Saturday, February 6, 2016

The St. Joseph River looking east from the Ash Road bridge hours after a dog fell through the ice. (Dan Spalding/The Elkhart Truth)
Dog falls through ice on St. Joseph River
Posted on Feb. 23, 2014 at 11:00 a.m.

ELKHART — A report of an animal that fell through the ice of the St. Joseph River sent me out the door of the newsroom to the Ash Road Bridge shortly after noon Saturday.

I got there and parked on the bridge, but didn't see any signs of an animal or rescue crews on either side of the bridge.

So I got back in my vehicle and had just started to pull away when I saw a man climbing up from the north banks of the river. He was middle-aged and looked tired and carried a heavy yellow tow rope. I got out and approached him and asked if he knew anything.

Yes, he said, it was his dog, a young chow.

The man lived near the river and the dog had run out onto the ice. The dog was running across the frozen surface when it fell through, he said.

Efforts to save him were futile because the animal was too far from the banks.

By the time I arrived, what had been a rescue effort was now a private recovery and the man was following his pet as it floated lifelessly down the river.

He pointed to a spot east of the bridge and we watched as the current carried his dog along the surface and toward the bridge where we stood. I tried to console him with a pat on the back and a few words that probably fell woefully short.

One of the few things he told me as we stood on the bridge was that it had been a rescue dog.

The man looked emotionally drained and remained focused on his dog. We watched quietly as it passed under the bridge.

Without saying a word, he moved to the west side of the bridge, probably hoping that the current would carry it closer to the shore so he could pull it out.

I had driven out to the bridge hoping for a happy ending, maybe involving a deer, but now it was just a man following his dog and hoping to take him home one last time.

I headed back to the car. I didn't have the heart to ask any more questions. I wanted to leave him alone.

As a reporter, I felt like I dropped the ball because I didn’t follow him or try to learn more about the circumstances. But this felt like a funeral. Reporters don't ask questions at funerals. They stay out of the way.

Instead, I drove off wondering how a man must feel when all he can do is watch helplessly as his young dog is taken into the clutches of an icy river.