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A Perilous Moment

The Day I nearly lost Khalisi. My true canine rescue story.

A close call, a hard learned lesson, and a warning.

Our Shetland Sheepdog

     It happened several years ago, right about this time of year. It was late February or early March. The ground had just refrozen right behind an early pre-spring thaw runoff.

     I was out back on my trails, walking my Shetland sheepdog canine companion “paw patrol” pups, like I always do.

Front: Captain Blue, Graham & Khalisi
I’m carrying Maizee who we didn’t have then
Player is behind me

At the time, I had seven of them. My dogs Diamond and Maverick, my oldest daughter’s Captain Blue and her new pup named Graham, my mother’s shelties Player and Promise, and my daughter Abby’s dog Khalisi.

     I love walking my dogs out back on my trails, especially in the winter. I break trail with my snowshoes while the dogs play in the snow, sniff all the game trails and smells and explore. We go for a walk nearly every day the weather allows it.

Player, Captain Blue, Graham & Khalisi
Exploring & sniffing all the stuff

It gets tougher though as we March towards spring and the ice and snow begin melting. Sometimes the ground simply gets too muddy for the pups. 

Too spring thaw wet & muddy for our “paw patrol”

    It had gotten cold the night before, and snowed some. So, we all eagerly set out on a cold day following a thaw. Everything had re-frozen. The ground was icy and hard. My “paw patrol” pups were quite enthusiastic. Promise and Diamond didn’t go that day. Sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes they chose to stay behind on the porch and await our return. That was their prerogative.  

My female shelties, Khalisi and Promise
Exercising a “paw patrol” woman’s prerogative

     Shetland sheepdogs are a herding breed, very smart, sociable and friendly. Every dog in my crew time has their own well established unique role and personality.  The male dogs, Maverick, Captain Blue, Player and Graham, always follow me anywhere, anytime, without question.

      Maverick’s primary job was always to follow right behind me and bark instructions to the others. He’s gone now. Captain Blue and Graham have always just been happy to be there and be dogs.

March 2020:
One of Diamond’s last “paw patrols”
Captain Blue, Promise and Player supervising

Player plays “keep away” with the frisbee or ball from the other dogs. He was my father’s dog.

“Furball Frisbee”

Player and Maverick fought constantly when Maverick was still around. I think that after my dad passed away, Player secretly wished he was Maverick. Now after a fashion Player has finally gotten his wish.

     The females have been much trickier. For some reason they have always all been a bit skittish towards me. I’ve had to work hard to earn their trust. We had Diamond for nearly two years before she would even let me pet her. Diamond lives in Dog Heaven now. Khalisi sharply scolds me whenever I try to pet her. She has from day one. She lets me pet her occasionally now, but only on her terms, if I bribe her with treats, and only then briefly. Promise to this day still won’t let me touch her, treats or no treats.

     So, there we were, out back on my trails, me packing down a good trail on my snowshoes, Maverick leading the way, the rest of the pups following behind him. It was quite cold that day. After a couple of nice warm sunny days, the temperature had dropped down suddenly. A coating of fresh snow had fallen. Everything was frozen. The snow crunched under my feet. The dogs kept stopping to chew big balls of frozen snow from their paws.

The spring thaw backside bridges of my “Swamp Pond”
They were more frozen over on the day in question

     It happened quite suddenly, as we rounded the backside of a shallow “Swamp Pond”.

“Swamp Pond”

I had built a long series of stringer bridges there, around the back of the pond, to allow passage along that otherwise impassable portion of my property. I had a simple hand-crafted pressure treated lumber/log bridge on either side of the pond, crossing the small intermittent stream that served as both inlet and outlet. I could hear the stream gurgling underneath the inlet bridge as we crossed, but refrozen ice covered it.

An upstream early March spring thaw view
From the “Swamp Pond” inlet bridge

     I never gave it a thought. We had crossed that stream on that bridge hundreds of times. The water was never more than knee deep at that point, at most.

“The crossing”
It had re-frozen over the day of that “Perilous Moment”

     My pups were all behind me in a line, Maverick in the lead, as always. They followed me safely across the bridge, one at a time.  I remember I turned to count them across, just in case one of the boys got distracted and decided to chase off after a bird or a rabbit.

     Captain Blue and Graham bounded safely across. Maverick was standing beside me. Khalisi was the last one in line. For some reason she chose to go around the bridge instead of across it and darted out onto the ice.

     The ice gave out midstream. Suddenly, Khalisi was in peril. She attempted to swim briefly in the freezing water, then disappeared downstream. It took a second for what had just happened to register in my brain:

Khalisi was under the ice!

      She was being swept downstream into the pond. I could see her flailing. In a moment she would be gone. I knew I only had seconds to act. I clicked out of my snowshoes and crashed into the pond, smashing my way to her with my fists just as fast as I could. It all happened in slow motion.

     Luckily the wind had blown the ice snow free on that end of the pond. I could clearly see her in front of me. I made one final smash through the ice with my fist, then in a desperation last ditch effort, reached down in under the ice with both arms and somehow managed to grab her.  

     I pulled her out from under the ice. She was drenched, flailing and gasping. We were both soaked to the skin in that early March wind cold. Both of us were shivering.

I clutched that little dog to my chest and raced as fast as I could back to the house. The other dogs followed. My Mother was in the house when we got there. I told her what had just happened. She helped me dry Khalisi and wrap her in blankets. I quickly changed out of my frozen wet clothes. Both of us were scared, frozen, and shaking.

     After warming up, calming down and drying off, Khalisi seemed to be okay. I thank the Lord to this day every time I cross that spot on my walks, with or without my “paw patrol”. I now avoid it altogether during the winter months with the dogs.

     I learned a very important lesson that day. The March towards spring can be treacherous. Not just on big water lakes and rivers, but on smaller streams as well. Spring runoff gushes water in large volumes along streams and creek bed flows that are otherwise innocuous.

 They can easily sweep away our canine companions. It happens in an instant, without warning.

     So, when out enjoying those early pre-spring walks in the snow with our furry best friends, watch out for those pups!

     Choose routes accordingly, use leads & leashes where necessary, and proceed with caution! I came within seconds of losing Khalisi under the ice that day, and learning a heartbreaking lesson I could never unlearn. The hard way.

Captain Blue & Khalisi

As the old saying goes:

“Forewarned is Forearmed!”

Watch out for melting snow runoff under the ice.

 The March towards spring can be perilous.  


Until Our Trails Cross Again:


Author’s Endnote: Since the time of this incident, Player, Maverick, and Captain Blue have all passed into Dog Heaven. Player & Maverick lived out their full natural lives. Captain Blue died prematurely of lymphoma. I miss them all dearly. Their departure left gaping holes in my heart.

And my Paw Patrol.