Rescued dog pays visit to rescuers whose icy river heroics went viral
ALPENA — “They even watched it in Australia,” Alpena Fire Department firefighter/paramedic Chris Morrison marvelled, shaking his head at the hubbub over a video of a dog rescue that went viral.
The icy waters of Thunder Bay River were both perpetrator and backdrop as Morrison, encased in protective gear, swam to the rescue of a husky on Jan. 8.
Caught on video and shared online, the rescue became an international sensation in days, viewed and shared across the country and as far away as Australia.
Rescues are what firefighters do, Morrison said on Wednesday, shrugging off the hoopla at the Alpena Fire Department.
He’s not sure why the video struck a chord with so many people, generating phone calls to his department from Arizona, Texas, California, New York, and elsewhere, offering congratulations and thanks to the Alpena firefighters for their actions.
Perhaps, he said, it was just the right kind of news for a nation hungry to hear about good things.
“Dogs already make us happy,” Morrison said. “So, a dog rescue, even more.”
Loki, the 11-month-old husky-in-distress, and his brother, Thor, escaped from owner Michael Barnhart’s Lake Winyah-area home after Loki — known for his gnawing habit — chewed through his supposedly chew-proof, ballistic-fiber collar, Barnhart said.
He’s accustomed to finding the dog in unusual spots, including the roof of his truck, but the river is a first — and, hopefully, a last, Barnhart said.
The escaped dogs made their way to the Thunder Bay River, a mile or two from their owner’s house. While Thor stayed on land, Loki ventured onto a thin layer of ice, where his hind end broke through into the cold water.
A neighbor called 911 to report a dog floundering in the river. Morrison was one of the first to arrive, already dressed in the ice rescue gear stashed in the department’s ambulances.
Most ice rescues involve a thick layer of ice on which firefighters can inch toward the victim. On the river, the only ice was thin, and Morrison plunged through it as he headed toward Loki, who was struggling to cling with front paws to an ice shelf at the far side of the river.
A strong swimmer, Morrison still struggled to cross the river in the thickly clinging ice rescue gear.
All the way across, he and his coworkers on the shore could hear the dog howling and whimpering. When he finally touched the dog, Morrison said, the animal gave one last squeal and went limp and slid off the ice, exhausted.
As firefighters pulled Morrison and the dog back across the river, Loki whimpered but didn’t struggle, even as gloved hands pulled the waterlogged animal onto the shore.
Self-heating blankets were immediately wrapped around the dog, and an ambulance whisked it to a local veterinarian, where it was swarmed by attendants “like dropping a patient off at the ER,” Morrison said.
“There were blow dryers going, there were hot, hot blankets going,” Morrison narrated. “I don’t want to say where the thermometer went.”
The vet said Loki actually died as they were working to save him, according to Barnhart. But, despite being in freezing water about half an hour and registering a body temperature so cold the thermometer didn’t have numbers to register it, the dog survived, and, on Wednesday, cheerfully shoved its nose into the faces of its rescuers at the Alpena Fire Department.
Dog and owner were reunited the day after the near-drowning, when social media messages alerted Barnhart to the rescue.
Loki and pal Thor — who watched and whimpered from the far shore all through the rescue and then, when his brother was safe, trotted home — are safe and healthy, and now sporting heavy-duty leather harnesses, Barnhart said.
The grateful owner brought treats and a whole-hearted thank you to the firefighters a few days after the rescue. An Iraq veteran, Barnhart relies on the comfort of his high-spirited dogs when his PTSD gets hard to bear.
Plus, he said, the renegade husky is the fierce guardian of Barhart’s wife and two young daughters. It’s also a beloved member of the family who would have been lost had it not been for the efforts of firefighters who say they were just doing their job.
In the meantime, Morrison has become a sensation, popping up on TMZ, “Good Morning America”, and the Weather Channel.
“With everything going on, everyone’s latching onto everything positive,” said Morrison, a dog owner, himself. “There’s so much negativity. If this brightens someone’s day — and, it’s obviously brightened a lot of people’s day — that’s a win.”
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, email@example.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.