A dog and his owner are being hailed as heroes after saving two young girls who fell into the icy waters of the North Saskatchewan River near Edmonton late Sunday afternoon.
At around 4:30 p.m., Adam Shaw and his family were walking their dog Rocky, a Labrador retriever-Husky cross, on the Rundle Park footbridge when he heard screams from below.
Shaw, in his 20s, looked down and saw one girl splashing in the water while another tried to pull her to safety. Shaw and Rocky bolted down to the water’s edge, but by the time they got there both girls were in the water and one was drifting downstream.
“The other girl was four or five hundred yards down the river,” Shaw said.
“We walked back to the edge where [the ice] was still pretty thick and started running down the edge of the ice to get towards her.”
Shaw pulled the six-year-old girl from the water and set her safely on shore before running down the river after the nine year old.
But as he and Rocky chased the girl downriver, the ice beneath them crumbled and they plunged into the cold water.
Shaw pushed Rocky back onto the ice and managed to hoist himself out of the water with help from his dog.
“He got his front paws up and I pushed him up and kind of grabbed a hold of his neck and pulled myself up on the ice,” Shaw said.
Soaked and freezing, the duo continued to run downriver, desperate to keep the girl in sight.
Michael Tucker, spokesman for the Edmonton Fire Rescue Services said the girl was in serious trouble.
“At times, [Shaw] thought she was gone because he saw her go under a few times,” Tucker said. “She was barely hanging on.”
When Shaw and Rocky finally caught up to her, Shaw had a plan.
“I knew that if she could get a hold of [Rocky’s] leash and hang on to it, it would be no problem getting him [to swim] back,” Shaw said.
So, he cinched the leash tight around the eight-year-old dog’s neck and nudged him towards the helpless girl.
Rocky then jumped in beside the girl, who managed to grab on to the leash immediately.
“I said just grab with two hands and let him do it,” Shaw said. “I called him back and he came back to the edge of the ice.”
Once Rocky had towed her in close to the water’s edge, Shaw pulled the dog out of the water and then was able to reach the girl and pull her to safety.
When firefighters met the girl on shore, she was “barely conscious and very hypothermic. She could barely talk,” Tucker said. Both girls were taken to the University of Alberta Hospital and are in stable condition.
Shaw was treated by paramedics at the scene, but was not hospitalized, Tucker said. “He went home to hug his kids and salvage his Easter dinner. This was just an unbelievable story of heroics between a man and his dog.”
On Monday, both Shaw and Rocky were honoured by Edmonton firefighters for their bravery, but for Shaw, knowing the girls were saved is reward enough.
“It’s a bit surreal. I did what I’d hope anyone would do. I mean, two young kids in the water… you’re going to try to help them in some way.”
Tucker added that the close-call should be a reminder to Edmontonians.
“The ice surfaces of Edmonton storm water lakes, ponds and rivers are becoming dangerous,” he said. “Ice surfaces may appear thick enough to walk on but they are hazardous and it is never safe to go on the ice of the North Saskatchewan River.”
With files from Postmedia and Francis Silvaggio