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A curious mind and a slippery slope sent Mike, an 11-year-old dog, careening over a 16-foot embankment into Connecticut’s frigid Willimantic River earlier this month.
That’s where rescuers from the Willimantic City Fire and Willimantic police saw the dog on March 10, a snowy day, after responding to an emergency call from Mike’s owner, Patricia Halloran.
“I take him walking at least a mile every day, but this time he wandered too close to the edge of the trail, sniffed the ground, and fell over the side,” Halloran said. “I was frantic the strong river current would carry him away.”
Struggling to stay afloat, Mike stood chest-deep in the icy water on an underwater ledge of tree roots and branches. Halloran quickly called 911.
“Mike is a 140-pound Great Dane and he had been in the river for a half-hour,” said Lt. Stanley Parizo Jr., of the Willimantic Police Department. “We knew he wouldn’t last much longer if we didn’t get him out.”
Fire and police officials considered two rescue options: send in divers, or dispatch two firefighters to suit up in cold weather gear, rappel into the water and wade over to the dog. They chose the latter.
Attached to safety lines on shore, Colin Martin and David Stevens took the plunge and waded through the deep water. “Once we reached Mike we were prepared to carry him up the hill, or transport him in a sling, but we would save the dog no matter how we did it,” said Stevens.
As the firefighters approached Mike, he seemed happy to see them. “We maneuvered him to the other side of the bank where the exit looked easier,” said Stevens.
When Mike reached the water’s edge, Martin and Stevens guided the dog a few feet up the bank until he strode up the hill without any help.
Once he reached safety, Mike began shaking uncontrollably. The dog was cold and his heart rate was slightly elevated. Wrapping the dog in a thick blanket, Parizo placed Mike in a police car and drove him to the North Windham Animal Hospital. (The rescuers were fine: "As soon as the dog was safely back on shore, the firefighters took off their cold weather suits and were good to go," said Lt. Holly Swiney of the Willimantic City Fire Department.)
The veterinarian treated the Great Dane for mild hypothermia. A few hours later the dog’s condition was stable, and he was allowed to go home.
“After this ordeal, I am so thankful that Mike was OK,” said Halloran, a retired nurse who lives in Amston, about 14 miles from Willimantic. “He’s a tough old boy.” She took him home and made him some chicken soup to eat. Mike eagerly lapped up the soup and slept soundly.
The dog spent the next week sleeping a lot and moaning and groaning while using stairs in the house. Halloran thinks Mike was sore, but credits the dog’s quick recovery to his daily exercise prior to the fall.
“We adopted him six years ago, and for an 11-year-old dog he’s so athletic,” said Halloran. The owner plans to resume their walking schedule when Mike fully recuperates.
But will they return to the same trail above the river where Mike fell? “Yes," she said, "but not for awhile.”