Her strength dwindled with every second while holding her body out of the freezing water. The spring walk alongside a local river seemed to be her last.
Scooby, a boxer-breed dog, fell through thawing ice on the Eagle River April 18 near Anchorage leading her frantic owner to call for help. Luckily, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District employee Mike MacMillan, project manager in the Humanitarian Assistance Program, was home to answer the call from his neighbor in distress.
Fueled by adrenaline, he sprung into action upon being summoned on the late Saturday afternoon.
“I grabbed some safety rope and loaded my canoe on the top of my car,” MacMillan said. “I called my buddy to see if he could meet me at the river to help carry it.”
The two met at the South Fork Eagle River Trailhead that runs alongside the river and hiked about halfway with the boat. Eventually, he ditched the craft in order to solicit a ride from a passerby on an all-terrain vehicle to rush to the location of the suffering animal still a quarter mile away. His friend was hampered by a previous injury and stayed with the canoe.
Upon reaching the site, MacMillan noticed the dog fell through a relatively shallow area of open water that had no current. After carefully testing the ice, he slid on his belly to disperse his weight and started toward Scooby while the dog’s owner supervised.
Eventually, MacMillan pulled the boxer out of the water by the grip of her collar. At that point, she had been in the icy river for more than an hour. She was hypothermic and stiff, but still could walk on her own, he said.
Once out of the water, the owner attempted to warm the dog’s core body temperature by running back to the truck with her in tow. The veterinarian recommended keeping the pooch warm and to closely watch her for 24 hours, MacMillan said. Since then, Scooby has made a full recovery.
The event serves as a reminder that frozen bodies of water can be dangerous, according to Keith Wilson, park ranger at Chugach State Park.
“When asked, ‘Is the ice safe,’ I often tell park visitors there is really no such thing unless you’re at an indoor skating rink,” Wilson said. “Springs, nearby inlets and outlets on a lake, for example, can mean solid ice in one area and thin, unsafe spots nearby. Flowing water is more tricky and variable.”
For MacMillan, this was not the first time he has shown a soft spot for canines. His family pet, Grace, a 9-year-old Labrador retriever-mixed breed, is a rescue dog.
“Ultimately, Scooby needed to be rescued,” MacMillan said. “I assessed the risk and determined it was safe for me to make an attempt. I am glad that it worked out for everyone.”