Friday, January 8, 2010

My Heroes!

Several weekends ago Oscar and I were sipping our morning coffee in front of the woodstove when we realized that we'd not seen the dogs in a while. We called in and around the house but there was no sign of them. Even if they managed to wander off before, a few calls and they would come barreling back to me, looking mildly sheepish, but not this time! With walkie-talkies in hand, I set out up the mountain while Oscar ventured downward towards the barn and our main creek - two likely spots for mischievous labs. The fall hurricane and several storms had dumped enormous amounts of rain on the region, and all the creeks were not just higher than usual, but raging torrents, and I was in a panic. Where else would a Lab go, but right to water, mud or stink?

It was 20 degrees with the remnants of a recent snowfall still on the ground. After about 30 minutes of searching the forest and nearby logging road, we met back at the house. Just as we arrived, Zoe bolted into the house as if on some desperate mission, soaking wet but not muddy. We immediately ascertained that she had been in deep water, but where was Claris? We had no idea the Lassie-esque moment we were having. Panic dug its vicious claws into me, and we raced back out to find our "big girl"!

About a half mile from the house, we heard a strange barking in the distance. The bark was higher-pitched than Claris' normal bark, but I followed the barking supposing that Claris had stumbled upon a hunting party and was joining them in their game chase, plausible since our land does back up to a 700 acre hunting preserve. I called and called for Claris, and each time I did, the bark replied. I knew it had to be her, but the bark was getting weaker and higher pitched each time. I felt a cold fear rising in me, and started moving towards where I heard the bark coming from. I kept calling, but suddenly there was no answer!

I started running, or really, mostly stumbling through the swampy reeds as fast as I could. This part of the creek is very wide, with steep banks, deep water and fast currents. I raced alongside the water, and heard a frightened whimper. Wedged between the bank and a fallen tree was Claris, barely hanging on. She looked terrified, and was shivering and trying to hold onto the tree with her claws. I could see the cold was weakening her, and that I had little time. I got on the walkie-talkie and tried to call Oscar to me, but I am sure it all came out as an insane blubbering mess. I was so upset I could not form complete sentences, but somehow Oscar understood.

I had no idea where we were in reference to him, but somehow he found us within seconds. He was on the other side of the water, and saw the abject fear in my eyes. I think that kicked his adrenaline system into gear, and he plunged right into the water without so much as a word. There were logs and debris swirling around in the chest-high water, but nothing deterred him and his fight to get to Claris. I was now scared for both dog and man, but Oscar made it to Claris and found enough strength in that deep and frigid water to lift her 120 pound body over the tree that had her pinned and pulled her and himself up over the tall bank and out of the water. He hauled her all the way up the mountain and into the house as fast as he could (I could barely keep up as he nearly sprinted through the forest with Claris in his arms). Later he told me that he was worried that she had been in the cold so long that she might have died from hypothermia (much less the possible frostbite she may have had), so was rushing to get her to the warmth of the wood stove. I still cannot believe that he got her and himself all that way back- it was quite a distance, all uphill, and they had been immersed in freezing water!

The rest of that day was mostly spent next to the wood stove. I kept Claris under a blanket and fed her warm treats and water, and hugged her tightly. Amazingly, we all survived with little more than a few bruises and abrasions. Obviously it could have been so much worse. And about Zoe; is it really possible that a 4 month old puppy ran by herself up the mountain to warn us that Claris was stuck in the creek? She couldn't tell us in words, but in retrospect, there was definite urgency in her behavior. Oscar and Zoe were my heroes that day, and Claris' too!

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