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.