Copy's Excellent Adventure, part II

Copy romps through cockleburs in Part I

 

This 80-degree weather in early March reminds me of the winter it wasn't so warm...

We have a little mud puddle that we dignify with the word “pond.” It’s fed by the runoff from a hill and about every third winter it gets enough ice to skate on. Tuesday it was 10 degrees. Wednesday, when it was a balmy 22, I went down to check the ice.

The dogs obligingly tested it first, walking gingerly on the shallow end. Gyp, the country dog, retreated when the ice cracked, but our citified and heavy-coated visitor, Copy, was having so much fun skittering on the ice that he decided to take off at full speed across the pond. I watched the entire surface of the ice wave in his wake before his 45 pounds made a big hole in the middle of the deep end.

Copy, in great surprise, began paddling vigorously – only to find himself hemmed in. Although the ice broke every time he pawed it, he kept changing direction. He was making the hole bigger but making little progress towards the bank. I ran to the dam and called him. Thinking the other side might be closer, I ran to another point. Then I came back to the dam. The dog was still paddling frantically in all directions.

By now the dog had been in the water three or four minutes. How long could he last? There was the strength issue, the shock of the cold water, the toll of his struggles with the wet weight of his massive fur coat. We had no boat, no dock. There was no branch long enough to reach 20 feet out to the ice hole. Even if I had time to go for help, what help would I go for?

As I watched, Copy got a grip on the edge of the ice and hung on, catching his breath. He looked pathetic and desperate.

Oh man. I didn’t want to go in the water. I remembered one time, years ago, North Pole owner Harvey Layne telling me about a cow falling through the ice. Harvey, then about 75 years old, stripped down, took a rope and went in after her. Both of them survived.

There seemed nothing to do but wade in and get the dog. I had a fleeting moment of hesitation as I imagined stepping in the mucky muddy pond bottom. I kept my duck boots on in fear of snapping turtles, and I kept my goose down jacket on because I didn’t want to be cold.

Okay, sometimes in emergencies, people don’t think rationally.

Several years ago, we had the pond renovated. The trees growing on the dam were removed, the pond dredged and the dam raised, so that the former mud puddle was now actually deep enough to drown in.

I wasn’t sure exactly how deep it was, but I learned pretty quickly. It fell off as soon as I waded through the cattails. In no time, I was slogging through gooshy pond muck with water up to my neck.

Really glad I had on those boots. And the jacket.

The dog was once again paddling frantically in all directions. I could hear myself calling him in a hoarse voice. The cold water had taken my breath away. I hoped it wouldn’t take my pulse away.

When I was in five feet of water, Copy was still a couple or three yards away, so I plunged ahead, kicking with my legs and breaking the ice as I swam towards him.

Readers of this column will remember from Copy’s Excellent Adventure, Part I, wherein the city dog romped around the State Farm collecting cockleburs, that Copy is a keeshond with 10-inch fur. As I was thrashing around among the ice floes of Pond Williams trying to rescue the dog, I was glad he had a coat like a lion’s mane to grab onto.

           

I suppose, once I had broken a path, the dog would have paddled to safety on his own. But I decided not to wait and see. I grabbed his scruff with my right hand, took what seemed like 87 strokes with my left arm and got us back to where I could touch bottom.

At that point, the gooshy pond muck under my feet felt pretty good.

I shoved Copy through the cattails to where he could touch bottom, and we clambered up the steep bank, our coats heavy with ice water.

As we climbed the hill to the house, I couldn’t help thinking, This would be a good time for a hot flash. Copy undoubtedly felt the same way, because by the time we got to the back door, his coat was a mass of icicles. He did something he’s probably never done before: shivered.

All I could think was, it’s a good thing this didn’t happen the day before, when it was really cold.

Excerpt from “Bush Hogs and Other Swine”   Copyright Robin Williams