Six Nations firefighters save family dog from icy dip

·10 min read

Ted is one lucky dog.

Having already cheated death once when he was hit by a stray bullet over the summer, the German Shepherd cross from Six Nations again found himself in deep trouble after wandering a bit too far onto the Grand River last week.

Ted’s owner, Billye Bomberry, suspects her curious pup didn’t realize the danger he was in.

“It’s covered in snow and it looks like land. I’m positive he thought, ‘I can walk on this,’” she said. “He probably didn’t even know it was a river underneath.”

If he had, Bomberry said Ted likely would have given the water a wide berth, based on the hours it took to coax the two-year-old into Lake Erie when the pair visited Long Point beach in July.

To get to the river on this bright Tuesday afternoon, Ted would have trundled down the long laneway of his River Road home, crossed the street, and picked his way over a steep and icy embankment.

It later came out that he had been romping about with another puppy, who turned back at the shore. But Ted happily nosed around the river surface, which started to crack.

In no time he was up to his neck in frigid water, struggling to get back onto dry land.

The 911 call came in just before 3 p.m. Within moments, Six Nations firefighters were speeding alongside the river, scanning the surface for signs of trouble.

Where the Grand bends near Mohawk Road and Fourth Line, they found it.

“You could see what appeared to be the dog with just his head out of the water, resting on the ice,” said Dereck Manitowabi, the acting fire chief.

The members of Gold platoon quickly formed a game plan. Manitowabi and firefighter Cameron Green slipped into bright yellow ice water rescue gear and set out in hopes of coaxing out the stranded pup, crossing their fingers he could still be saved.

“From a distance, he did not look like he was alive. He wasn’t moving at all,” Manitowabi recalled. “We started calling and whistling, and we noticed one little bit of the dog’s ear started moving. So that showed us a little sign of life.”

Their target was about 100 feet from shore, but the two firefighters had to take a circuitous route to avoid falling through the ice themselves. They crawled over the final stretch, spreading out their body weight to keep the thinning ice intact.

As they inched closer, they could see Ted’s frightened eyes darting about as he held on for dear life.

“He wasn’t moving his head, because I think he knew deep down it was the only thing holding him there,” Manitowabi said.

“He was very exhausted. Basically had no energy left. He was just kind of hanging onto the ice edge.”

This wasn’t Ted’s first brush with danger.

In his short life, he’s been abused, abandoned and shot.

“He’s got a story, this dog,” Bomberry said. “He has more lives than a cat.”

He turned up on River Road in the fall of 2019, bopping about the three houses along the laneway.

“He was dumped here. Someone didn’t want him,” Bomberry said. “I let him in my downstairs porch one day because it was rainy and he was wet and shivering, so I let him in to dry him off and warm him up.”

That was the start of a beautiful friendship, as Ted quickly made himself at home.

“He wore us down over eight months,” Bomberry said with a laugh, explaining that her stepfather, Brian, had been “dead set” against having a dog at home — until Ted won him over.

She took Ted to the vet in June to get him his shots, and he officially became part of the family.

He was skittish at first, recoiling at the slightest raised voice or even the wave of a hand.

“I’d pull out the broom to sweep and he would go running. He was clearly an abused dog. No one took care of him,” Bomberry said.

“We weren’t looking for a dog, but he was looking for us.”

Their “sweet and handsome” dog reminded the Bomberrys of actor Keanu Reeves, so they named him after one of Reeves’ iconic characters.

“My name’s Billye, so we’re Bill and Ted,” Bomberry said.

Like their namesakes, the duo adventures together, enjoying hikes through forest trails and along Hamilton waterfalls.

That is until one day in July, when near-disaster struck.

“He came home and his paw was bloody and hurt. I took him to the vet and they said it was a gunshot wound,” Bomberry said. “Someone around here shot our dog.”

The bullet shattered Ted’s legbone, and the vet had to amputate. But the irrepressible pup bounced back in no time.

“He’s adapted to three legs really well,” Bomberry said. “The day after his surgery, he wanted to run around. But of course, he had to take it easy.”

That is no easy task for Ted, who despite now having a permanent address is hardly housebound.

Bomberry initially put him on a long lead when in the yard, but Ted had a habit of wrapping it around a tree, if not escaping entirely.

His owners soon accepted that their dog was made to roam.

“We just let him run around outside. We don’t leash him up or anything,” Bomberry said. “I call him, he always comes back. He doesn’t ever go very far from home. He’s never gone to the river before.”

But Ted’s social butterfly side does sometimes get him into trouble.

“He’s just so happy and loving. He’ll jump in anyone’s car,” Bomberry said. “He jumped in someone’s car one day and I found him in ‘lost and found pets’ on the internet.”

