St. John's, N.L. — A leisurely ride on their ATV in Pouch Cove on a sunny Saturday afternoon turned into a dramatic animal rescue for Melissa French and her fiancé, Shane Richards.
“Looking back on it now, it’s hard to believe it happened,” French told The Telegram Monday.
At about 1:30 p.m. that day, the couple was riding their new ATV along a path that leads to a pond at the top of Noseworthy’s Hill.
“We never go on that side of the cove,” said French, who, along with her fiancé, is 25. “I haven’t been down there since I was a kid.”
She was glad they chose that route.
When they looked out onto the mostly frozen pond, they saw what looked like a dog’s head in an open area of water, about 100 feet from shore.
“I looked out and I thought, is that an animal? I wasn’t sure because sometimes you look at something, and it’s just a stump or a rock or something,” French said.
“Then I realized it was a dog. You could see in his face he was so sad. When he saw us, he started paddling, trying to get to us.”
The two said nothing to each other, but Richards immediately sprang into action to save it.
“We both just knew we had to do something,” French said. “I knew it would be risky, but we couldn’t leave him there.”
Richards drove the ATV a short distance out on the pond, not too far from shore, and hauled out the machine’s 50-foot winch (cable).
“His first instinct was to get the winch out so if he fell through, I could haul him back,” French said. “I never thought of that, but he knew what to do.”
French said she panicked because she was worried about Richards’ safety.
“I’m screaming at him. I was frightened to death he would fall through (the ice),” she said. “But he just said, ‘Melissa, just do what I told you and it will be fine.’”
The winch, fully extended, was too short to reach the dog, so they continued to slowly edge the ATV out further onto the pond.
“The bike is big. I thought for sure we’d go through,” she said. “Here I am shaking, but Shane was so calm.”
French said Richard got down on his stomach, slowly reached in for the young, medium-sized dog, which wasn’t moving at this point, and scooped him up.
“He couldn’t even open his eyes. The closer we got to him, the more he cried,” said French, adding that the dog had a leash attached to his collar.
When they returned to the shore, the dog couldn’t move, she said.
“He had no energy left,” she said. “God knows how long he was out there.”
The two took their coats off and wrapped them around the dog. Richards held the dog on his lap on the back of the ATV while French drove back to the road, where they met up with her brother, Max, who French had called for help.
They took the dog back to French’s house in Pouch Cove and immediately placed it on their dog’s bed, dried it with a towel and covered it with a blanket. They had plenty of food and water, too.
French consulted with a friend, who was training as a veterinarian assistant. She advised French to check his gums to ensure they weren’t too red and to get the dog walking as soon as possible.
After about an hour, the dog started showing signs of recovery.
“He was up and walking, but he was shaky at first,” French said. “He was walking around like he was drunk.”
About an hour and a half later, he had stopped shivering and had improved immensely.
Meanwhile, they searched for the dog’s owner. As soon as they posted photos and a notice on Facebook, they got a response from someone who recognized the dog and knew its owner.
The owner contacted Richards, who brought the dog, Wolf, to him.
“He was so excited,” French said about the owner, who had been looking for Wolf after realizing the dog was missing.
French said she and Richards have a dog and would hope someone would do the same if their pet was in the same situation.
“We were at the right place at the right time,” said French, who is surprised at all the attention the story has garnered.
“We were just happy it all worked out.”