On thin ice: Dog rescued at Mendenhall River

No time to 'paws' when it comes to cold water rescue

When it comes to icy cold water, minutes can determine life or death. Ollie the black Labrador retriever was lucky that Shane Leavitt heard his cries and came to the rescue.


Leavitt, business manager at the Juneau Empire, was home with his family when he and his wife heard a sound from outside — a dog yelping and barking. Leavitt said he and his wife waited at first, assuming the dog’s owner would address the issue, but when the yelping continued and they determined it was coming from the direction of the Mendenhall River, not other houses, Leavitt went to investigate.

“We got flashlights and went down there. Our house is on the river, and I shined the flashlight and, sure enough, there were two eyeballs sticking up through the ice,” Leavitt said. “Immediately you think the worst.”

The dog, he said, had stopped yelping, but started blinking, so they knew he was still alive.

With no rope on hand, Leavitt grabbed some extension cords, wrapping one around his waist and tying it to a tree, wielding the other like a lasso.

He was unable to loop the second cord around the dog — “My grandma would be disappointed,” Leavitt said — so, donning waders, he moved in to grab the dog.

“I crawled out on the ice ... and got close enough to reach his front paws, then pulled him out and took him in the house,” Leavitt said.

Leavitt and his wife called Southeast Alaska Animal Medical Center, which provides after-hours and weekend dispatch and emergency services.

Veterinarian Dr. Patrick Taylor confirmed that the veterinarian on duty had taken a call about a dog that had fallen through the ice on Tuesday night.

“The good Samaritan elected not to bring the pet in,” Taylor said in a phone interview, “And was given advice on how to warm the dog up.”

Leavitt said they were talked through warming the dog.

They took the dog’s temperature, which was below 98 degrees, Leavitt said. (Dogs are warmer than people, with normal body temperatures above 100 degrees.)

“We put him in front of the fire, had a space heater, wrapped him in blankets and towels and kept petting him,” he said.

After warming up and checking out his new environment, the dog settled at his feet to be scratched.

The dog made it through the night and Leavitt’s sons told him it was Ollie, a dog belonging to some neighbors. Ollie was returned safely home after playing with the boys.

Taylor said pets are in as much danger in winter weather as humans are.

“If they fall through the ice ... it’s difficult for the animal to get out unless the ice is really soft,” Taylor said.

Taylor said treating an animal that has fallen through the ice is much the same as treating a human. He recommends wrapping the animal in blankets, warming it gradually with tools like hair driers or hot water bottles.

At the clinic, they have more options for warming the animal, including an IV with warm fluids, a warm kennel and an oxygen kennel with a warming unit.

Taylor suggests keeping an eye on pets in inclement weather, and not just when it comes to ice.

“We’ve had two to three dogs at least this winter, running alongside, get a foot run over with a ski.”

Taylor said to mind ice conditions and to keep dogs off thin ice and on leash.

In the case of Ollie, the close call was a case of escape. Leavitt said one neighbor would let the dog out and the spouse would let Ollie back in after arriving home from work. The owners searched for Ollie that night, but he was already safe inside the Leavitts’ home.

“I don’t know if it’s a miracle,” Leavitt said, “But he wanted to live.”


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