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Pets and thin ice — a dangerous combination

By Kelly Robertson
Special to The SUN

As the days get warmer, the ice on our local lakes is beginning to thaw, creating hazardous conditions for both humans and animals alike.

Some lakes have aeration pumps that improve water quality and oxygenation for fish that leave an open body of water surrounded by ice. Pets whose owners allow them to run loose are at a higher risk for drowning in lakes in the winter months.

Some domestic animals like to swim, while others are attracted by the water fowl floating in the open water, completely unaware of the thin ice beneath them. Wildlife will enter onto the ice to cross or to drink from the open water and due to the thin ice, they fall through.

Pagosa Fire Protection District personnel, along with personnel from the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office, have responded to several calls for help to remove dogs that have fallen into the frozen waters and were unable to get themselves out.

Two dogs fell through the ice on Lake Forest and were fortunate that passersby spotted them and called 911 for help. Two men were able to coax the dogs to the dock, after which they reached out, grabbed the animals’ collars and pulled them to safety.

A similar incident occurred on Lake Pagosa and neighbors were able to rescue a dog. Last Friday during a snow storm, personnel were dispatched to Lake Forest for a dog in the frozen water. When a crew arrived, there were two dogs at the scene — one in the water and one standing next to the open water on the ice. Sheriff’s Department personnel were on scene, along with several neighbors who were calling for the dogs from the shoreline, trying to get the dogs out of the water and off the ice. PFPD firefighters donned their ice rescue gear and went out onto the ice; one firefighter entered the water. The dog that had been struggling to get out could no longer swim well and was near death.

“I will never forget the look in that dog’s eyes as it was about to go under the ice. I was fortunately able to reach out and pull it to safety,” said the firefighter.

The animal was unable to stand up on its own because its muscles were no longer working. The dog was carried off the ice wrapped in a firefighter’s bunker coat, placed in a deputy’s vehicle and transported to the Elk Park Animal Hospital. Not all rescues are this successful. On this particular call, 10 firefighters responded as did five deputies.

Please be a responsible dog owner and keep your pets inside a fenced area when you are not present. Early detection and reporting is the key to making a successful rescue in the water. If you see an animal that needs help, do not go out onto the ice to rescue the animal yourself; call 911 and allow people who have been trained in water rescue to handle it. Saving a pet from the icy waters is much easier than saving a pet and a human.

This story was posted on March 14, 2013.