The greatest pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him, and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself, too.
― Samuel Butler
I went out for a walk with the dogs a while back; it was just after a cold snap, -20°C for a week or so, and finally it was warming up. You wouldn’t call it warm per se, being only a few degrees above zero, but in comparison to what we were having before it was positively balmy. At 2 or 3°C I was still decked out in winter boots/coat, scarf, toque and mitts. I didn’t go crazy thinking it was shorts and tee-shirt weather just yet, although I’m sure some people in this city would have argued to the contrary. My point is that though it was sunny and pleasant, it was still cold with no shortage of ice and snow.
Rupert, for whatever reason, decided that that day was a good day to test how serious I am about our relationship. Rupert is my 2 year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, although some might mistake him for my own biological son, seeing as we’re both redheads and all.
He’s about twenty pounds and a bit of a trouble maker. Lately he’s been going through a phase of doggy teenage rebellion. The terrible twos, perhaps. I don’t know. The other day, for example, I went out to meet a friend for lunch. I was only gone for an hour and by the time I came home Rupert had managed to chew most of the hair off one of his ears. As if he purposely gave himself a haircut he knew I would hate.
The area that I take them to is about a thirty minute walk from home. It’s in a bit of a valley, forested; very pretty. A few years ago the city installed these storm ponds in the area and fenced them (and much of the forest) off in a reclamation attempt. Which is fortunate when it’s wintertime because you wouldn’t want to be walking the dogs where all these frozen ponds are, you know?
Well as it turned out the local coyotes didn’t much care for the fencing. I guess it was in the way of their usual hunting commutes, so naturally they tore a hole right through the bottom of one of the sections. You wouldn’t really notice it unless you happened to look at it, but unfortunately for me Rupert leaves nothing unchecked and he is of course the perfect size to squeeze right through.
I see him staring at me from the other side, right by this big, and now somewhat thawing, frozen pond. Neither of us is moving, we’re at a standstill.
(I’m yelling, of course.)
Me: Come here! Back on this side!
Me: I swear to god, Rupert, I will end you if you don’t come here right now.
I’m using my stern, warning voice, which I believe is his favourite to make a mockery of. He’s holding all the cards and he knows it. He has a very particular look on his face, and I know it all too well. It’s his I’m-such-a-devil-I-love-breaking-the-rules-and-not-listening-to-my-mom look.
I call him one more time and as I make my move toward the fence he turns and bolts like a bandit toward the pond, right onto the ice. Had this happened earlier in the week when it was still a frozen wasteland, it probably wouldn’t have been a problem. But as it’s above freezing, and the sun is shining, the centre of said pond is starting to melt. As I’m watching him run off, tail in the air, hearing his happy panting breaths as he gallops across the ice, I say out loud…. he’s gonna fall in. Seconds later I watch him disappear under the ice.
You see, if this had happened to Buttercup (my other dog) I might not have worried so much. She is a duck toller and a true water dog. But not Rupert. He can’t swim (so far as I know). Especially in frozen water, I’m sure. The most he had ever done during summer when I took them to the river was dip his paws in.
I hauled ass over the fence like an inmate during the critical final seconds of their prison escape. At least I’d like to think so. I dropped down to the other side and ran to the edge of the pond, seeing his little head bob up and down as he splashed around, trying to get his grip on the surface ice to pull himself up. To no avail. Each time he tried the ice would break apart more and more and back under he’d go. Behind us on the other side, Buttercup had taken notice of the commotion and at the sight of her best friend trapped in the water, started panicking and running back and forth at the fence. Barking like mad. It really was one of those slow motion moments. After another failed attempt poor Rupert finally managed to get a grip on the ice with his two front paws and held himself there. Clearly he could not get out on his own. His little eyes were wide with panic as he called to me for help…
There was only one thing to do.
Off went my winter coat, my sweater, my jeans, my boots, my socks, my mitts. I was keeping eye contact with Rupert the whole time, telling him “just wait. I’ll be right there.” Thankfully no one was around to see me standing there, barefoot in the snow, in my tank top, underwear, and toque. I’m sure I looked utterly stupid. If I thought the snow was a misery under my feet, it was nothing compared to how frigid the pond was as I lowered myself in through the ice. Strong enough to hold a little dog for a time, but good luck if you’re a full grown woman.
I waded through as swiftly as I possibly could, breaking the ice apart as I went. It was bitterly cold and though it was awful to near skinny-dip in icy water, I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all as I looked Rupert in the face and said “I can’t believe you’re making me do this.”
By the time I was close enough to reach him I was up to my bellybutton in freezing water. I grabbed him and squeezed him to my chest, holding him as best I could out of the water and hopefully giving him whatever body heat I might have retained. I mean how long can a little dog last in a frozen pond before he gets pneumonia? I plopped him down as we reached land and lifted myself back onto the slightly less awful snow bank.
It was a long walk back to the house, to say the least. With no car access, and no one around, there was nothing to do but dry myself off as best I could with my coat and slip my muddy frozen feet into my boots and trudge home for a well earned shower.
So that’s the story of Rupert and the frozen pond. Thanks for reading if you made it this far. And if you have a fur-baby be sure to give them an extra pat today. You never know when they might do something stupid like fall in a frozen pond.