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Don't let a dog drag you into trouble

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I marvel at how my Labrador retriever loves the water, even when it's close to freezing over. 

When Rita and I run by an irrigation canal or creek, she often stops and sniffs the frozen surface, then looks at me with a forlorn look that hints of her disappointment. She just doesn't seem to understand why such a perfect swimming spot has to be so inaccessible. 

Every time she goes through that inspection process, I'm reminded of the dangers of venturing out onto the ice. Dogs, you see, are one of the primary reasons so many people drown in the winter. 

Here's a predictable series of events that lead to disaster. Dog sees ice. Dog ventures out on ice. Dog falls through ice. Man sees flailing dog. Man's heart sinks at the sight of a drowning dog. Man decides to rescue dog before it succumbs. Man falls through ice ... and then it gets really, really sad. 

It's not easy to slow down when you see a dog or person struggling to stay afloat in near-freezing water. But just as the panic rises up in your throat, you need to take a big gulp of calm-down, get to the closest phone and call 911. 

Tell dispatchers where you are, what your phone number is and what the situation is. They won't hesitate to put a call out to the appropriate rescue team that will probably be on the way before your call ends.

You may not realize it but all of the fire departments in our valley, as well as the county's Search and Rescue team, have all of the equipment, suits, tools and training to rescue anyone from icy waters. They can do it safely, quickly and react to the scene much more quickly than you might think they would.

Your firefighters love dogs, too. Let them save the pup. Not only are they good at it, they love doing it, especially if they don't have to drag a person out with it.

Do not crawl out onto the ice. Do not try to calculate the thickness or safety of the ice. Immediately call 911 and direct rescuers to the scene. That's the smart thing to do.

Don't compound the tragedy of an animal struggling to stay upright in freezing water by becoming a person flailing next to it. 

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