By Dave Zientarski
My home is on Lake Erie and I am an avid three-season angler of this bountiful lake. I had never really considered ice fishing before, but, for some reason, I woke up with the fishing fever one morning and decided to give it a try.
I walked out on the ice with Pete, my chocolate lab, a beautiful dog, my best friend and all that. That day we really bonded, for, you see, he ended up saving my life.
I am not a strong swimmer at all, but figured that I would not have to worry about going through the ice as the auger I had borrowed from my neighbor barely made it through the 20-inch thick ice. I was not catching anything, so, after an hour so, I walked down the lake about a hundred feet where there is a warm sewer outlet. There were hundreds and hundreds of large shad swimming around in the water. I figured that I could at least catch them. I didn't even have to use a pole! I just walked to the edge of the ice and grabbed them with my hands. I gave one to Pete he loves to play with fish.
The ice was thick up to the water's edge and I was only ten feet from shore when I looked out further and saw a different, larger fish. Steel head? Walleye? Salmon? I walked out to see if he was feeding on the shad and stupidly stepped on the edge of the ice and slipped, falling into the freezing water. I was quick enough to catch the edge of the ice with my arms and keep my head from going under. Amazingly, I did not panic. I just figured that I would pull myself up. I could not, however. I had no leverage. Nothing to hold on to. I was going to die of hypothermia.
We have all been cold before, and, being from northern Ohio, I thought I knew cold. Until now. Yes, I was going to die, I thought. My wife, my home, all gone. Pete had other plans for me, though. He put down the shad I had grabbed for him and jumped in the water next to me. I do not know to this day if he was jumping in because he thought I was in peril or if he simply thought I was having fun. He is very smart, unlike his ignorant, first-time ice fishing owner. Pete and I both tried to get up onto the ice to no avail. Now I was going to have to watch my dog die with me! After pondering the situation for a moment, I decided that I could boost Pete up onto the ice and at least he'd live. He put his paws on the ice and I boosted his butt from behind. He was safe. Thank God. Then he returned the favor.
Pete laid down right in front of me up on the ice. I grabbed his collar and tried to pull myself up with him pulling as hard as he could backward. With his help, I got the top half of my body on the ice and was able to pull myself up. Although he could only provide a little leverage, it was enough in this adrenalin-filled moment. I walked back up to the house freezing. I was not in the water more than two or three minutes, but I was very cold. Arriving at the house, I had to listen to my wife yell at me about my stupidity. I agreed with her. I was an ignorant ice fisherman.
Pete, the hero, had a very sore right leg to show for his bravery (and my ignorance). He must have injured himself while trying to pull me up. I later had to have his right knee surgically repaired. He tore his Achilles trying to pull me up, and, despite his pain, kept pulling. No other breed of dog, no other breed of animal, has this unconditional loyalty and love for his fishing buddy. Pete was only a year old then and is now three. He and I are the best of fishing buddies. A dog. My best friend. We swore to each other to never, never, go ice fishing again. He gave me a look. A look that said, "I would do it all over again for you." Great dog, great friend, the BEST FISHING BUDDY!!!