian School, was at her grandmother's house on the lake when it happened.
"I watched (Cooper) as she was running across the lake and then she fell in," she said.
Skyles immediately called 9-1-1 for help.
"I know I would have wanted someone to do the same if it was one of my dogs," she said. "I couldn't just watch her struggle and do nothing. One way or another, I was going to find a way to save Cooper."
Not only did Addison firefighters respond, they responded in force as Wilkins saw when he arrived on scene following the rescue.
"It shocked me when I pulled up," Wilkins said. "There had to be over a dozen vehicles. They had the rescue boat. They had an ambulance. I had to park down the road."
The fire department spent about 20 to 30 minutes attempting to rescue Cooper from the icy water, according to Dan Cline, a full-time firefighter/paramedic for Addison.
Cline explained that Cooper was approximately 100 feet away from the shoreline. She was separated from land by about 90 feet of ice that was 1-2 inches thick and another 10 feet of open water leading to the shore.
Because Cooper only has three legs – her front right leg had to be amputated a few years ago due to an injury – she could not pull herself out of the chilly water and onto the ice, according to Cline.
"The dog was basically completely surrounded by ice," he said.
Brian Freels, a former Addison part-time medic who's since gone to work for the Waterford department, put on an ice rescue suit and went after Cooper. He waded through the frigid water, then had to break through ice the rest of the way to reach the dog.
Fortunately, he was able to reach Cooper and bring her to safety.
"He carried the dog about three-quarters of the way back, then the dog kind of swam the rest of the way," Cline said..
Cline noted it's a good thing firefighters got there when they did. "It's pretty likely the dog would have died," he said.
Cooper was getting more and more tired as she attempted to tread water, so there was a very real possibility of her drowning.
"It was really, really tired," Cline said. "When the dog got back up on shore, it basically laid down. It was exhausted."
When Wilkins reached the shore, he couldn't believe what he saw. "There had to be eight or 10 fire department people keeping (Cooper) warm and taking pictures with her," he said. "She looked at me and I'm like, 'You're grounded.'"
Following the accident, Cooper got two baths, then "laid around for about a week."
"She had a couple really sore hips," Wilkins said. "But she's back to 100 percent now."
Wilkins noted that Cooper has been "adopted" by Addison Fire Station #1 "as their mascot."
"She's now required to be at the (fire department's) pancake breakfast on May 4," he said. "She's available for parades, photo opportunities, whatever they need."
Wilkins wished to publicly thank Skyles and the firefighters for saving his dog's life.
If Skyles hadn't "made that call" and the firefighters hadn't "gone to the extreme measures they did," Cooper would just be a photograph on the mantle, instead of the friendly pup who ran up to greet this reporter and rolled on her back to get a good belly scratch.
"(The firefighters) just did a really nice thing and luckily, Katie was there and she knew what to do," Wilkins said. "We're so grateful. (Freels) was a hero getting in water that was probably 38 or 40 degrees."
Wilkins noted he's "always had a huge respect" for all the work firefighters do "without a whole lot of fanfare."
"But to see the lengths they went, how long it took and how many responded on a Friday afternoon to get a dog out of the water – it was humbling," he said.
Skyles also had kudos for the firefighters.
"I'm extremely happy Addison Township responded as quickly as they did," she said. "Everyone who showed up was very compassionate towards Cooper and the situation."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.