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Venturing onto the ice...all for a dog

Posted Wednesday, December 16, 2009, at 9:15 AM

While this story is about a dog (and not a particularly smart one at that as you will soon find out), the real purpose is to thank the people who ended up saving the dog.

Last Friday, my Great Pyrenees, Rufus, fell into our ponds south of Barnett Park and the Republican River. The assumption is that he was chasing geese and likely fell in or decided to swim after them. Either way, he was then unable to get out of the partially frozen pond.

Fortunately, some good samaritans were driving by on Highway 83 and spotted a dog struggling to get out of the pond. Don and Jeff Ruppert not only took the time to call the Red Willow County Sheriff's office, but lent the use of their ropes and 4-wheel drive truck. They were determined to stay around the until the situation came to an end.

After a phone call from my husband about the dog, I had arrived on the scene as had Sheriff Gene Mahon and Deputy Bert Curl. We all struggled to figure out a way to get Rufus out of the pond, since he was at least 100-200 feet in the middle of the open pond surrounded by ice - ice that we didn't know its thickness or sturdiness. Venturing out on the ice by foot was not an option.

The hardest part was standing there, able to do nothing to solve the situation, just waiting for the dog to finally give up, go under the water and not come back up. It should be noted that Rufus has been paddling in the water with just his head on the edge of the ice for at least an hour at this point. We're not sure how long he had been in the water before the Ruppert's spotted him.

Thankfully, Bob Allen from the McCook Fire Department had joined the scene and suggested the use of a flat-bottomed boat to reach Rufus.

After rounding up all his safety gear, his boat plus fellow fireman Mike Schoenemann, Bob returned to attempt the rescue. This involved tying ropes around both Bob and Mike as well as to the boat, all anchored to their pick-up truck.

With the risk of falling through the ice and into the freezing water themselves, Bob and Mike slowly waded onto the ice-covered pond as they pushed their boat, not knowing if it any point the ice was going to crack.

They finally reached Rufus, who had somehow swam back across the open-portion of the pond to our side of the ice. Another point of interest, Rufus is not a small dog and most closely resembles a polar bear. In fact, he weighs 140 pounds. Add some water and ice to his fur and we guessed they would be pulling around 175 pounds out of the water and onto that trecherous ice. But after just two good pulls, they did yank Rufus from the water and he trotted across the ice and right up the bank of the pond. After at least two hours in the freezing water, he didn't look any the worse for wear.

I don't claim to read his mind, but I swear it was, "What's the big deal? Why are all you guys out here?"

I've been asked if I got pictures or video of the rescue since this is the stuff of You-Tube fame. Grabbing something to record the moment was actually not on my mind. Later, I wished I had grabbed my phone with a built-in camera, just so I would have been reachable. But not only did I forget my phone in my haste to the pond, I didn't even stop to put on socks for my slip-on shoes. All I managed to remember was a towel and blanket on the assumption we would get the dog out of the water.

We were all amazed that Rufus survived the two hours in the water, which we attributed to his breed. He has two layers of fur - designed for the breed to live in the Pyrenees Mountains - which helped him keep warm. Dr. Wayne Watkins, who immediately agreed to examin the dog after his rescue, said that outer, hollow layer of fur is also what kept him afloat for so long.

In the end, the only consequence Rufus suffered was a drop in body temperature from a standard 102 degrees to 95 degrees. He also had to go on anti-biotics just in case he swallowed something harmful during his time in the water.

But that was it, thanks to Bob and Mike venturing onto that frozen pond, the Rupperts for spotting the struggling dog and everyone else who helped rescue our very-lucky-but-not-so-smart-dog from the water.

This story does not have a truly happy ending. Rufus was not likely alone when he ventured onto the ponds. Our other dog was likely with him, but unfortunately, he was small and skinny with short fur and would have likely only lastest a few minutes in the freezing water. Every day now, we drive up to the edge of the ponds to see if also went in, just so we can finally know.

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So "these dogs" live adjacent to a potentially dangerous situation so they do not need to be confined or supervised. And how well is that working?

-- Posted by Grandma B on Tue, Dec 29, 2009, at 1:46 PM

Grandma B.

I totally agree with you. The Humane Society is full of wandering "farm" and "city" dogs. Those are the live ones, think how many wandering dogs have been killed. I have seen both city and "farm" dogs that are chained, kenneled, confined to a box, puppy milled and neglected. Look around, they are everywhere. Just because you live in the country doesn't mean that your dogs should run free, nor does it mean that they are invincible and will live happily ever after.

-- Posted by Pigman1 on Fri, Dec 18, 2009, at 4:08 PM

They are country dogs that don't need to be on leashes or chains as I have yet to EVER come across my first farm dog that is tied up or confined to a box like most neglected "city" dogs are.

These dogs in the story live adjacent to the natural sand pits of the republicans river valley.

-- Posted by Justin76 on Fri, Dec 18, 2009, at 12:22 PM

I don't understand--were the dogs just running around by themselves? Why wasn't a responsible owner with them? Why weren't they on leashes? I love my dogs so much, I just don't understand.

-- Posted by Grandma B on Fri, Dec 18, 2009, at 11:48 AM

So sorry Rhonda, I thought it was a happy story. Your English Setter was such a happy, lovie dog. I'll miss seeing him out there.

I hope maybe he's just lost and will come back soon.

I thought this story was great to read today, as I was out with my weim today and she disappeared for a little while and wouldn't come to me. I thought for minute that she might have fallen through the ice on the Frenchman as it was partially froze over and she'd been there earlier drinking and almost fell through on a thin piece.

I began to run faster to the river faster as I kept thinking of her trying to hold her head above freezing water and the water moving her into more ice.

Luckily she as just being a dumb puppy and just not listening to me, or she was afraid to walk past the cows to come back to where I was.

Again, I hope your setter comes home, good thing Rufus is okay and way to go rescue crew. The Ruppert brothers are good guys, I don't doubt they wouldn't stop to help anyone.

-- Posted by Justin76 on Wed, Dec 16, 2009, at 10:50 PM

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Ronda Graff
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