A few extra minutes of outside playtime for a Newfoundland retriever named Tank quickly turned dangerous on Monday and became a cold-water rescue for Charlotte first responders.
Fire fighters had just returned to the station following a traffic accident Monday afternoon when they got a 911 call about a dog struggling in an icy pond on Guinea Road.
Dina Townsend said that when she looked outside to call in her dog, she noticed that their one-acre pond was covered in snow. Then, she said, “I saw a black hole in the middle of the pond. In the middle of that hole was his little head.”
Because of the snow cover, 10-year-old Tank hadn’t noticed that he was walking on ice, and had fallen through. “We fence the pond in the winter,” Townsend said, “because once the snow hits the ice it looks solid…I don’t know how or why he got under there.”
Townsend dialed 911 and the crew, still at the station after its earlier call, was on its way.
“I don’t know why I did it,” Townsend said of her call to emergency services. She said she didn’t want to make a nuisance call, but it seemed like a real emergency. She didn’t want to just stand there, she said, “and watch him slip away.”
Assistant Chief Rob Mullin of the Charlotte Volunteer Fire and Rescue Services and several others responded. Mullin said because they had just been out, they were able to do a quick turn around.
He said that he was glad Townsend called for help rather than attempt to rescue her dog herself. “We will go out and rescue pets, because there’s a 99 percent chance the owner will try, and then we have to go back and get a person out of the water.”
The Charlotte Fire Department and Charlotte Rescue responded to the call. As a matter of standard procedure, they keep cold-water wet suits in the truck, which Mullin and Captain Devin St. George were already wearing by the time they arrived at the Townsend home.
The department’s news release set the scene: “Upon arrival, crews were led to a pond in the rear of the residence and observed a medium sized dog struggling to stay afloat while clinging to the ice approximately 30 feet from the shore.”
By the time rescue personnel arrived, Townsend said, Tank had stopped trying to swim, and feeling both panicky and helpless, she ran into her garage for a paddleboard and a life jacket to try and save him on her own.
All she could see of her dog, she said, was “a nose and the tip of his paw,” and there was no way she could just stand there and do nothing.
The pond is quite large and deep five feet at the shore, and over 20 feet deep in the middle. Townsend said she was amazed at the response time and fearlessness of the rescue team. They arrived just as she was getting her paddleboard, some rope and a ladder.
“Those guys were something else,” she said. “They literally did not waste a second. They were in that pond within seconds.”
Breaking through the ice, two crew members were able to reach the dog in the deep water and pull him to safety. Several other members of the department remained on shore to make sure there were tether ropes for the divers.
“We’re trained for it,” Mullin said, “and we train in these suits during the winter time, and we also have instructors here who teach ice and water rescue.”
Ironically, Tank, a rescue dog is afraid of water — to the point where he is even fearful of being groomed. Townsend said she was worried that if he was stressed or scared, he might panic and try to bite one of the rescuers.
But Tank swam right to them, and Mullin carried the dripping, cold dog into the house and put him on his bed, where Tank warmed up wrapped in towels near a space heater.
After the rescuers removed their diving gear, Townsend said they were unrecognizable in regular clothes. This didn’t faze the usually shy Tank, Townsend said. He offered his best canine thank you to Mullin.
“Tank walks right over to him and just snuggles into him and starts licking his face. It was the cutest thing you’ve ever seen in your life,” she said.
Townsend said she is grateful for and impressed with the speed and professionalism of the rescue crew. “They were so good,” she said. “We have this small town, and volunteer rescue, but man, they were amazing.”