Dog Rescued from Icy Lake; Deer Drowns

Sentinel Staff Writer
    Sitka Mountain Rescue saved a dog that fell through the ice chasing a deer on Thimbleberry Lake this morning.
    Don Kluting, Sea Mountain Rescue director, said the dog’s owner called at 7:17 a.m. to report the accident and the efforts being made at the scene to rescue the dog, a springer spaniel-blue heeler mix named Patch.
    Linda Behnken said she had been trail running with her dog Rascal and Patch, who belongs to her friend Sarah Blue, when the dogs spotted a deer in the darkness. Rascal came back when Behnken called, but Patch continued chasing the deer until both deer and dog fell through the thin ice 50 to 75 feet away from shore.
    Behnken tried several ways to help the animals, but was unable to reach them or to break a passage through the ice that would let them swim ashore. She ran to Blue’s house nearby, and Blue called the police, which called Sitka Mountain Rescue.
    Both Blue and Behnken ran back to the lake and called encouragement to the dog. A couple of hunters also showed up and tried to help.
    “There was no way to get to Patch without going in the water yourself,” Behnken said later.
    When Kluting and fellow Mountain Rescue member Gerald Gangle got to the lake they saw that the deer, overcome by hypothermia, had drowned but the dog was continuing to struggle in the water.
    Behnken said the rescuers got there just in time.
    “If Gerald and Don hadn’t gotten there, (Patch) wasn’t going to make it much longer,” Behnken said.
    Kluting put on a drysuit and crawled out onto the ice, attached to a rope Gangle held on shore. Kluting fell through the ice himself, and had to wade through water up to his chest to reach the dog. He tucked the animal – about the size of a collie – under his arm and made it back to where the dog got its footing and ran back to Behnken and Blue.
    Kluting went back out to pull the deer ashore and gave it to the hunters, who he said were glad to get it.
    Mountain Rescue notified the Alaska Wildlife Troopers about the salvage of the deer that had died in the accident.
    “The dog ran back to its caretaker, it was shivering uncontrollably,” but otherwise appeared uninjured, Kluting said.
    Behnken said Patch was in the water about an hour, and took about an hour to warm up after being rescued.
    Also responding to the incident were the Sitka Dive Team and other members of Sitka Mountain Rescue.
    Kluting said the entire rescue was over within 10 minutes after he and Gangle got there. The deer had already died in the icy water, so they knew time was running out for the dog.
    Behnken said she and Blue were grateful for the quick response and rescue by Kluting and Gangle.
    “Those guys were great,” Behnken said. She said she felt bad about the lost buck.
    Kluting said the ice is tricky this time of year, and it’s difficult to tell when it’s safe.
    “The thickness of the ice near shore – it appears to be thick enough, but it’s not thick enough to be on the ice,” he said.

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