On Thin Ice, Again

I’m saying this again, because obviously the message didn’t get through the first time. Don’t go out on to the ice after your dog.

Only days after my first post, a woman ran after her dog, fell in, and had to be rescued. They both survived no thanks to the owner.

Now, just yesterday, another owner who “knew better” went out on the ice, fell in, screamed her head off like a “little girl,” and had to be rescued by a teenaged boy, Jared Vigil, who was going home sick from school (apparently not sick enough to hinder his heroic rescue).

Guess what, the dog, “Willow,” is just fine despite the owner, Connie Oswald, almost killing herself and getting a young man to go out onto the ice after her risking his own well being. She didn’t have a leash, she didn’t have a cell phone, and she didn’t call for help, flag down a passing motorist, or run to a nearby house. At least she slid out to the dog on her belly, but um, that’s what the pros do when they have ladders, ropes, tethers, and a whole team of people to back them up. Plus some training and correct clothes, and a warm truck waiting to heat them back up.

Here’s some more good advice on what to do after you have called for help and they have rescued your dog:

If the dog is limp, unconscious or unresponsive, wrap him in a towel. Keep the neck and back immobilized to avoid aggravation of possible spinal injury. Place the dog on a flat board for transporting.

If the dog is not breathing, place it on the right side. Make several quick compressions to the chest to expel water and feel for a heartbeat behind the left elbow. If there’s a heartbeat, but the dog is still not breathing, check the back of the throat for obstructions.

If you don’t feel an obstruction, close the dog’s muzzle by firmly encircling it with your hand. Put the dog’s tongue in its mouth first so it doesn’t bite it. Then, blow into the nose. Adjust the force of your breath to the size of dog. Watch for the rise of the chest and keep checking for a heartbeat.

If you can’t feel a heartbeat, make one or two quick firm compressions on the chest wall with both of your palms flat on top of each other, and begin artificial respiration.

Blow 15 breaths, followed by a chest compression. Continue until the dog regains consciousness, respiration and heartbeat return, or until emergency assistance takes over.

And now, an encore:

This is the time of year when thin sheets of ice are forming over the ponds near our favorite neighborhood dog walks. The same ponds Fido loves to jump in right after you’ve given him a bath, collecting untold sulfurous bacteria and slime in his coat, just so he can run over and shake off right next to you.

The sad thing is, dogs don’t understand ice on ponds, and it seems neither do humans once Fido ventures out on the ice. At least two different people followed their dogs out onto the ice this weekend in Colorado, and one of them is now dead. All the dogs survived.

Nineteen-year-old Laura Mae Wallace ventured out on to the ice of a golf course pond after one of her two dogs fell through the ice into the 30 degree water.

She went out to save the first dog and fell in herself. It wasn’t until a couple that lives on the golf course noticed the second dog out on the ice that they rushed to help only to discover that Wallace and her other dog were already in the water.

Wallace was alive and calling for help, but despite the efforts of the couple to throw her a rope, she went under and her other dog fell in too. It was 65 minutes before Wallace was pulled from the pond by the emergency response divers. They found her in twenty feet of water within 5 minutes of entering the the pond.

Sometimes rescues are possible after 90 or more minutes of submersion, but Ms. Wallace died despite CPR, a flight for life air lift, and emergency surgery.

Both dogs, a Labrador Retriever and a Brindle mixed breed, were pulled from the water and safely returned to Ms. Wallace’s family without so much as a bad scratch.

“The ice is very deceiving,” said Lieutenant Chuck Saunier if the Commerce City Police. “In this case, if the dogs got out on the ice, it would have just been better to call the fire department and they’ll come out and rescue.”

The lesson here? Don’t go out on the ice, Call 9-1-1, and wait for well equipped rescue divers with ice rescue suits or firemen to rescue your dog even if it take them over an hour to get there. Notice that the dogs were in the water as long or longer than Ms. Wallace, by all accounts a healthy young woman, and they are still with us.

Ms. Wallace isn’t the only one to make the same mistake on Sunday. A man walking his dog in Arvada, Colorado also went out on to the ice after his dog. The dog chased some birds more than 100 feet out on to the ice of Tucker Lake and the man followed after his dog. Both fell in.

The man managed to break through more than fifty feet of ice to get back to the shore, but he became fatigued and wasn’t able to escape until bystanders called 9-1-1 and a fireman arrived with a rope and a harness and dragged the man and his dog from the freezing water.

Both survived the incident.

I think the lesson here is to keep your head above the water and keep breathing if you do fall in. Make breathing your priority, not escape. Anyone who has tried to climb on to a raft in a pool knows how easy it is to go under once your feet come up to the surface in front of you, driving your shoulders back and your butt down. That’s exactly the position you’d be in trying to climb out on top of the thin ice shelf you just fell through.

Since you’re likely to suffer the effects of the cold once you get wet, you’re going to need emergency assistance no matter what. It’s probably worth the few extra seconds or minutes it takes to compose yourself than to flounder about in a panic to get out right away. Staying above the water should be more important than getting out. Better to greet the dive team conscious and alive than having gone fully under the water.

I’m no expert, nor even a student of survival techniques, but the uber-brain of WikiHow seems to agree with my intuition:

  • Tell the victim to calm down. Reassure the person that you know what to do and that you will come to them if necessary. Let them know, truthfully, that as long as they stay afloat, they have plenty of time. Hypothermia is not an immediate danger, and healthy adults can generally get out on their own within the first 2-5 minutes.
  • Encourage the victim to control their breathing. They will most likely be hyperventilating. Advise them to take deep, slow breaths through pursed lips.
  • Tell the person to swim to the edge of the ice and use their elbows to lift themselves partially out of the water. The weight of their wet clothes will probably make it impossible for them to lift themselves up out of the water.
  • Instruct them to kick their legs and to try to get as horizontal as possible while using their upper body to pull themselves out. They should kick their legs as they would if they were swimming.
  • Once they are out of the water, advise them to roll away from the hole to avoid breaking the ice again.

Other sites suggest that if you can’t get yourself out after a few minutes, to get to the edge, stretch your arms out over the ice (hopefully they’ll freeze in place keeping you above the water even if you pass out) and wait for help. That will give rescue workers the most amount of time to get to the scene and rescue you.

Discovery Channel has a good video on the process.

And as long as I’m handing out rescue advice, it’s a good time to read this brochure about Dog CPR. And, don’t miss Johann’s Suidoo lens on CPR for Dogs.

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.