Last Tuesday, the day he ended up in the river, Bomberry didn’t make much of Ted’s absence at first. She had let him out around noon to “make his rounds” of the houses in the lane and confer with his canine pals.

But after a few hours passed, she started to worry. He had been gone too long.

“I was calling for him and calling for him, and he wasn’t coming back,” she said. “I finally was like, something’s wrong.”

By the time Bomberry started to look for Ted in earnest, he had been submerged for nearly half an hour. His thick fur provided some protection, but the firefighters could see he needed a change of scene, and fast.

“He was super cold,” Green said. “By the time we got to him, he already had icicles growing on him. They were already forming on his fur.”

Green set up a lifeline in front of the dog while Manitowabi slipped into the water beside him.

“I got in to get control of the dog,” Manitowabi said. “Because there is a bit of a current there, we didn’t want him to break free and get pulled under.”

Working together, the two tried to hoist Ted to safety, with the rest of Gold platoon keeping close watch from the shore and gripping the rescue lines tethered to their comrades.

“Their goal at that point is to make sure that if we get in trouble, they’re able to pull us in with those life safety ropes,” Manitowabi said.

Manitowabi worked to get a rescue sling around the dog to lift him out of the water, but the sling kept slipping off. That’s when he learned Ted was missing a leg, which helped explain why he needed rescuing in the first place.

“The person who called it in said he was bouncing around, swimming around, trying to get out. But he was missing one front paw, so he really didn’t have much to grab on and pull himself out,” the fire chief said.

Changing tack, the firefighters wrapped Ted in a flotation device and tried to lift him out. Ted weighs 70 pounds — recently confirmed by the vet after the accident-prone pooch cut his back paw and needed treatment — and in his frozen state was essentially dead weight.

After a few failed attempts, and with more ice starting to give way, Green and Manitowabi gave it one last heave.

“As soon as we got the dog up, Cameron started pulling the rope, which pulled the dog right out of the ice,” Manitowabi said. “Then the dog got up and waddled over to Cameron.”

Wasting no time, Manitowabi fashioned a makeshift leash from one of the rescue lines and looped it around Ted’s neck to keep him close as the trio gingerly picked their way back to shore.

The chilly caper concluded, Ted soon found himself wrapped in blankets and nestled inside a fire truck.

“Surprisingly, he was doing well,” Green said. “By the time we got him back in the hall he was already making improvements.”

Bomberry was headed to a nearby cemetery — one of Ted’s favourite haunts — when she saw a neighbour outside his house and pulled over to ask if he had seen a dog running about.

“And he said, ‘Oh, that’s your dog? You just missed him. He’s at the fire station,’” she said.

The neighbour — the same guardian angel who had seen Ted go through the ice and called for help — barely finished his explanation before Bomberry peeled away.

The platoon had just unloaded its equipment — Green was still in his rescue suit – when she tore into the station to find Ted sipping some water, subdued but alive.

“He was just laying around the station, keeping warm. Everybody was showing him all sorts of love and affection,” Manitowabi said. “The crew was really excited for the save.”

A relieved Bomberry brought Ted back a few hours later for a proper visit with his rescuers.

“He was much warmer, a much happier dog,” Manitowabi said. “They brought some fresh-baked cookies and thanked the crew again.”

Bomberry said that was the least she could do for the people who saved her three-legged wanderer.

“It’s not enough. I’m going to bring them cupcakes too. They’re probably going to get goodies for as long as I’m alive,” she said, adding that a batch of cupcakes was also destined for her sharp-eyed neighbour.

“I’m forever grateful,” she said, looking down at Ted dozing by her feet.

“He’s our family.”

For the fire department, rescuing Ted was a shot in the arm during a difficult year.

“Everybody was flying high that night,” Manitowabi said. “We have a lot of people with dogs at the station, and they’re treated just like family.”

Green was glad the platoon’s actions had averted a tragedy and allowed for the happy reunion.

“It doesn’t really sink in until after that we really made a difference and possibly saved the dog’s life,” he said. “It was nice to end one on a good note.”

This story ended well, but the fire department wants to avoid having to rescue more pets or people by reminding everyone to stay safe around the ice.

“Remember that it’s still possible to fall through, even though the ice is still pretty thick in some spots,” Green said, noting that temperature swings and rushing river currents can weaken what appears to be strong ice.

“The top layer may be frozen and there’s snow, so it looks like it’s safe. But deep down inside there’s not a lot of ice underneath,” Manitowabi added. “It gets eroded very quickly. Be mindful that there’s always changing ice conditions on the river.”

One week after Ted’s unexpected swim, the plucky pup is up to his old tricks, dashing about the snow and greeting everyone with a friendly tail wag and outstretched paw.

“He’s completely back to normal now,” Bomberry said. “He’s his old self again.”

Their harrowing ordeal behind them, Billye and Ted are ready for more adventures — just not by the river.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator