Dog Stories

 Jack, an iceboating friend, was skating on hard smooth ice on Shelburne Bay (Lake Champlain) a few years ago with his dog.  His dog spotted some ducks swimming in open water over a reef.  The dogs instincts won over the calls to come back.    Jack did not bring ice claws with him (he freely admits he knew better).  He elected to try to rescue his dog.  He succeeded at that but as the dog was extricated the opposite but equal reaction put him in the water. 

(not Jack and not Jack's dog)

Some years before the local sailors had done a ‘how to get out’ training exercise using a neoprene survival suit.  We each practiced getting out with claws and then without claws.  Jack remembered the procedure of putting his arms on the ice edge, swimming his body to a horizontal position behind him, pushing straight up with his arms/elbows and using strong frog kicks to push himself onto the ice sheet.   Getting out was not easy with skates on but, thankfully, he was successful.  He attributes this training to saving his life.

The main point here is always carry ice claws, but secondary to that is the importance of having additional skills as a backup for when better judgment fails.  I can say from personal experience, judgment comes up short more often than we would like to think.  As for bringing dogs on the ice, this and the next account speak for themselves.


Another Dog Story

 The spring of 2005 was a great ice year on Lake Champlain. The whole lake was frozen over and, for the most part was smooth enough to be skatable.   A good friend had taken his dog, Sam, on a walk on Burlington Harbor on a beautiful late March Sunday afternoon.  He did not happen to bring the ice claws I had given him a couple years before.  There were lots of people on the ice that day.  There was an area of open water made by the ‘De-icer’ in front of the Burlington Boat House.  That evening he was out with Sam again and decided to take a night walk on the same ice (in spite of an appeal to stay off the ice by his dear wife).  It was 8:00 PM and there was no one around.  Sam, off leash and not the most responsive dog to the ‘come’ command, was attracted to something near the Boat House.  He broke through at the edge of the open water.  Sam was not able to get out on his own in spite of the relatively good traction afforded by the rough spring ice surface. My friend got on his hands and knees and tried to reach Sam.  He broke through.  He was able to push  Sam out from the water (probably with one arm on the ice).  With the rough spring ice surface he was able to ooch his way back onto the ice.  Had it been smooth midwinter ice the outcome could easily have been different.   It was a cold quarter mile back to the car.  Sam was unusually well behaved.  The next day I gave Sam another pair of ice claws in hopes his master will bring them along if they ever go out on the ice again.  

If your dog goes through DON'T try to rescue it yourself.  Call 911.  The rescue community has learned that doing dog rescues prevents people rescues and recoveries.

 In addition to dog issues, leaving ice claws at home is a common problem.  Going on the ice is often an impulse decision and the ice often looks better from shore than it is in reality.  Carry extra claws in your truck, your jacket and any other place that is likely to be with you if you unexpectedly find some ice that needs to be explored.  Having a more complete set of gear and a buddy would be even better but ice claws are  better than nothing.  If you are the spouse, relative or good friend of an ice user get several pairs of claws and put them in appropriate places. If they ever get used for their intended purpose it will be the best money you ever spent.

In this second story, going out alone, at night, with an unleashed dog, and known open water is obviously pushing the risk envelope.  Thankfully it worked out OK. 




Peter is a skating friend with third hair raising account of rescuing his dog in January 2019


It occurred in the Intervale, on a wide point of the Winooski River in between Gardner's Supply Company and the Ethan Allen Homestead. She spotted some ducks in an open water portion in the middle of the river, (about 20 x 20 feet of open water). She ran onto the frozen river and jumped right in (didn't fall in) into the open water, and very soon after started swimming back to the ice. I immediately started walking out onto the ice. She was able to pull only a quarter of her body out of the water, so I approached the open water, and got on my stomach about 10-15 ft feet from the water, then shimmied myself towards her so my weight would be distributed on the ice. When I got to her, very soon after I tried pulling her towards me, the ice collapsed under me, and we were both in water over my head. I definitely expected that might happen, and since I was ready for it, I immediately pushed her back onto the frozen ice (after less than 15 seconds in the water), then started working at get myself out. I didn't notice any discernible current, so felt comfortable getting close to the ice edge. Water temp felt very cold, while air temp was maybe 32 or 33 and sunny. I didn't have any ice claws, since I didn't think I would need them that day, and that definitely bummed me out for the second or two that I let myself think about it. The ice surface was pebbly though, so I could use that along with the fact that I was wearing textured yarn/wool mittens to get some purchase on the ice to pull myself out. I tried and failed three times to pull myself out, with the ice breaking in front me each of these times. On the fourth try, I was able to pull myself up and forward enough to get the front half of my body onto the ice, and when I did that, I immediately swung my body sideways so that my whole body was out and distributed along the ice (parallel to where it met the water). I heard a few quick cracks, so started rolling away from the water, maybe five or six feet before I began to feel secure, I took a second or two break, then rolled another eight to ten feet before getting to my feet. I may not have needed to roll this much, but my 40 pound dog had been near me this whole time, so the ice needed to support more than my normal 160 pounds of body weight.  Hope that's enough detail. It definitely made me think about things-- about not going with my dog in the Intervale until icemelt even though it probably wouldn't happen again, and about carrying the ice claws with me elsewhere in the future just in the event that I saw something like that happening to someone else. I got out, but it would have felt a whole lot easier with the claws. I think that if it had been really hard, black ice, I may not have been able to get enough grip on it to allow me to get out.