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Township firefighters pluck pooch from icy lake

Brandon Firefighter Tim McArthur with Cody, rescued from Huff Lake. (click for larger version)
April 09, 2014 - Brandon Twp.- Paula Reese was outside on April 6 with her "puppies," 2-year-old shih tzu littermates Cali and Cody, when the dogs saw geese walking across the ice of Huff Lake and bolted after the birds.

The dogs kept running, until they ran off the edge of the ice and plunged into freezing water.

"I have 7 acres, but the water isn't fenced off— I was out with them to make sure they wouldn't do what they did," said Reese. "I didn't see the geese and didn't have any control at that point, tried to call, and the more I called, the more they'd run and they just ran 'til they were out of ice."

Hysterical, Reese began screaming for help, but no one heard. She frantically dialed 9-1-1 on her cell phone and although she was instructed by the emergency operator to not go on the ice, she began crawling on hands and knees to get to her puppies. Cali managed to scramble out and in her fear, ran past Reese on her way home, but Cody, whom his owner describes as "pudgier," was stuck.

"I just knew my dog was going to die," said Reese.

Less than two miles away, in Green Lake at the Clearwater Campground, township firefighters just happened to be doing their annual cold water rescue training when they received a call their assistance was needed for the real thing.

Tim McArthur was one of three firefighters who were already in cold water suits who responded. Upon arrival, he saw a small dog through the ice on the east end of the lake, in a marshy area, as well as Reese out on the ice. Before the firefighters could rescue Cody, they had to convince Reese to get back to shore, so they would not have to rescue her as well as the dog.

"I wasn't thinking clearly," said Reese. "Cody was crying, he tried to get out and he was tired. All of his energy to get out was gone, I was afraid to leave and that he would go under. I did come in and they came out to get him. I couldn't leave until I saw people there to help."

Once Reese's safety was assured, the firefighters proceeded with the rescue, tying together two tag lines, each rope about 200 feet in length. With the tag line attached to McArthur's cold suit, he walked, then belly crawled to the dog. The ice broke, and he swam about 15 feet to reach Cody, grabbing the shaking and whimpering pup "like a football."

Firefighter Gregg Woodbury pulled McArthur and the dog back on to the ice and they made their way to shore, where Cody was wrapped in blankets, taken into the house and assessed.

"It's my first time saving a dog," said McArthur. "It was definitely interesting. We train for that, and whether it is a dog or a person, it's nice to see it all come together. When needed, training pays off and everything works well."

Fire Chief Dave Kwapis said it could have had a much different, and sad ending instead, and reminds residents to never go out on the ice after an animal.

"Had (Reese) gone through the ice, we would have done a human rescue first and the dog rescue second," said Kwapis. "Do not attempt to get your animal if they go through the ice— try to coax them to shore, but call the fire department so we can send people in suits who are trained. If you go through the ice, it delays us being able to rescue your dog. We all love our animals dearly, but we want everyone safe and will be more than happy to rescue your dog."

Township firefighters typically respond to one or two calls of an animal through the ice per year. Reese is grateful they were able to rescue Cody.

"I'm so glad they saved him, they showed up in record time," she said. "We are extremely appreciative and so thankful. I broke down and cried, I am just so happy. It took a couple days for me to even calm down. It's a fear I never want to experience again. We are putting up plastic snow fences next winter and they aren't coming down until there is no fear of ice. Here we are in April and there's still ice. It was a hard winter."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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