My flashlight started to fail about halfway across the river. It was fairly new and fully charged but it bobbled weakly between the rushing water I was wading across and the dog lying on the far side. I picked my way closer in the inky blackness but it was a moonless night and icy water surged over the tops of my boots as the last of the light ebbed away leaving me in total darkness. The bummer was that I was crossing on a narrow concrete spillway and had a steep drop off of about 8 feet on my left and a lesser drop on my right. The water crashing over the dam made a huge racket and it was a strange feeling to be standing there alone in the dark, unable to see or hear anything but the roar of the water.
As an animal control officer I knew I really shouldn’t be doing this by myself and had called for a sheriff’s deputy to back me up before I even left the truck. Unfortunately I had been too antsy to wait. I was sick with worry that the dog lying on the far side would succumb before I could reach her and had headed through a wooded area and down to the water alone. Hopefully, if I waited long enough a deputy would find me but they didn’t know exactly where I was and I wouldn’t be able to hear my phone or radio over the roar of the water.
The call had come in around 9 p.m. A man stated that he had been at the river near dusk and noticed a sick or injured dog lying on the far side. He had to leave but gave me some sketchy directions to find her. I was only vaguely familiar with the park but knew it to be somewhat of an afterhour’s hangout for shady characters. I didn’t technically have to go. It was nearly an hour from my house, I didn’t have anyone standing by and often the animal is either fine or long gone when we arrive. Still, I couldn’t bear the thought of a dog possibly in distress and had headed out.
As I stood there, afraid to move lest I tumble off the dam, I suddenly remembered that we had just been given tiny new flashlights for our belts. I hadn’t used mine yet and it was probably too small to help much but should be better than nothing. I fumbled with the holder and managed to pull it free and turn it on. To my delight it cut a strong swath of light across the water and lit the dog up like a spotlight.
I immediately slogged the rest of the way across and approached the dog. She didn’t even lift her head and I had to look close to see that she was breathing. She was an elderly German Shorthair Pointer and I called to her but got no response so I gently stroked her graying face. The milky eyes opened briefly and she shivered uncontrollably, but that was it. Her hind legs rested in the water and the rest of her was lying on the edge of the concrete dam.
Holding the light in my teeth, I gently scooped her up, soaking my uniform in the process, and headed back across the black rushing water. She may have been old but she probably weighed 60 pounds or so and by the time I reached the steep bank on the far side I was out of breath. I struggled to the top and then set her gently on a picnic table for a moment while I caught my breath, shivering along with her in the night chill.
When I finely reached my truck, I examined her carefully. She appeared well cared for and was clean and soft with neatly trimmed nails. Nothing seemed broken and her gums were a healthy pink. She seemed to just be chilled and exhausted. I dried her off and settled her on a thick comforter and wrapped several blankets around her, tucking the edges in and leaving only her sweet face exposed. She wore a collar and tag but it was a rabies tag that couldn’t be traced after hours and she didn’t have a microchip. She looked at me briefly before sighing and closing her eyes.
The next morning found the dog feeling much better and her frantic owners at the shelter looking for her. A worker at their home had left a gate open and the old girl had gone exploring. Deaf and somewhat frail, she had wandered down to the river and been too weak and disoriented to climb back up the steep bank. Her owners had searched for her all evening to no avail.
It was such a joy to reunite this sweet old girl with her family and a good reminder to check your pets ID. Ideally dogs should wear a buckle caller with a personal ID tag with several phone numbers. A microchip is the perfect backup in case the caller gets lost. Tags also wear through periodically. Are your pets tags current and in good shape?