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Doggone close call: Harvard fire rescue pooch from pond

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HARVARD — It’s hard being a new dog in town. But one part-beagle/part-Labrador mix has now met a healthy number of town emergency responders after being rescued from thin ice on Bare Hill Pond.

On thin ice

An eyewitness walking down Pond Road by the town beach last Sunday morning at 9:30 spotted Wallace, or “Wally” for short. He was stranded on a piece of thin ice in the vicinity of the boat ramp. The person called to the dog but Wally was clearly stuck. After calling police, the call went out over the scanner for help down at the pond.

Lt. Rob Warren, a 20-year department veteran, was first on the scene, quickly followed by Lt. Tony Shaw, who celebrates 30 years with the department next month. With some assistance from other responders, the two walked a town boat across about eight feet of knee-deep mud until they reached a couple inches of water depth. The two climbed into the boat and, using their paddles, pushed off against the muddy pond floor to get into navigable water. Shaw said, “Rob paddled and I broke the ice in front with my paddles.”

Warren said as they approached, the dog didn’t bark so much as it had a last-minute panic attack, struggling around a bit. His front legs and head were above water, his paws clinging to the ice. His rear end was submerged in the cold water. Warren said it was clear “it wasn’t going to get out by itself.”

Warren maneuvered the boat closer. The ice was about a quarter of an inch thick in the area. Shaw said the dog “got a little nervous as I got close to it, but once it knew I was there to help him, there was no problem.”

“It had been there for a while because it was cold,” said Shaw. He reached down, grabbed the dog by the collar and pulled the pooch in. Shaw said he was a “good little dog,” about 40-50 pounds, though the dog’s fur was half saturated with water.

By the time the men got back to shore, there was about a dozen emergency responders along the shore. The dog was passed off, wrapped in a blanket and placed into a warm police cruiser. Warren said they learned a lot the prior year, when a horse got stuck in the pond mud in roughly the same area. They were warned then to ensure the animal is warmed to help avoid shock.

New dog on the block

Luckily, Wally was wearing a collar with the family telephone number on it. The call was placed that the dog was found and rescued from the pond.

The relieved owners are the Rowan family, who are new to town after relocating here from the Washington, D.C., area in November. They’re living temporarily on Warren Avenue.

Wally is brother to sister Lilly, adopted from the same litter but with different personalities. Lilly’s a “homebody,” said Megan Rowan. Wally… ah, not so much. More typical of his breeding, Wally sprinted off during his morning constitutional on Sunday, leaving Lilly behind.

After about 10 minutes outside, Lilly barked to come inside, but Wally was nowhere in sight. “Must have been chasing geese,” said Rowan, adding Wally was sowing his oats after being “all cooped up in Washington.” They knew, she said, he must have wandered down hill to the pond.

While she was grateful for the emergency response, Rowan said, “I felt horrible they had to do that on a Sunday.” But she noted that it was a warming snapshot of Harvard life.

“It’s nice to live in a small town. In Virginia, that would never have happened. We’re very appreciative,” she said, adding that she made some cookies and apple cake and delivered it to the police dispatcher to thank the crew.

As for Wally, “he’s fine,” said Rowan. He came home “shaking, covered in mud” so they drew a warm bath for a soothing soak, wrapped him in a blanket and the family “sat in front of the fire.” The family was warned to ensure that Wally would eat and to watch to see if any kind of shock set in. But Wally fared well.

The next day, on Monday, Wally was rearing to go. “He’s ready to go out today. He’s all cranked up,” said Rowan, who said he’d be chained on a lead for the foreseeable future until Wally gets his bearings.

Chief Robert Mignard said the department has apparatus for ice rescues, including two exposure suits and pontoon boats capable of spreading weight out evenly when conducting ice rescues. In this case, the men went in without that gear. Mignard said the department conducts more animal than human ice rescues from the pond. “I was actually surprised there was enough ice to support the weight of a dog” this early in the season, said Mignard.

Both Warren and Shaw are dog owners. Shaw encouraged people to call in the emergency responders whenever man or beast is stuck out on the pond ice. Shaw said of the canine rescue, “It’s man’s best friend. If you’re gonna rescue ‘man,’ you should rescue his best friend too.”