Last Updated on June 27, 2012 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD
My Irish Setter Oliver – who is utterly terrified of his own reflection in the glass shower door, who cowers in fear every time he can smell the oven turned on, who drops to the ground and shows his belly if so much as a teacup chihuahua growls at him – had no qualms about jumping head first into glacial whitewater for what I imagine he expected to be a nice, cooling swim.
The same skittery dog – who takes a good 2 minutes marching on the spot in focus before he can muster the courage to jump into the backseat of the car – managed to scramble his scrawny butt out of the raging rapids and onto a narrow trunk of a fallen tree.
This feat and a few other miracles saved his life this weekend. I am still recovering – physically and mentally. I will have a recipe for you soon, I promise. But for now, I just have a story.
The weather I have been whining about describing lately (you know, the incessant rain that was June) has caused the mountain creeks to come alive into raging rivers, remorseless in their destruction; barrelling down toward some unknown mother river.
We were hiking. Oliver was frolicking. I saw a river ahead. Oliver saw the river ahead. I screamed, “PUT THE LEASH ON THE DOG!” to Adarsh, ahead of me on the trail, but it was too late. Oliver made a sprint, followed by a dive, and he was instantly thrust into the raging waters. I charged in after him, frantically fighting the current, gripping overhead branches for stability, my voice locked in a bloodcurdling scream. Oliver was facing me, terrified eyes locked on mine, fighting the current with all of his might as he was sucked backwards away from me. My friend Ronnie wisely ran downstream before he, too, jumped in to try to catch him, but within seconds of his dive, Oliver was whipped around the river-bend, out of our sight.
When his bobbing furry head was pulled from my view I had a moment of paralysis, wherein I thought, “This is over. I’ve lost my dog.”, and the grief was so strong that I could barely breathe; my muscles were frozen.
After a moment of agony, the fog lifted with a thundering, “NO, this is NOT over”. I prayed ferociously and fought my way out of the water.
The river went under the highway just after the bend where Oliver disappeared. As I struggled my way out of the woods, I felt the world melting around me in slow motion. My voice, my feet – everything was leaden and sluggish. Nothing was moving, nothing existed except the swift water that was carrying my precious Oliver away from me. I finally made it across to the other side of the highway. I stood in shock at what I saw: the river was ripping through the dense forest with no trails to provide relief. Crushed with despair, I stood screaming Oliver’s name at the thick woods and raging river, my voice reaching octaves that probably only the dog could hear.
I turned back around, scanning the woods for my people to emerge behind me, when miracle of miracles, I spotted Oliver – ALL FOUR PAWS on a narrow log that was somehow wedged, immobile, perpendicular to the current. His poor sopping legs were shaking furiously. He looked at me desperately as I burst into tears, screaming his name. I charged back into the river after him. The water was deeper and stronger at this point. I was back in up to my chest, feet firmly planted on the soft ground, fingers grasping a root so hard my palms were pierced by my own fingernails. Oliver’s log was only 5 feet from me but if I were to let go of my tether to the riverbank I would have been swept down the river. Oliver looked at me frantically and sat down, peering into the current. I begged him to stay. He kept nervously standing back up and contemplating the rushing water, lifting a paw, obviously considering jumping in to get to me. If he had jumped, he would have been just out of my reach before getting sucked back into the rapids.
“Adarsh, call 911”, I shouted. I had made a decision: if Oliver jumped, I was jumping too.
But Oliver didn’t jump, he sat back down, his chestnut brown eyes staring trustingly into mine, begging me silently to get him off of his log. I was frozen in the worst state of hopelessness I have ever felt. I couldn’t come up with a solution to save my life, or his, as was the case. Separated by two arms’ lengths by water moving with the speed and force of a truck, we stared at each other; me sobbing, hands shaking violently; him every so often dipping a paw in the rapids, me screaming; and everyone else staring in shock. The entire ordeal from him diving in upstream until that moment was probably ten minutes, but to me it felt like all of eternity.
Fear and helplessness were crushing down on me harder than the torrent as my body slowly numbed from the cold. My mind was as frozen as my limbs; I was completely powerless against the situation. Then suddenly I heard a voice behind me. “It’s okay, don’t worry”. A stranger with a thick Indian accent had one hand on my shoulder. His other hand was thumping his chest to affirm that he was going to help, his head bobbling in the peaceful Indian gesture that means “yes”, “no”, “maybe”, “hello”, and apparently, “it’s okay, I’m going to risk my life for you”.
I trusted him. I felt relief wash over me. He dragged a fallen tree trunk down the riverbank, stood it up in the water, and tipped it over to the log that held Oliver. He himself climbed across the tree, retrieved my beloved dog, and thrust him into my arms before Ronnie dragged both of us out of the river.
His name was “Happy”. He barely spoke English. He pulled his Honda civic, circa 1990, over on the side of the highway and threw himself into danger for total strangers. No hesitation, he took control of the situation. He solved the problem that the rest of us were incapable of solving. He crossed a raging river on a skinny log. Who would do that for a stranger’s dog?
How many people are willing to physically help in an emergency? Some people might stop, dial 911, or do what they could do from the safety of solid ground. But how often do you think a stranger would put themselves in physical danger to assist someone? It was a miracle he was there.
Happy is my hero. He saved my Oliver, my furry little guy, my best friend.